Proper Mexican food is sooo goood! I like Latin & Caribbean food in general but I’m mostly used to Mexican food, hence why I love it so much. I had the pleasure of finally trying out El Camino when my brother and his wife came to visit. So I decided to write a review on it from a vegetarian/pescatarian pov.
El Camino – Ottawa
El Camino is located downtown Ottawa, on 380 Elgin Street. Elgin is well known for its lively restaurants, bars, and nightlife, which perhaps reflects on the hours of operation and the inability to reserve ahead of time. The restaurant is opened weekly from Tuesday to Sunday. Specifically, from 17:30 to midnight Tuesday & Wednesday but closes later from Thursday to Sunday, at 02:00AM. It has an open concept and a convenient take-out counter located outside. The take-out counter also offers lunch hours Tuesday to Friday from 12:00 to 14:30. This restaurant offers contemporary Mexican plates, tacos, and drinks in a hip atmosphere with a cool ambiance. Their take-out counter offers all the tacos available, Crispy Prawn Betel Leaf and churros.
The first time I ate there was on a Saturday evening around 19:00, with a group of five. We were aware that they did not take reservations and were told it would be an hour wait-time. They gave you the option of waiting inside or leaving your number to be messaged once your table was ready. We opted for the latter and proceeded to a bar nearby for light appetizers. By the time we checked, an hour and a half had passed and we still hadn’t heard from them so we decided to go back and check.
Once we arrived, we were informed that a table was being cleared for us. We waited for a couple more minutes and were seated in a booth at the back, reserved for larger parties. As soon as we sat, an energetic waitress came by with menus, asked what would we like to drink and informed us of the daily specials. I ordered a refreshing coca cola glass-bottled pop straight from Mexico, sweetened with pure sugarcane juice. I can’t remember the last time I had pop because the ones in Canada are overly sweet but that coke brought back sooo many memories. It tasted EXACTLY like the coke I’d drink as a little kid, back home in Senegal and Kenya. Their menu is straight forward and has other options that are not tacos, and desserts.
We were with family who are regulars at El Camino and advised us on what to order. As a vegan/vegetarian, your options are limited but any non-vegetarian would be very happy with the meat options. I ordered a Crispy Fish Taco and Japanese Eggplant Taco and also shared an order of Crispy Prawn Betel Leaf. I don’t eat raw fish but if you do, well there were some cool-sounding dishes like the Tuna Tartare Crispy Taco with Queso & Iceberg Lettuce or the Wild Salmon Tartare Tostada with Avocado, Funky Chili and Pickled Ginger.
Let me start with the Crispy Prawn Betel Leaf. It was super delicious and had layers of flavour! It consisted of a refreshing aromatic betel leaf that’s rolled and filled with juicy well-seasoned shrimp bits, dipped in a light batter and fried perfectly to give a crispy exterior. One order comes with 4 pieces that are served warm and are quite filling. I started with these so by the time my tacos came through I knew I’d be filled.
The Crispy Fish Taco consisted of a soft flour taco shell, shredded purple cabbage, a chunky piece of crispy fried fish drizzled with a non-spicy creamy sauce reminiscent of chipotle mayo and topped with sliced avocado, cilantro & jalapenos. The Japanese Eggplant Taco had the same base but instead of crispy fish, it was a lightly battered wedge of Japanese Eggplant. It came in a soft taco shell with shredded cabbage, a chunky eggplant wedge fried to crispy perfection, and then drizzled with chipotle mayo and topped with sliced avocado, cilantro & jalapeno. They also had fresh spicy salsa sauces that could be added to your food, and of course I added some to both tacos.
My tacos were good and I really liked the Japanese Eggplant version. It had a very crispy exterior with a contrasting mushy interior. At first bite I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it but I couldn’t stop eating it until it was done. The Crispy Fish Taco was good too and you could really taste the freshness of the fish. Personally, I thought the fish lacked seasoning but that was remedied with the addition of spicy salsa sauces. I do like my food well seasoned so if you don’t then you’ll enjoy it regardless, without adding salsa sauces.
To finish off, my family ordered Churros with Salted Caramel that they said were yummy. One order consisted of 3 long-ish churros covered in cinnamon-sugar, with the salted caramel in a cup on the side. I was so full that I opted not to have any and also forgot to take a picture of it (talk about rookie mistake but lesson learned :))
The second time I ate there was on a Sunday evening to try the take-out counter. Please note that they only accept cash for payment. There was a small crowd present when we arrived and once their orders were taken, they shut the counter window and proceeded to cook. After 10 minutes, a young man opened the window with an order that was ready, he then asked us to order. He apologized for the wait because he assumed we were with the crowd of people who ordered before us. He also informed us it would take about 10 minutes before it would be ready. They offered a lovely complementary Mexican hot-chocolate while waiting. We enjoyed as much of it as possible because it was delicious and warmed us up given the winter temperatures. The food took about 15 minutes and was as good as I remembered it. I ordered the Crispy Prawn Betel Leaf and the Japanese Eggplant Taco, while my bf ordered two Crispy Fish Tacos. One thing I noticed was a slight price difference for tacos. For example, the Japanese Eggplant Taco cost $4.5 in the restaurant but was priced at $5.5 at the take-out counter.
It’s a cool restaurant to stop by and have a fun, chill evening with good food, drinks and good company. You can stop by after work, or before/after an event given their hours of operation. If time is a deciding factor, then perhaps try their take-out counter and understand it will take at least 15 minutes, depending on the line and crowd inside the restaurant. As a vegetarian/pescatarian, I was filled and satisfied without needing to eat more after leaving, which has happened MANY times. The food was good, the service was fast inside the restaurant, and the complementary Mexican hot-chocolate was the cherry-on-top at the take-out counter. I would definitely go back and my overall score is 4/5.