Monday, January 12, 2009
El Camino Real is the latest restaurant venture from Owen Kamihira, who already is responsible for one of Northern Liberties most cherished gems, Bar Ferdinand. El Camino Real's head chef, Jen Zavala strives to provide quality Northern Mexican food as well as real Texas BBQ all within a setting that makes you feel like you're nowhere near Philadelphia. So many appetizers and small bites are available that entrees will have to wait for a second post.
The chips and salsa aren't free, but for just $2.50 your server will bring you an endless supply of lightly seasoned chips and two salsas for dipping. I preferred the green tomatillo salsa over the lightly smoked tomato salsa, but both were good and upon repeat visits have been just as fresh tasting as the opening week.
Nachos come heaped with refried or black beans (your choice), cotija cheese, lettuce, guacamole, tomato and jalapenos. For just a few bucks more you can add the meat of your choice and make this starter more of a meal.
Vegetarian wings are chewy seitan strips, crisped in the fryer then smothered in homemade sauce. Served with a side of ranch or blue cheese as well as carrot and celery strips, even the non-vegetarian will find this well-executed vegetarian snack a satisfying accompaniment to one of El Camino's delicious margaritas.
An adorable cast iron kettle comes stuffed with macaroni and cheese goodness. The macaroni was a bit overcooked but that was more than made up for with the flavorful combination of creamy cheese and spicy peppers hidden beneath a crunchy breadcrumb crust.
Spicy dill pickle slices are lightly breaded and fried crisp. They're crispy on the outside but warm, soft and vinegary on the inside, not everyones cup of tea, but I really liked them. I enjoyed the buttermilk onion rings more than any other appetizer on the menu. The onions were sweet, cut thick and enveloped in a crust that wasn't so thick that you pulled the onion out of the breading when you took a bite. A house made smoked ketchup is served with the onion rings and makes the perfect dipping sauce.
Jalapeno poppers were some of the spiciest I've tasted. I'm a fan of spicy things, but these may have been a little too hot for me. The apricot chutney was a good contrast to the spicy jalapenos, but neither the sweetness of the chutney nor the creaminess of the cheesy filling did anything to squelch the heat of the fresh jalapeno peppers. Pig wings are the porcine version of the chicken wing. I believe they are the shanks from the rear leg trimmed and frenched. They are tender and flavorful when cooked correctly, and at El Camino Real, they certainly are cooked well.
House made ice creams pepper the dessert menu. My favorite is the coffee flavored ice cream, served with the Benuelos, small sugary doughnuts, the ice cream is smooth, creamy and richly coffee-flavored. I found the benuelos a bit tough, but would order the ice cream a la carte again and again.
El Camino Real
1040 N. 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123