By Ryan Breyer-Smith

Camarillo eatery offers an array of Mexican dishes

Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant and Take Out
630 E. Ventura Blvd., suite #1217

Tucked in front of The Promenade at Camarillo Premium Outlets, this Los Arroyos marks the third and latest venture for the popular and award-winning restaurants — originally opened in downtown Santa Barbara (1999) and then along the chic Coast Village stretch in Montecito (2004).

Los Arroyos’ décor is more refined than most Mexican takeout spots — meticulously designed with vaulted wood ceilings, muted walls, subdued stonework, tasteful paintings, several comfortable, cushioned booths, wooden tables and chairs, warmly lit by wrought-iron chandeliers, giving a Modern Spanish feel. (Outdoor patio seating is also available.)

Met by a friendly female hostess right inside the entrance, and considering the furnishings and vibe, it was surprising when she handed us menus, told us to choose a table, and then directed us to place our order at the counter. I guess being veterans of the sit-down Montecito restaurant led my wife and me to assume there would be table service here, too.

This Camarillo menu is quite similar to those of the other two sites, just a hint less expensive (read: $1-2 per entree) for many of the same dishes. A one-page menu insert had even more chef favorites, and a chalkboard listing daily specials hung behind the cash register counter. (It said chicken mole on Tuesday; I made a mental note.)

Seeking a range of entrees, we ordered the Tacos del Mar with fish, a Run Away Burrito with al pastor, and one of the bright salads found on the addendum menu — a grilled salmon filet atop mixed greens tossed in a passion fruit dressing, with avocado, jicama, red onions, mango and tomato.

food2The woman then asked if we wanted any tortilla chips for our table, quickly adding they cost $3.50. Hmmm. Charging for chips? “This place has a slight identity problem,” I told my wife. “It’s too nice to be a taco shop, but it’s not quite casual-upmarket dining, either.”

Almost immediately upon sitting back down, the woman at the register walked over and sincerely apologized that they were out of salmon for the day. (It was 3 p.m.) A bit deflated, we acquiesced and opted for Mama’s Salad with chicken, instead. (Complimentary chips would have made a nice pair with the apology, I thought, but none were offered.)

To that end, the salsa bar is exemplary. Six different, unique blends on offer, with slots for two more. (Perhaps a green salsa or two were missing?) From mild pico de gallo to medium-spicy puréed tomato/cilantro/jalapeño and smoother tomatillo to a somewhat hot and smoky quemada, plus an interesting cabbage salad salsa as well as a chunky onion and habanero pepper mix. I filled five small molcajetes to taste. (The decorative salsa bowls are a classy touch.)

All the food arrived simultaneously less than five minutes later. No plastic trays, paper plates or tin foil here — instead, sleek white dishes.

Mama’s Salad was a substantial bowl of crisp romaine lettuce and mixed greens, roasted veggies (zucchini, yellow squash, corn, red pepper), one tomato slice, a hearty avocado half, with carefully grilled chicken on top and a cup of “balsamic vinaigrette” on the side. This well-balanced, light meal satisfied the healthy requirement of our small, South of the Border buffet, yet it could not escape being overshadowed by the idea of the tropical salmon salad we wanted but that never was. (To note: The dressing was not really a vinaigrette so much as it was a creamy balsamic. It was pretty good, though.)

The Run Away Burrito was, as advertised, “a simple handheld burrito with brown beans, cheese, guacamole and choice of grilled chicken, steak, or al pastor.” An admitted al pastor aficionado, it was difficult for me to even realistically grade the marinated pork, since the thin cuts seemed near nonexistent. The other three ingredients were left without any texture or foundation, becoming a saucy mix where any individual flavor was lost, including the excellent guacamole. All said, it was fairly disappointing for a $9 burrito.

The Tacos del Mar, on the other hand, are quite commendable. The light and fluffy corn tortillas are surely homemade — a great start. Just enough freshly shredded cabbage is used — not overdone, not the smothering pile often found at local fish taco joints. Unaware of which fish would be used here, we were both excited to see two beautifully cooked rectangles of halibut in the middle. (Apropos for a $13.50 plate price.) And, oh, that mango salsa (onion, tomato, cilantro, mango) atop is a wonderful accompaniment, chopped ever so finely — not the chunky soup version, which can overpower everything in its path. A creamy chipotle sauce drizzle finishes it, and, voilà!

This is definitely one fish taco that will cause future cravings. Built with purpose, every ingredient is allowed to breath, each bite an excitable, savory mouthful.