Monday, September 19, 2011

Denver al Pastor Take 13: Finally! A Taqueria El Fogon in Denver (and Ice Cream Next Door)

El Fogon. It is a classic name for a taqueria. It is strong, bold and simple. Depending on where you are it can mean "campfire", or "wood burning stove", or "stove burner", or any number of flame-related nouns, so its name on a restaurant sign is often accompanied by a logo of fire. It rolls off the tongue beautifully in its native Spanish (there is an accent on the second "o") and at the same time is hard to butcher too badly in English. Every town in Mexico (maybe even every neighborhood) has a restaurant named "El Fogon" (this one in Playa del Carmen is where my fantastic pastor recipe comes from)--hell, almost every city in the US with any respectable amount of Mexican fare has one too (a quick google search even finds one in Cuyahoga Falls, OH).

Denver, on the other hand has only had one for a little less than a year. Maybe there was one before, and you old-timer Denverites please let me know, but it is about time there is a taco shop here named El Fogon. It is appropriate that El Fogon opened up its doors on South Federal. I've said before that in this economy it takes some cojones to open up a taco shop in the middle of Denver's tacolandia, but if anyone can do it, it will be a restaurant with a name like Fogon. And even with the plethora of Mexican restaurants lining this boulevard of tacos, it somehow seems all-the-more complete with a sign sporting a flame and the words: El Fogon.

I was tipped to Fogon just after the publication of this year's Pastor list by the savvy Examiner reporter Mark Antonation. Well, it didn't take me long to get myself over there (it has taken me a while to write about it) after I got word, because as I mentioned in the aforementioned list, there are just not enough spits of meat serving pastor in this town.

El Fogon, besides its unforgettable name and spit of pastor, looks about like any other taqueria you might have walked into in your life: Simple decorations; sparse, utilitarian tables and chairs; brightly painted walls; bootleg CDs and DVDs for sale; and a menu on the wall with all the usual suspects. It may be a little cleaner than the average taqueria, maybe because of its newness, and unfortunately despite being Friday night, it was empty.

I think El Fogon had been around since about March of this year, so it is a little sad to see it empty on a weekend. Although for my wife and I, who now travel with two babies and all the bags of gear that go along with that, it was nice, as we were able to spread out over two tables and six chairs without feeling even a bit bad.

The spit of meat was there behind the counter although it looked nothing like it does in this Westword picture (above). I suppose when Westword comes you break out the good stuff. (When I come, however, you try to lock the door and flip the sign over to "Closed" when you see me pull up to the curb.) Tonight's was shorter--much, much shorter--a little lopsided and not nearly as well-charred as that lovely picture. But of course we all know that it is not the size of the spit that matters.

We ordered some pastor and some tacos de Birria. I'll start with the birria because it was different from other birria I've had. What I am used to as birria is a rich stew full of tender chunks of goat. This was simply a taco of shredded beef. But the beef had a wonderful and rich flavor that was slow-cooked in I imagine some sort of broth or marinade similar to what goes into the goat stew I am accustomed to. They were incredible: soft and tender, rich with flavor.

The pastor was a little chunky (versus the preferable thin slices) but it was well-charred from its second cooking on the grill and not too overdone as many are in the US. The flavor was good and the pineapples were real, although they too were grilled in grease and I prefer them fresh or just lightly charred with flame only.

They were served con copia, or that is, with two tortillas, but they weren't exactly overflowing with meat, so I ditched the second tortilla in the end. Overall I really liked the pastor here. It was a lot like the Carboncitos pastor, which for a Denver-area pastor, is pretty good. Here is a close-up:

For some reason we also ordered a gigantic smothered steak burrito. Besides being slightly taken aback by its intimidating size, my first impression was that of awe, as it came out smothered not only in green chile but in freshly fried chicarrones.

So fresh were they fried, in fact, that they were still popping grease from their bubbly, crackling skin.

Excited from the excellent birria and above-average pastor, we dug in with a fury. The green chile was decent and the chicarrones were exquisite, but the contents of overcooked chopped steak, greasy beans and sticky rice were bland and old-tasting. It was really bad. It was still meat and cheese and beans for the most part, and we ate a lot of it, but the flavor was off. We ended up picking away at the chicarrones and going back in for a scoop of burrito-fill, but it never got any better. Not sure what happened and I probably don't want to know.

Chicharrones? Yes. Rest of it? Ick. 

After leaving with the nasty burrito taste in our mouths, we were persuaded to get some ice cream next door by a friendly man who opened the door for us and almost pushed us inside. Luckily it was hot and dry out, because according to the sign on the door, the good folks at Paleteria Chihuahua shorten up their hours some on cold days, and even more on rainy ones.

We scanned the wide array of cold and sweet treats while my poor twins sat happily on the floor in their car seats, still oblivious to the pleasures of ice cream. More compelling than the ice cream and paletas, however, were the multitude of frozen fruits and candies dipped in chocolate. I ended up with a couple of balls of frozen yogurt dipped in chocalate--with sprinkles. They were a wonderful way to erase the gustatory gaffe that was that burrito.

They don't even care.

I'm not keeping count, but South Federal really must have the largest concentration of taquerias in Denver, so to be new and survive one really needs to stand out. Good pastor on a spit, in my opinion, is the perfect place to start, and Fogon seems to have that. In fact, with the other spits that I've had around there: Tacos y Salsas, Los Gallitos and Tijuana, it is clearly the standout. And with the draw of ice cream (and random frozen treats dipped in chocolate) next door, it is a tempting stop on the street where tacos reign. Let's hope it can stay open.

Tacos El Fogon on Urbanspoon


  1. Your pictures have a sudden pop of color and focus, new camera?

  2. El Fogon - the best place to hang out with friends and family. frozen yogurt is delicious to have after mouth watering delicacies.



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