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Exterior. Foto: Eli Siegel
Exterior. Photo: Eli Siegel

El Camino Real

A unique “border food” restaurant serving both Texas BBQ and Mexican classics.

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Many of Philadelphia’s Latino restaurants specialize in a certain country’s cuisine, such as Mexican, Venezuelan or Peruvian. At El Camino Real in Northern Liberties, the focus is instead on the intersection of where two countries meet. More specifically, they center their menu on the Mexican-American border region of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

“We chose our name ‘El Camino Real,’ because it is the road that connects Juarez with El Paso,” explained Joshua Zameska, the El Camino’s Director of Operations.

The restaurant’s interior is outfitted to reflect that area, with dusty desert-like colors and warm wood furniture throughout. Many of the tables and chairs were built by owner Owen Kamihira who by trade is a designer and has helped develop other businesses in the Philadelphia area.

El Camino Real’s menu is divided into two halves. One side is dedicated to Texas BBQ classics, such as Brisket, Ribs and Texas Brats. The other is authentic Mexican and Tex Mex choices, like tacos, burritos and quesadillas.

Among the most popular options are the Texas Brats (house made pork and beef bratwurst), and shrimp, steak and chicken tacos. They also offer innovative specials that change based on the season and what produce is currently available. This past fall they offered pumpkin mole.

The menu will be tweaked early 2019 for the first time in 3 years to add a few new dishes, such as braised barbacoa and churry queso tacos. The goal is to provide fresh popular options that are made in house.

“If we can make, why buy it?” said Zameska.

Accompanying the diverse food menu is a large offering of drinks. The main feature are the Margaritas that come in seven different flavors, such as El Camino (silver tequila, fresh lime juice, orange liqueur and simple syrup) and Jalapeño (cazadores reposado tequila, fresh jalapeno, lime juice, simple syrup and orange liqueur).

They often have daily drink specials. This past December they had an advent calendar entitled “El Camino Gives A Sh*t,” offering different cocktails. Half the proceeds from these cocktail went to Toys for Tots.

The restaurant holds fundraisers for many different groups, such as the ACLU and the local library. They participate every year in the 2nd Street Festival on the first Sunday in August where different restaurants and businesses in Northern Liberties come together to promote the neighborhood. More recently, they held a Taco Challenge competition where 14 different restaurants offered a sampling of their tacos. The tacos were then judged by a panel that determined El Camino Real’s Executive Chef Michael Thomas’ mole tacos the winner.

“We like to have a good time at work. We enjoy what we do,” explained Thomas.

Thomas’ passion for food goes back to his early days growing up in an Ecuadorian family in the diverse neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens.

“Growing up I had amazing vegetarian Indian food that I took for granted,” said Thomas. “There also was fantastic Columbian, Ecuadorian. When I came to Philly it was a culture shock.”

Since coming here, he’s spent over a decade working in the food industry at places such as Buddakan, Lolita and Bar Ferdinand. He has held roles as everything from front of house, to dishwasher, to running the entire kitchen. For him, it’s about working together as a team to give the customers the best experience possible.

“We put in a lot of work, effort, care and love into what we do,” said Thomas. “Our current team is one of the best staffs we’ve had since we opened.”

For more information about El Camino Real check out their website www.elcaminophilly.com or their Facebook page @ElCaminoPhilly. Address: 1040 North Second Street Philadelphia, PA 19123. Hours: Monday - Friday 11am to 2am. Saturday and Sunday 10am to 2am. Prices: $8 - $20.

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