El Camino has a long road to travel until it can live up to the vibrancy and flavor of great Mexican cuisine. Although it offers an imaginative and appealing array of traditional and modernized Mexican dishes, it fails to deliver on its menu’s lofty promises, leaving its patrons out to dry.
Located in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, El Camino does not accept reservations, so expect a 20 minute wait before being seated. The interior straddles the line between intimacy and claustrophobia. The dining room is divided into a bar and two seated sections with wooden tables made of tire rims and packed together in such close proximity that there is hardly any room to walk.
The menu offers traditional-style Mexican dishes and street food in addition to some experimental dishes.
The cocktail menu, which is as long as the food menu, includes classics like the margarita in addition to novelties like Tepache, a fermented and spiced pineapple juice. There are items that appeal to both hardened culinary adventurers who swoon at the idea of trying new and exotic flavors and their less daring friends who got dragged along even though they don’t really eat spicy food.
Chips and dip is the word on appetizers. Chips and salsa, chips and guacamole, chips and black beans, chips and refried black beans. I’m warning you now: if you go to this restaurant, there will be chips involved. Don’t get me wrong, the chips tasted great, but there weren’t many other options. The guacamole strikes a great balance with texture and flavor—smooth, mild avocado and sharp, spicy jalapeño.
The scallop ceviche, from the antojitos section of the menu, was marinated in lime, grapefruit, and pomegranate and stood out from the rest of the meal as a well-executed example of Mexican street food. The scallops were seasoned with spices that balanced the acidity of the lime and grapefruit, as well as the sweetness of the pomegranate.
Unfortunately, my main course, a torta filled with carnitas, was disappointing. Despite an array of delicious ingredients, the sandwich came out as bland and as greasy as pizza at Leo’s. Basically, there was too much bread in proportion to the meat, which was bland to begin with.
The dessert, Papa Carlos’s chocolate macaroon cupcake, ended the meal on a passable note. The rich chocolate cake isn’t amazing, but it gets the job done if you have a sweet tooth. The cupcake’s familiar flavor stands in contrast with the kick of many of the main courses, calming the taste buds down after a long spicy Mexican culinary adventure.
Although El Camino strayed off its path throughout the night, its innovative menu definitely gives it the potential to become a great restaurant in the future.
108 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.
Open daily for dinner and drinks