99-cent Taco Tuesdays at El Fogon Mexican Grill ensured that business was flowing even at 11:30 in the morning. The cozy restaurant was occupied with people of all ages; children snacked with their parents while co-workers chatted during their lunch break. The ambiance was light-hearted and welcoming and colorful art hung on the light yellow walls. El Fogon had a traditional, authentic and family-owned feel to it. Although the restaurant itself is very homely on the inside, it is easy to overlook because of its exterior. On the outside, it is located in a dark hidden corner among many other restaurants that are operating but appear to be abandoned. El Fogon is difficult to see at first, if not for the flashing “OPEN” sign on the glass. However, the restaurant is a very convenient distance from campus—right next to Boba Tea House, the busy hub for thirsty and social UCR students.
The menu features a diverse selection of fish and shrimp dishes, as well as the more common meats like carne asada, chicken, chorizo, pork and even tongue. Each meal begins with a complimentary basket of chips and salsa. The chips were delightful—crispy, airy, flavorful, possibly homemade and absolutely addicting. The staff was also very attentive, frequently refilling water and checking up on every customer. The Horchata at El Fogon is quite unique. It has more of a kick to it because it leans more towards the spicy hint of cinnamon flavor and is less inclined towards the typical milk and rice flavors. Items on the menu are also impressively affordable. The most expensive type of taco, which is the fish or shrimp taco, is only $1.50 regularly. On top of that, customers can easily be full from two or three tacos because the portions are so generous at El Fogon.
Another great thing about El Fogon is that before the meal, the staff asks each individual customer what his or her salsa preference is (mild, medium, or hot) instead of one collective bowl for an entire table to share. The carne asada and chorizo tacos are topped with abundant amounts of cilantro and onion, which I always can’t get enough of, and the fish taco comes with fresh avocado. More specifically, the flour tortillas at El Fogon are absolutely delicious. They manage to avoid every way a tortilla could go wrong— by being disappointingly stale, grainy, or papery—and are instead exceptionally tasty, soft and chewy. They are also very hot to the touch because they are fresh off the grill.
The carne asada burrito is huge. Portions are very hearty at El Fogon, which is great for customers who are looking to defeat hunger without blowing too much cash. The quality of the beef was quite good, as proven by the absence of heavy sauces to drown out the true flavor of the steak. The fish was also not bad, but its flavor blended too easily and almost disappeared into the rest of the taco’s toppings. If it were not for how densely covered it was in black pepper, the piece of grilled fish would have been nearly undetectable. Generally, the meat is very lightly seasoned, almost too lightly seasoned. Asking for extra sauce or toppings could easily enhance this, but for Mexican food lovers who crave intense, bold flavor, maybe a meal at El Fogon would not be satisfying enough for them.
It is probably best to stick to tacos when dining at this establishment because they seem to be the specialty. The burrito, quite honestly, was nothing special. It held together some beef, mostly rice, a little bit of sour cream and cheese and a big, sloppy spoonful of mushy brown refried beans. For customers who are used to flavor explosions such as Chipotle burritos, which feature everything from sweet corn to grilled peppers and onions, El Fogon’s blander tastes don’t stand a chance.
Generally, El Fogon’s strongest traits are the location, the affordability, and the great selection of meat. This is definitely a restaurant that many customers would make a personal favorite and return to regularly.