>We chanced upon El Campeon years ago when we first moved to southern California. We were visiting San Juan Capistrano and saw a huge crowd in and around this restaurant as we drove by. I wasn’t in the mood to tackle the masses so we left, completed what we went to SJC to do and then returned several hours later to see if it was easier to get a parking spot and if the crowd had died down. Unfortunately, it hadn’t and I wasn’t about to leave without giving this place a try. I figured, if a place has this many people hovering around for hours on end, it’s gotta be good, right?
So we made our way inside the humble store front — which incidentally has had a slight remodel since our previous visits — where you go through a line, order at the counter, wait for your order to be ready, and then pay at the cashier. Be prepared to be addressed in Spanish, be prepared that they’ll understand you when you speak in English, but that won’t deter them from asking you another question in Spanish. Thank goodness my basic knowledge of Spanish is enough to get my order in, get across the condiments I want, and to understand when my number is being called through the speakers.
I’ve returned on various occasions en route to San Diego, usually eating the same thing, but on this particular visit, I decided to try something different. I perused the menu and decided upon the meat I wanted and then made my way up to order. Naturally the lady behind the counter greeted me with an ‘hola‘ and I was ready this time to place my order in Spanish without thinking about it. And like on previous visits, we were asked if the list of condiments were acceptable and whether it was for here or to go.
It took about 10 minutes for our order to be ready and just as I’d expected the cashier called out our number in Spanish. Hey, at least this time, it was nine — ‘nueve‘ — and not something like 186!
My two tacos — one with al pastor (left) and the other with barbacoa (top right) — were stuffed with meat. These aren’t your little street tacos. These are larger in size and with the amount of meat on them, it was really filling for me. The al pastor was so flavorful and greasy while the barbacoa was just seasoned perfectly. I think I like the barbacoa over the carne asada now — carne asada used to be my meat of choice when I came here.
Menudo is served daily and this was what I saw most people order, but I come here for the tacos or the tortas. Agua fresca is freshly juiced here so if you like fresh juices, definitely get one. And if your meal wasn’t enough, the adjoining panaderia will solve that problem! Just grab one or two pan from the display case and your sweet tooth will definitely be satiated!
This is one of my favorite Mexican places in Orange County! I only wish it wasn’t such a drive for me but when the craving hits distance is never a real issue!
El Campeon, 31921 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675. Tel: 949-489-9767
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