El Cameron, Taqueria Jalisco — indoors, outdoors6/25/2014
Food trucks are more American than apple pie. Actually invented here, the trucks evolved out of the Great Plains cattle drives’ chuck wagons. Those were invented by the legendary Charles Goodnight, the real-life model for Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove saga. In the east, their prototype was the railroad station peanut cart. In the late 19th century, those provided an entry-level entrepreneurial opportunity for mostly Italian immigrants, including the Obici brothers, who developed their carts into the Planters corporation. Food trucks today are still an entry level business for some, but in a more contentious way. Restaurants often resent them poaching customers with lower overhead costs. Tax-collecting entities often support the restaurants with restrictions on where, and how long, they can park.
Now restaurants are subscribing to the old theory “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Mike LaValle (Embasssy Club), George Formaro (Centro, Django, Zombie Burger, Gateway Café, Malo and South Union), Tony Lemmo (Gusto, Café di Scala), and Hy-Vee are all in with food trucks. Why not? The profit margins can be extraordinary, particularly at events and festivals. Two other established restaurants recently joined the rush to mobility. Mike Wedeking of the all-wood barbecue Flying Mango opened Magnolia Kitchen and Grocery, with chef Nick Illingworth. So far, I have gone looking for them in vain, as they abandon regular parking habits for special events. It’s a good idea to check for their schedule daily on Facebook.
The other new restaurant gone mobile is easier to find. In the past year, Alfredo Lozano’s Taqueria Jalisco changed its name to Taco King and then to El Cameron. The original name now graces his trailer, which is parked daily in the restaurant’s parking lot at 1704 E. Grand. It’s the only place from which they vend their fabulous tacos ($1.50), tortas ($5), and quesadillas ($3.50). Those are made with some of the most tender versions of pastor (seasoned pork shoulders), asada (grilled steak), lengua (braised tongue) cabeza (braised cheeks) and buche (stomach cooked in lard) in town. Double tortillas and marvelous salsas are included.
Indoors on weekends, El Cameron is now a seafood café with one other specialty. The latter is a torta not served outside — the ahogada. This is to Guadalajara what a hot pork sandwich is to Iowa. The torta is completely drenched in gravy, in this case a red chili gravy. Obviously, it should not be eaten while driving, or even standing up outdoors. It requires leaning over a plate on a table, with many napkins.
Otherwise, El Cameron is a bargain seafood café. One can order a dozen oysters for $16, a jumbo shrimp cocktail for $12, or four treatments of cooked shrimp dinners for $13. Fish dinners included three kinds of mojarra (a Pacific Ocean tilapia) and the Mexican classic huachinango a la Veracruzano ($16) — a whole fried red snapper with the usual accompaniments of lettuce, lime, rice and beans. Fish, shrimp and combined seafood soups seem to be the most popular items.
My favorites were tostadas of ceviche ($3.50), and of squid in its own ink ($5). Both were extraordinarily generous and the squid delivered complete spectrum of flavors — sweet, sour, salty, acidy and unami. Cucumbers served with these tostadas had been peeled and sliced — something rarely done anymore in places that charge far more money.
Bottom line — On weekends, El Cameron provides the best of both taco truck fare and sit-down Mexican food. Both are serious bargains.
Side Dishes: Bar Louie, a rapidly expanding bar and restaurant chain out of Texas, opened its first Iowa store, in the village area at Jordan Creek Town Center… Paul Durr bought Prairie Canary in Grinnell from Carly Groben. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.