What I love most about El Camino in DC’s Bloomingdales neighborhood are the owners and the staff. They take their role as a community restaurant seriously. As a result, they are welcoming, attentive and engaging with their patrons. As further evidence, they list their “partners” on their site. Their partners include the general contractor and the artists who designed aspects of the restaurant.
On one of my visits, the staff was having an animated discussion about how to stay engaged with the community, bring in business and be friendly toward their fellow restaurant owners but at the same time make sure their outdoor space was available for their patrons, not overrun with coffee drinkers from the coffee shop next door. They endeared themselves to me as a result.
The restaurant does have a really cool vibe. The light fixtures are hip chain link creations. The place is small, dark, a great atmosphere with lots of funky, edgy art on the wall. The tables are all a good size so you don’t feel like you are miles away from your dinner partner. They have a decent sized bar which usually has folks sitting around in fun conversations. But beware, for some reason, the phone rings at the bar, its a little startling even in these days of cell phones ringing everywhere – you just don’t expect a phone to ring right next to the liquor bottles.
The food, well – its a bit hit or miss depending on what you order. The chips are always crisp, salty and not greasy. The salsas and hot sauces are all made in house and are really snappy and zesty. The hottest sauce a mango-habanera does not bring the bang you would expect but it is still unique and spicy enough. I prefer the green salsa, I think the flavor is a bit more unique and spirited than the red salsa.
They also make their own taco shells, quesadilla shells, etc. They are fabulous with a great corn taste and have much more heft than you usually get in a tortilla. They are my favorite part of the meals. An outstanding dish is the spicy corn. A friend who regularly travels to Mexico declared it to be better than the spicy corn she buys from vendors in Mexico City. I have to agree – super fresh corn and a real bite of spice. The fajitas have been too soggy as are the salads – just way too much sauce and oil. It ends up drowning out any flavors of the dish. I enjoy the quesadillas, because of the shell and the spicy salsa, although I had to add a lit of extra salsa and sauce to get it a real bite of salsa flavor. The mushrooms and other veggies were well-seasoned.
The margaritas are often too heavy with the mix and too short on the hooch.
But, its still worth a trip to experience and to support this great local Mexican joint.