The young woman behind the counter at the Mexican Camel, responding to my question regarding how the concept works, said, “We’re sort of like Chipotle.”
Just as a matter of brand recognition, it may not be advisable to suggest you’re copying another restaurant. And if you do, maybe choose one that hasn’t been plagued in recent years with foodborne illnesses.
What she was trying to convey is that the Mexican Camel is yet another assemblage concept wherein diners choose the ingredients to be piled into a conveyance and thus take all responsibility if the melange sucks.
But Mex-Cam has its own unique spin to promote, and that’s that it combines Mexican and Mediterranean flavors in one dining excursion, making it possible to screw up your choices with two separate cuisines.
So here’s how it works. You first choose your base, which here can be a pita, burrito or taco, or if you want it in a bowl, you may choose one of three different rices, beans or a salad.
Then you choose a protein, such as chicken kabobs, chicken barbacoa, steak, lamb, seafood or falafel.
It’s with the sauce and toppings options where things start getting regionally specific. There are separate collections for sauces and accouterments that might be considered Mexican – jalapenos, salsa, guacamole, chimichurri – and another grouping for Mediterranean – feta cheese, tabbouleh, harrisa and tzatziki.
On my visit I chose a bowl of yellow lentil rice as my base, falafel as my protein and myriad add ons, including guacamole, corn and black bean salsa, tzatziki, taboule and chickpeas.
My dining companion chose a salad base with barbacoa, shredded cheese, salsa verde and cabbage.
I’ll say this about the experience: they are quite generous with the portions. There was a lot to eat in both of our bowls, which were fashioned out of recyclable cardboard. My choices, however, were predictably off point.
The falafel fritters were hard, impossible to spear with the rather flimsy plastic forks provided. A tad dry, too. And my topping choices didn’t make sense. If only there had been someone who could recommend combinations, even some that fused the two cuisines. You know, someone like a chef.
My companion had made better choices, and the barbacoa was pleasantly spicy.
The duality theme is carried over in the choice of chips (pita or tortilla), dessert (baklava or churros) and even the seasonings (hot sauce or sumac).
Mex-Cam occupies a space with an International Drive address that actually faces Kirkman Road. It’s the former location of Pio-Pio. The decor, which features walls of food words in multifaceted fonts, lime greens, gravy browns and blistered oranges, is loud. The music that plays in the background is louder. My companion and I couldn’t carry on a conversation and left earlier than we wanted to. (Maybe that’s the point of the loud music.)
The people behind the counter were friendly and welcoming and, as I said, generous with the ladles.
I like the idea of the Mexican Camel, though I’m not a good match for assemblage restaurants. It would be nice if, in addition to the ruin-it-yourself option, there were some preset menu choices. Also, sturdier forks to eat them with.
The Mexican Camel is at 5752 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-375-0000.