CINCINNATI -- El Camino, the new Mount Lookout restaurant with Latin-inspired flair and fare, will celebrate its official grand opening this week.
It was October when proprietor Sean Morgan and chef Brad Johnson, former co-workers at BrewRiver GastroPub, first announced their plans for the eatery, located on the square on Delta Avenue in space once occupied by Annabel's. The restaurant has been completely transformed in the months since – from a sparsely decorated American café to something with a more San Juan-type feel.
And after nearly a full week in soft opening mode, El Camino will officially mark its debut Tuesday. Hours are 5 p.m.-midnight.
"We're so happy to be done with construction and actually be back in the kitchen cooking," Johnson said. "When you come, I want it to feel like you've been transported out of Cincinnati, and you're on a vacation somewhere in Puerto Rico or down in the Caribbean. We have music to fit the theme and to keep it interesting. It's awesome."
The fresh, bright paint, reclaimed barnwood bench seating and chalkboard menu all stand to highlight the main attraction: the food. El Camino specializes in Cuban and Puerto Rican street eats such as the Cubano, tacos and tripleta, a combination of ground pork, ham and bacon.
And while El Camino will largely serve a dinner and late-night crowd – the restaurant will stay open until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, for example – it's also keeping the tradition as a Sunday brunch spot alive, highlighted by huevos rancheros, chicken and waffles and Mallorcas sandwiches. Alcohol is pending, too: Once El Camino has its liquor license, patrons will be able to order beer, sangria, mimosas and more.
"To my knowledge, there's nothing else like this in Cincinnati," Morgan said.
Morgan, a former school teacher, and Johnson, a chef who's trained in both San Francisco and Puerto Rico, opened unofficially last week, and said they've been well received – especially given they're debuting a restaurant in January, one of the most difficult months to enter the market, and with the recent bout of bad weather. But it hasn't kept people away.
"Even (Sunday) morning with the winter (weather) advisory warnings, I thought we'd be dead, but we were packed," Morgan said. "I think it's been a really good, natural build-up and word-of-mouth. And it's been a good spread of people, some who've never had anything like this before and wanted to try it, and others who're really pumped that, when we say Latin food, we don't just mean tacos and salsa."
"So far it's been all positive reviews," he added. "It's all really encouraging, and the numbers that we've done so far are already way ahead of where I thought we'd be at this time. I'm really excited to see what we'll do in, like, June, when it's nice out, the Reds are playing and the square is bumping."
Plus, he said, partnerships have been key. Morgan said the Mount Lookout business community has been extremely supportive. El Camino is also celebrating a recent relationship with MadTree, using the craft brewer's beer to give its mac and cheese and queso blanco dip a little extra kick.
"We just started this and already have great connections like that, so it's a good sign," Johnson said. "It's a blessing."
El Camino's current hours are 5 p.m.-midnight Tuesday-Thursday; 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday; noon-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/elcaminocincy or call 513-376-8328.