Walking into El Camino Cantina in Byron Bay in the new ‘Mercato’ building is overwhelming to say the least. Think Hard Rock Café circa 1985 meets Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
In contrast to the muted Mercato brickwork, El Camino Cantina screams in vivid technicolour and neon lighting while television screens stream music videos and groups of fun-filled folks wait for their generously sized Tex-Mex food. To get you into the spirit there are rainbow coloured oversized sombreros on the tables for Instagram snaps (I kept thinking about the potential for head lice) and free, unlimited corn chips with salsa being served from the boot of a car.
Arriving for lunch a few weeks ago, the welcome sign asked us to wait to be seated, but after several minutes of waiting and no sign of anyone heading our way, we decided to make our way through the bar in search of a seat in the restaurant, past a wall of Margarita machines serving all sorts of frozen flavours. The restaurant area overlooking Jonson Street was busy with kids and parents celebrating Mother’s Day. We got comfortable, took a sombrero snap for the full experience and grabbed our menu shaped like an LP ready for a taste of Tex-Mex cuisine.
I’m a big fan of an icy, salty rimmed Margarita – but the frozen slush puppy kind doesn’t float my boat – so we opted for a Mexican beer (Cerveza Tecate) to toast the day. The drinks list at El Camino Cantina includes wines by the bottle and glass, Sangria by the glass or tower, beer (chalice size available!), cider, specialty cocktails and a list of Red Bull drinks.
While waiting for our meals to arrive we received a complimentary basket of corn chips with two salsas which were like getting sweet & sour sauce free with your nuggets. We didn’t order Entreés but the offering includes options like Jalapeño Poppers, Nachos, and Buffalo Wings. For mains there are Fajitas, Quesadillas, Tacos and Burritos.
Mr GFAF ordered the Hickory Smoked BBQ Brisket Fajita while I ordered a Naked Burrito. The Fajita was served with house made tortillas, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese, seasonal veggies a sautéed onions. He enjoyed his dish and our waiter agreed that it was also his favourite on the menu. It was a generous serve as well – almost enough for two people priced at $39. The sizzling plate of meat with vegetable, charred corn and onions was accompanied by a little warm pot with house made tortillas inside and a side of sour cream with pico de gallo.
I ordered the Angus Beef Naked Burrito. In all honesty, I have enjoyed a better Burrito Bowl at the Mexican franchise a few hundred metres up the street. The Naked Burrito is a dish of crispy iceberg lettuce, avocado, salsa fresca, red cabbage, cucumber, spanish onion, beans, corn and tortilla crisps with lime coriander dressing. The tomatoes in the salsa fresca were soft like they had been prepared some time ago while the dressing was reminiscent of bottled salad dressing and the beef was pretty chewy. It was a dish I could have put together at home – albeit a better version.
We decided not to stay for dessert (churros) or another drink and when it came to find someone to take our money we had to go out to the bar area to track someone down.
THE VERDICT: El Camino Cantina will definitely appeal to families and groups. From the street it looks and sounds like party central. It’s a place where families can go for the value offering to enjoy the discount nights like $2 Taco Tuesday and 10c Wings plus Sunday Brunch. The Kids Menu includes Nachos, Tacos, Chicken Tenders and Churros. For the grown ups the appeal will be in the weekday Happy Hours and Late Night Dining. You can earn and use your Qantas points too!
I usually visit a place several times before I add it to the blog but it might be a while before I return to El Camino Cantina, especially when we are spoilt with other great Mexican food in this area. But don’t just take my word for it – please visit for yourself. I’d love to hear your thoughts and if there are any dishes or drinks I should go back and try.