El Camino Gives Downtown Delray Beach Its First Tequila Bar

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It just makes sense that the owners of Cut 432 decided to bring the taste of the taco to downtown Delray Beach with their new taquería-ish El Camino.

El Camino owners Brandon Belluscio, Brian Albe, and Anthony Pizzo have brought Mexican soul-food and a top-notch tequila bar -- which opened its doors late December -- just off the city's Atlantic Ave. restaurant row. The establishment offers patrons a taste of Mexico through the lens of executive chef Victor Meneses, originally from Juarez, Mexico.

The restaurant, with its gaping open entrance reminiscent of a giant garage door, has been slapped into a space that was -- until recently -- a vacant corner parcel behind The Office leading into Delray's Pineapple Grove district. Today, the building's exterior has been given a total makeover, the exterior north wall hit with a splash of color with a large mural of custom graffiti art by Ruben Ubiera, who was contracted to paint Emiliano Zapata Salazar -- a leader of the Mexican revolution -- along with Day of the Dead skulls, an El Camino car, and other Mexican-themed images.

Inside, bright lime green booth seating and a handmade, rustic wood beam bar run the length of the space where bartenders sling craft-style margaritas and customers put them back like they're nothing more than water on a hot summer day. The bar menu and beverage program has been designed by Albe, who highlights over 200 selections of tequila from blanco reposado to anejo and mescal, and plenty of specialty margaritas you can drink them with. Draft and bottled beers have the standard Mexican favorites, but also local and regional craft picks, including a specialty porter from Boynton Beach's Due South brewed especially for El Camino.

Although his family is from Mexico, Meneses grew up stateside in New Mexico, cooking alongside his mother learning the family recipes at a young age. Schooled at the L'Acadamie de Cuisine in Maryland, he also spent five years learning from the likes of Michel Richard and Todd Gray cooking everything from French to Italian. Mexican, however, is where Meneses' heart is, and El Camino represents many of the unique dishes he ate as a child, but prepared with a modern touch. Chips and salsas are more authentic, given the proper texture and using ingredients sourced straight from Mexico, from the cactus in his slaw recipe, to the dried passila and morita peppers, árbol and cascabel chilies.

The food menu, like the drinks, is a little more craft than you'd expect and the restaurant proudly declares it makes everything in house, including hand-formed blue corn tortillas, the chorizo, and more than a dozen sauces including Meneses own secret recipe for hot sauce. Keeping with the most recent trend, everything is local and sustainable, ingredients "painstakingly" sourced, meaning if the mint is hard to come by, someone is going to darn well make sure it gets there fresh.

Speciality items littering the appetizer and entree menu with highlights like smoked brisket nachos and charred octopus, or a family recipe modified to make the squash blossom quesadillas. You can also get the familiar favorites like enchiladas and tamales, but we love the chile relleno, here pan-fried with egg -- no breading -- to keep with Meneses' family recipe. Our favorite starter, however, is the crispy fried pork skins, or chicharrón. Crunchy strips of fried pig's ear, they let off a muffled pop in your mouth with every bit, like some sort of edible fire cracker, served with a cactus slaw and sour cream.

And then come the tacos, served on a platter -- tiny round tortillas coursed out as though they were on a tasting menu -- from chili-rubbed skirt steak to crispy grouper. Each features a different type of cheese, sauce, marinade and topping to accentuate the meat, where beer-battered brisket is served near alone, while crispy fish is given a citrus-infused sauce with a lime, papaya and jalapeño cilantro sauce. Recently, a veggie taco was added upon request from patrons, and combines mushroom, roasted poblano peppers, pickled jalapeño, red onion and Meneses' fresh-made tomatilla salsa.

El Camino is located at 15 NE Second Ave. in Delray Beach. Call 561-265-5093, or visit www.elcaminodelray.com for more information.

Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.

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