Hector’s Mexican Fast Food
235 Arneill Road
It’s time I was honest with myself. I am leaving California. My wife says she will come with me, though she is native here and has never lived anywhere but SoCal. I’m not a native, but I’ve been here a long time, since I was a boy. And I’ve made a living here, fallen in love here, had a child here, made a career here … and now, I can’t afford to live here, certainly not after I retire. But the nagging and life-altering question arises consistently when I start planning the next move in my head. You know what it is and you’ve asked it, too: “But where will I get good Mexican food?”
I spent three weeks in Europe in 2014. Three weeks — and I loved it. But there was no Mexican food and it made me sad. Wait, no — not sad. I yearned for it and couldn’t help myself. I wanted salsa and I wanted carnitas and I wanted carne asada and avocados and … schnitzel is very good, but it only goes so far.
That’s why Hector’s Mexican Fast Food, the new eatery that usurped the venerable Great Central Steak and Hoagie Company in Camarillo, was a glorious and welcome change. There are great Mexican food places where you can have white table cloths and spend a bit of money and they’re wonderful, worth your patronage. But once in a while, a yellow-stuccoed staid and simple walk-up where the ambience is the food, not the walls, is not only good for your wallet, it’s good for your soul. You want this — and you need it, too. This is Mexican food in the admittedly Mexican-American tradition, but with deeper roots in Mexico than, well, a lot of places.
We ordered Jamaica (pronounced ha-my-ka), a hibiscus tea, slightly sweetened, as well as a horchata and they were both refreshing, delicious and cool. A kicked-up version of the quesadilla with marinated carne asada was at once flavorful and meaty, no skimping on that tender steak. Jack cheese, rather than the ubiquitous yellow cheddar, felt more traditional and certainly tasted that way. Two salsas, a delightfully spicy red and a milder tomatillo green were so good that it was all we could do not to just indulge in the crisp flour tortilla chips, dipping and slurping away. I began a small game of tongue-singeing red, followed by the tangy and cool tomatillo and then dipped the quesadilla in both as well. So good.
We also ordered a carnitas burrito, the “super burrito,” as it was known with beans, cheese, fresh salsa and avocados. This was such a good, traditional dish that we nearly ordered a second, relegating the delicious quesadilla to appetizer status, but we knew better. The pork, again in abundance, was tender with just the right spice and salt to make the flavors come alive and the avocado, fresh and firm, really brought out the brightness of the salsa, allowing the cheese its more natural supporting role. Perfection.
According to the staff, Hector’s has its origins in the Salinas area and this is the first soiree to the south. It’s already become popular with the Camarillo locals and while the lines aren’t prohibitive, the patio and inside tables are full at lunchtime and most evenings, too.
Look, I’m leaving California. But not just yet, and if Hector’s offers me a few coupons, I may well have to extend my stay.