My husband and I sat in the parking lot of a gas station and ate a hot dog. This is how our El Camino adventure began. "Their entrees are like, $17 to $30." I told him. "We need to eat before we go." El Camino is occupying the space on Bardstown Road where the upscale Avalon once operated. The same guys who opened The Silver Dollar opened El Camino as "a monument to surf", and the decor is a gorgeous mix of Day-of-the-Dead and upscale tiki.
But I'm going to be straight with you: this place has teeny-tiny tacos.
I was dazzled by their drink list (the most expensive is $14) and the bartender suggested I try the Saturn, ($9) with Beefeater, lemon, passionfruit, falernum and orgeat. The bartender mixed the drink in front of me, and I then watched in horror as the golden elixir was poured over more crushed ice than any drink deserves. Topped with a flower, the Saturn was gorgeous, but watered down within an inch of its life.
We started with an order of the Chicharonnes ($5) with Arbol sauce, queso fresco, onion and cilantro. These are basically churched-up pork rinds: tongue-walloping hot and weirdly soggy. Next came Ceviche Yucateco ($8) with lime marinated hamachi, jicama, habanero and avocado; it was bright and zesty, served with incredibly good chips.
We were excited when we saw how (relatively) inexpensive El Camino's tacos were: $3-$4 each. We ordered three of the six on the menu, including the De Panza, with pork belly and pickled onion. When the tacos came out, they were... tiny. Did you ever have one of those American Girl dolls? These are American Girl tacos. Certainly they were toothsome, but my husband picked them up between thumb and forefinger, the tiny taco comical in his big meaty hands.
Our night was capped off with a trio of ice cream and sorbets ($7). We chose sweet corn ice cream, spiced cocoa nib and sea salt ice cream, and blackberry cantaloupe sorbet. In what seems to be the theme of our El Camino excursion, portion sizes were tiny, but taste was incredible.
In a city that's absolutely rife with Mexican restaurants, can El Camino compete for long? After the shiny hipness wears off, will they be able to attract enough tiny-taco lovers to drink up their $13 Mai Tais?
Photos: Elizabeth Myers