Memorable | One of the Best
3 Caminos | Authentic, From-Scratch Mexican | Aiken, SC
Review by: Michael Stern
True Roadfood Charm
Located in the back room of a defunct gas station, 3 Caminos Tienda y Taqueria will not win an award from Architectural Digest. But its from-scratch Mexican food demands attention.
Walking in, a newcomer might be apprehensive. The building lacks windows, except a few that have been boarded up. A maze of merchandise crowds the store part of the operation up front. Head to the back room and things perk up. Refrigerated bins hold very fresh looking produce. You might see Epazote (for weekend menudo) drying on a makeshift rack. At the back of a small, orderly dining room you will find a window to the kitchen. Smells wafting out the window are convincing argument to stay and place an order (at that window). Find something to drink in a case that holds countless cans and bottles of sodas from Latin America and the U.S. Have a seat.
Authenticity Tastes So Good
This restaurant pre-assembles nothing. So expect to wait a while. A member of the staff carries the meal out to the table you have chosen. The menu includes such basics as burritos (huge and picture-perfect), tacos, gorditas, tortas, and quesadillas. Fill them with ingredients that include familiar things such as steak, carnitas (pulled pork), chorizo sausage, and chicken. Or choose something more exotic: beef cheeks or pork stomach, for instance.
I am particularly fond of carnitas. Delicious unadorned, they attain culinary divinity in a burrito, dressed with one or more of the salsas set out on a buffet table near the order window. In addition to jalapeno-spiked pico de gallo and sliced radishes, you will find hot and smoky chipotle salsa, cheerful green cilantro sauce, and marinated onions laced with fiery habanero peppers.
How to Cure a Hangover
“My friend, you made a good choice,” says the only other person in the dining room early one weekend morning when I walk in and he hears me order menudo. “That menudo brings me back alive,” he declares as he wipes sweat from his forehead and pushes back from an emptied bowl.
3 Caminos menudo is potent stuff, no doubt. It lacks the palliative hominy that tends to be a major player in Southwest and north Mexico versions. (Instead, you get tortillas on the side.) The great cinnabar-red soup is laced with perfumy epazote and loaded with nuggets of tripe so unctuous that they feel like soft, melty fat. I’m the first to say this from-scratch Mexican specialty is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea; but if you are a menudo fancier, check it out. In my limited experience, it is some of the best. (Saturday only)
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