By Ryan Hueter | Ballard News Tribune
Ever since he was raised in Southern California, Scott McGinnis has been a fan of Mexican food. Now, he is turning that love for the food and a passion for cooking into his first full-service restaurant.
McGinnis started the El Camion family of taco trucks with the North Seattle truck about six years ago, followed by one in Sodo, and three years ago, the truck in Ballard. Now, he is trying to bring the same model of serving their customers that has been successful with their trucks to their inside location. After all, El Camion translates to simply “the truck.”
Spinning off El Camion’s popular line of taco trucks throughout the city, owner McGinnis opened up a sit-down likeness of El Camion restaurant in north Ballard on Feb. 8 after four months of remodeling.
The building – just across from Ballard High School at the corner of 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 65th Street – is formerly the site of RoRo’s, and before that, Zesto’s, for over 60 years.
Though some expressed skepticism when seeing the beloved old Zesto’s being remodeled, McGinnis said the response from the community since opening has been positive.
“They’re excited to have the truck experience, but not have to potentially wait outside in the rain to get their food,” McGinnis said.
If you’ve enjoyed a fish taco or a torta at one of El Camion’s three mobile locations, don’t worry. Just because the restaurant is opening its first brick-and-mortar location in Ballard doesn’t mean the look and feel –- and perhaps more importantly, the taste –- will change.
“We were known for our trucks, and I don’t want that to change,” McGinnis said. “That’s why we’re going to operate very similar to that. I’m not looking to open something completely different.”
McGinnis said the plan for the restaurant menu is to expand on the offerings of tacos, burritos, and tamales available at their food truck locations to include plates, such as arroz con pollo and plato mole – a chicken and rice dish in a chili and chocolate sauce.
The new restaurant has been met with a good reaction from the community.
Ballard resident Dan Niah estimates he eats at El Camion two to three times per week.
“I’m stoked that it’s here, because this is way to closer to my house [than the. It’s just nice to be able to sit inside and have a good burrito,” said Niah, as he waited for a carne asada burrito and a fish taco on Thursday.
Ken Taylor, who works in Ballard, had been to El Camion’s taco trucks many times, but Thursday was his first trip to the sit-down restaurant.
“It’s an advantage not having to eat in your truck, and the food’s good, real good,” Taylor said as he chowed down on chicken pollo with rice and beans.
McGinnis has hired six new full-time staff members to help open the new eatery.
After McGinnis bought the building in October, he went about updating the interior to reflect the earthy, inviting atmosphere he wanted to cultivate. The walls are lined with hand-carved Mexican wood masks and authentic Mexican film posters.
“We wanted to bring some authenticity,” McGinnis said. “I was just trying to clean it up and have it feel very authentic and Mexican.”
A business graduate of the University of Southern California, McGinnis grew up eating Mexican food and sampling local food trucks. But McGinnis also enjoys getting in the kitchen when he can.
“When things are moving along, and I’m able to get back in the kitchen, I love it,” McGinnis said.
El Camion’s locations right across the street from Ballard High School provides a ready-made client base and may open up what McGinnis hopes will be a sustained relationship with the school. Like Zesto’s before him, McGinnis hopes to be a part of the community for a long time to come.
“The long-term vision is really to be just an anchor here in Ballard,” McGinnis said.
Location: 6416 15th Ave NW, Seattle, WA, 98107
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.