By Anne DesBrisay
It wasn’t for lack of trying only for lack of patience that I not yet supped at El Camino. The no reservation policy was the issue. I do hate that. But I suppose I get it. I’d just rather sing for my supper than queue for it — especially at thirty below.
Five-thirty may be an unfashionable hour for dinner, but it would seem the best time to snag an El Camino stool, ahead of the crowds clamouring for a seat in this industrial looking basement space.
So 5:30 it was. And by seven we were heading home, past the shivering masses beaming at our decision to vacate two seats. We were full and happy, and prepared to admit that notwithstanding the mild disappointment I feel when a hugely gifted chef turns to churning out tacos, El Camino is a marvellous addition to the Ottawa restaurant scene. And it’s a marvellous addition because an enormously gifted chef is in charge. The formula (heap-big flavourful food, fair prices, quality drinks, good kids on the floor) speaks of experience and confidence. There’s no shortage of nice staff here.
And now the bit I wish I didn’t have to write because it won’t help the queues. This is the best deal in town. After two tacos, I was full. Tacos cost four bucks. Sure, I kept eating, but I wouldn’t have had to had duty not called.
The Man had a pint of Muskoka Mad Tom and I had a wickedly good Margarita roofed with a thin sheet of lime zest and half rimmed with seasoned salt. We shared three kinds of tacos — tongue, lamb, crispy fish — and could have stopped there but didn’t. Shrimp dumplings and a steelhead trout tartare tostada were brilliant, while the salt and pepper squid featured beguilingly tender squid but needed another few seconds in the fryer: the end flavour was of flour.
The tacos were generously filled — the pulled lamb in particular — and though it doesn’t take much genius to build a great taco, these were those: true, clean, harmonious flavours and texture exactly where you want it.
I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Carmichael. But this underground taqueria with its clever takeaway counter is a keeper.
El Camino, 380 Elgin Street, 613-422-2800
Closed Monday, open late.