2400 India Street, San Diego
Wednesdays are jazz-jam night at Little Italy’s El Camino (formerly Airport Lounge), presented by legendary local trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos. Affable foot-tappers get loose over margaritas and sangria ($5) at tables inscribed with tarot archetypes. Girls, which my friend Lauren describes as “rockabilly paper dolls,” and guys in glasses, pencil ties, and newsie caps bob heads coolly amid the Virgen de Guadalupe candles and campy Mexican folk art. Bartender Rich slides me a tall can of Tecate ($4) beneath a hanging row of porcine lamps. Luchador detective films play on a big screen and on square-inch TVs embedded in the bar, where guest musicians nurse martinis, waiting for their turn to wail.
“The whole purpose of running the jam session for me is a community service, actually, to let people come out and share the stage with musicians in my group and, hopefully, to inspire the musicians of a younger generation to continue playing jazz,” Castellanos told “Blurt” contributor Dave Good in February.
The restaurant was opened last December as an extension of El Camino’s South Park location. “It’s really an organic restaurant done Mexican style,” says head hostess Alexa Parashos. “A lot of people who come here are looking specifically for organic or vegetarian food, and we like to cater to them. It’s really rare to find a place that can offer specialty food like [ours] and follow through 100 percent.”
Out back, a dia de los muertos skeleton cackles from the stained softwood wall. A few tables of patrons smoke and talk over the energetic Latin jams from inside. Conversation gets louder or stops altogether as jumbo jets roar over the open-air patio. The fully stocked back bar, bustling on busy weekend nights, is closed for the mellow Wednesday crowd. Lauren and I drink house sangria (the taste of which she pegs as “Mexican Christmas”) at a countertop decorated with Mexican pulp-noir imagery of thick-lipped vixens and quixotic caballeros.
The hombres’ room continues the theme with street-style stencils, running pastel-paint splotches, and a portrait in the loo reading, “¿Que honda, güey?”
— Chad Deal
Attire: Fiesta casual
Prices: Beer, $4-6 (michelada add $1); wine, $5-9; sangria and margaritas, $5/20 pitcher
Food: Organic, local, free-range Mexican dishes
Happy Hour: Mon–Fri, 5–7 p.m.
Hours: Opens at 5 p.m. daily; 10 a.m. brunch Sundays
Best deal: Taco Tuesday 1/2 off tacos and $3 Coronas; $1 mimosas Sundays