After accidentally passing by what appeared to be an abandoned, white shack several times on a rather obscure street corner, I finally came to the realization that the little building was a restaurant named Tacos El Camaroncito. Being one to not typically judge a book by its cover, I figured I would give this restaurant a try — at least my stomach was willing to, seeing as how much I was craving Mexican food at the time.
Upon pulling into the cramped, gravel lot, the scent of fresh cilantro and limes wafted toward me as I read a painted wall that advertised their burritos, tacos, tortas and ceviche in bold, black letters. Following the invigorating scents, my eyes trailed to the dirt-stained walls as I walked around toward the front of the scrubby building where the cashier waited to take orders behind a small window opening. Despite the grubby exterior, the restaurant still met the county’s standards of health and sanitation with their blue graded “A” noticeably exhibited by the cashier.
Tinted with age, the yellowing windows displayed a large menu that boasted their assortments of meats, ranging from the more basic asada to the atypical cahuamanta, or manta ray fish. After much consideration, my friends and I finally made a decision and proceeded to order asada (beef), lengua (beef tongue), pescado (fish), camaron (shrimp) and cahuamanta tacos. Additionally, we requested a pastor (barbeque pork) burrito and ceviche de camaron (shrimp ceviche tostada). The cashier hastily wrote down our choices, aggravated at our indecisiveness in ordering, especially since we were the only customers and it was nearing the time of closing at 6 p.m.
As I waited for our food, I wandered about the limited space and noticed a tight indoor dining room neatly lined with just a few well-used tables and brown leather-lined benches. Sadly, the restaurant closed off their interior seating so we weren’t able to escape from the 60 degree SoCal weather. The outdoor space consisted of three tables and benches positioned under a patio roof, which was lined with a few hanging flower pots overflowing with delicate plants.
Our variety of food quickly arrived one after another soon enough, filling our table with vibrant colors from the fragrant limes, avocados and red chili sauce. My cravings and senses were well satisfied before I even got a taste of the food.
I sliced into the warm tortilla and filling, revealing layers of steamy beans, barbecued pork, onions and rice. With a tender bite into the wide burrito, I can gladly confirm that it tasted even better than it looked as the flavored meat melded with the aromatic Spanish rice. The ceviche de cameron met the high expectations set by the savory burrito as well. Sandwiched between two satisfyingly crunchy tostadas, the shrimp was cooked to the ideal level of crisp freshness that balanced perfectly with the tartness from the lime juice and diced tomatoes sprinkled throughout.
Each and every single taco we ordered was equally packed with assorted flavors. They were brightly topped with cilantro, diced onions, tomatoes, sliced creamy avocadoes and their red sauce, which gave it a heated kick. The fish in the soft-skinned tortillas were fried to absolute righteousness with a thin crunchy outer layer and a still moist and juicy interior. The shrimp, like the ceviche, was still fresh, while the meats were tender and soft with seasoned flavors flowing throughout. The manta ray fish was particularly flaky and somewhat resembled dried cuttlefish — a mixture of chewiness and dryness — peculiar, but something I’m sure we just needed getting used to.
Tacos El Camaroncito brought back old favorites of mine in a renewed light, while introducing me to different choices such as the manta ray fish. With its low, college-student-appropriate prices and authentic Mexican dishes, the visit to this tiny restaurant was definitely worth it. Don’t let the grimy, unappealing exterior of the restaurant fool you into thinking the food is unappetizing, because it is quite the opposite.