Tastings: El Camino Taco Shack
Get a taste of Tex-Mex at a hole in the wall on the Eastern Shore.
Every true Fairhopian remembers Winslow’s Café. It was the place to eat in town back before there were many places to eat in town. But some might not know that the American bistro struggled in the early 1980s until a tiny woman from Mexico came in and saved it, according to owner Harry Johnson. Mama Rosie added a Tex-Mex flair to the menu, which turned the place around, and the rest was history. Even years later, her legacy was not forgotten and Johnson named another establishment, Rosie’s Cantina, in her honor.
Johnson has owned successful joints with cult followings too numerous to count (any Pelican Point fans out there?) as he reinvents himself and his offerings to suit the times. These days, Mama Rosie’s flavorful legacy continues in the newest place for good eats and great times, El Camino Taco Shack. Harry and his wife, Alissa, have worked elbow-to-elbow in their restaurant kitchens and bars over the years, and this time around he is taking an advisory role when it comes to the day-to-day operations. Alissa is running the show, and she’s doing a great job.
The food is fresh and simple. No crazy tricks, nothing you won’t recognize. But Alissa inserts great flavor combinations into every dish. They make all their sauces from scratch each day, like the highly addictive fire-roasted salsa or the grilled pineapple salsa that kills it on the fish tacos. All the meats are slow-cooked in-house, and the poblano rice — cooked in a flavorful puree of charred peppers — is a standout.
El Camino is filling the void on the Eastern Shore for Tex-Mex that is a cut above but still unfussy. Alissa attributes their success to a fabulous staff. “Many of them have been with us since our Winslow’s days. It’s really special.”
The throngs of Fairhope shoppers and tourists haven’t found it yet. While it’s right in the heart of downtown, El Camino is hidden away from the bustle of Fairhope Avenue. Meanwhile, locals enjoy weeknight dinners with the kids and weekends full of big bands and a knock-your-socks-off margarita bar. There’s no doubt this south-of-the-border hole in the wall, like the Johnsons’ past projects, will find a place in the hearts of Fairhope residents and visitors, too.
On the Menu
Korbel Rita (above right)
This refreshing take on the margarita has agave syrup, fresh lime juice, el Jimador tequila blanco and Champagne. The perfect sipper on a warm day!
Fish & Shrimp Tacos (above left)
Grilled fresh mahi or meaty Gulf shrimp are topped with citrus aioli, jack cheese, sweet and spicy pineapple salsa and shredded lettuce on choice of tortillas.
Chicken Tinga Bowl
Shredded chicken cooked in a tomato and chili chipotle sauce crowns poblano rice, black beans, street corn, Cotija cheese, lettuce and fresh pico de gallo.
Mexican pork sausage is dressed with black beans, street corn, sour cream, Cotija cheese, cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice on a corn tortilla.