There’s a warm familiarity to Old El Camino in Swanton, the newest addition to the Angel family’s group of Mexican restaurants in northwest Ohio. The building has a long history with area diners as it originally opened decades ago as the Hilltop Bar, before being transformed into Barron’s Cafe. Now, Jesus Angel (from El Camino, Sylvania and Douglas) and his family have purchased it.
After a year and a half of planning and remodeling, Old El Camino opened for diners last December. The Angels worked to make the space their own. Colorful and rustic artwork lines the walls, providing unique character. “It was an old building, and since I was a little girl, my dad has always collected antiques,” said Tiffany Angel-Sarver, Jesus’ daughter and co-owner of Old El Camino. “A lot of the decor here is from his collection.”
The expansion to Swanton is the latest move for the El Camino brand. First opened in Bowling Green in 2001, the intervening two decades have seen the Angel family business move to Toledo, then expand with new locations in Oregon and Point Place. Tiffany has worked alongside her dad since the beginning. “Being a big family restaurant, we work together. The little details my dad puts in the restaurants, as far as the decor, the design, it feels like home,” she said.
Entering the venue on a Wednesday evening, we were quickly greeted by a server and shown to a table near the front window. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, not too bright and not too crowded. It has the feel of an old time roadhouse.
A second server soon took drink orders (plenty of beer and margaritas available), and returned with complimentary chips and salsa. The chips are clearly made in-house and the salsa was delicious, if not quite thick. We ordered some chicken dip to accompany the chips as an appetizer. The dip, full of shredded chicken, was delightful and not at all spicy, with melted cheese sounding the dominant notes.
The menu will be familiar to anyone who has frequented El Camino — with a few additions, like the Angel Seafood Sensation, the offerings are consistent with the other restaurants in the group. We decided to try trademark Mexican flavors in dishes that the Angel family serves as staples.
From the A La Carte menu, we ordered a set of three chicken tacos ($7), which came piled high on soft tortillas in remarkably generous portions. The flavor was excellent, though the chicken was a bit watery— the second taco’s shell was pretty damp by the time we got to it.
We sampled a Chile Relleno ($5 for one), stuffed with cheese, ground beef and peppers, and a tamale ($3.50) on the side. The dish continued the trend of bringing both the flavor and value, though without a lot of heat. (We did ask for some hot sauce to up the spice level a bit, and a bowl of it was quickly delivered.)
The most adventurous among us ordered a Fajita Burrito ($12.50), a flour burrito that comes stuffed with either chicken or steak. We asked for both, and the resulting combination proved to be an exquisite choice, with neither ingredient overpowering.
A family evening
The overall sense one comes away with from Old El Camino is a spirit of generosity— the amount of food served for the price is a remarkable deal, and the warm atmosphere and attentive service makes you feel as if you’re being treated to an evening by Angel-Sarver’s family. “I hope diners walk away saying ‘it was a great experience— wonderful service, wonderful food’ and that they’ll be back,” she added.
13625 Airport Hwy., Swanton 419-402-4222
11am-9pm, Monday-Thursday. 11am-10pm, Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. oldelcamino.com