Tasty in $12 is a new feature designed for those living on a budget. Each entry highlights a dish — either a full meal or substantial snack — from a local eatery that can be purchased for $12 or less. Know a dish you think should be featured here? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with recommendations.
With its plain concrete façade and limited signage, El Camino Mexican Store and Eatery used to be something of a hidden gem — an authentic Latin restaurant in a city inundated with Tex-Mex masquerading as authéntico. Then the life-size metal roosters appeared around the columns of the portico facing Lakeside Drive, and the jig was up.
There’s almost always a crowd of cars parked around the little cantina at dinnertime these days. I mean, how can you not stop to check out the brightly colored plumage on a bird that’s taller than you?
The quirkiness continues inside with yellow and orange walls and the mismatched patterns of tablecloths, window hangings and placemats. There’s a homey feeling to the restaurant, which owner Alan Gutierrez named due to its proximity to U.S. 221; el camino roughly translates to “the way” or “the road,” he explained. It’s almost like you’ve dropped by your neighbor’s house for a visit.
That welcoming energy also appears on the menu, much of which is displayed in bright shades on the chalk wall above the register. Latin American staples of tacos (four for $8 to $10.25) and enchiladas ($7.75) are offered alongside dishes that are lesser known in the U.S., like sopes (three for $6 to $7.75), a popular street snack that’s kind of like a Mexican pizza, and pupusas ($6.75), thick, griddled corn tortillas stuffed with various combinations of meat, vegetables, beans and cheese.
However, the favorite among regulars is the Honduran Breakfast ($9.75), a dish that, like its name implies, is styled after how those who live in Honduras start their day.
Eggs simply scrambled on a flattop along with smoky, spicy chorizo (which you can sub for tomatoes if you’d rather go vegetarian) are served atop the ever-classic combination of rice and refried beans with a touch of cheese. The creamy avocado on the plate cuts through the lingering heat of the sausage, and the tortillas, which can come in flour and corn varietals, make for a great way to sop up flavors.
But the true star of the dish is the fried plantains. Cut to a medium thickness and fried until golden brown, the starchy fruit bursts with sweetness as it melts on your tongue. Every once in a while, you’ll find one of those little morsels with edges that have just begun to caramelize, creating a crunch and textural contrast against the plantain’s soft center.
El Camino’s Honduran Breakfast also comes with a side of chile de arbol sauce. Don’t let its innocuous green appearance fool you, the sauce is enough to make your eyes water and your throat burn in the best way possible.
With the meal coming in a bit below the Tasty in $12 limit, you’ll still have room in your budget to buy a couple of sweet breads ($1 each) — if you have any room left, that is.