Straight-Up Fire

Though it’s on the menu as “Mexican street corn” at La Fogata Grill (likely to not confuse the gringos, tourists and/or your mom), the entire reason a buddy and I visited the downtown eatery one recent night was to sample the elote. For those not familiar, elote is a real banger dish, a combo of grilled corn on the cob, mayo, butter, queso fresco and chile powder. It’s simple, sure, but nailing the proportions and grilling the corn just right isn’t the easiest thing. At La Fogata (Spanish for “The Fire”), it’s just one of the things the kitchen does exceedingly well. In other words, this one’s going on my list of regular haunts, even if post-pandemic inflation has tipped its prices into a slightly higher echelon than you might expect.

Elote aside, we knew we made the right dining choice when a neighboring table received a drink in a literal hollowed-out pineapple. I’m currently a teetotaling dork, sadly, and my companion was driving, so while we didn’t imbibe gigantic pineapples full of what was surely glorious, boozy nectar, we simply must return to work out what was in that thing. No matter, though, for the elote was a fabulous symphony of flavors and textures and, at $8, a fairly generous portion. We received two sections of corn on the cob apiece (two cobs total). Portions can be a big deal when you’re balling on a budget as we were, and so were we sated before the night even truly began.

I’ll toss in a shout-out to the crew members here, who were obviously working understaffed and contending with a massive party numbering over 20 from my estimate. Our server and various other staffers were all apologetic for the hectic nature of the evening, though both my companion and I never felt under-unattended or ill-considered. Once we’d supped on that corn, too, spirits were high, and the only real problem became navigating a menu stacked with dishes that each sounded more delicious than the last.

La Fogata (112 W San Francisco St., #101, (505) 983-7302) serves empanadas ($15) and shrimp ceviche ($17); it serves a green chile cheeseburger ($15) and Oaxacan-style barbacoa ($21). It serves salads and soups, burritos and more. Choosing one dish felt horrible in the most beautiful way, but once my pal realized it’s been a minute since they had mole and I sucked it up and decided to just eat meat already, we quickly zeroed in on our items: The taco plate for me—three tacos with various meat and veggie options served in corn tortillas from Alicia’s Tortilleria with sides of pinto beans and rice ($15); the mole enchiladas for them ($18), a smothered fan’s paradise of thick mole served atop enchiladas with a side of black beans and rice.

For my dish, I was thrilled to learn I could mix and match, and I settled on al pastor pork, chicken and veggie tacos. Each was a revelation of expertly cooked accoutrements, though the chicken gets an honorable mention for having the slightest bit of red chile spice, and the veggie taco’s grilled squash and corn and onion with just the right amount of cilantro was phenomenal. Even dedicated carnivores should try this one, though the al pastor’s tender chew was one of the better tacos I’ve had around downtown—a net gain when considering most of the best tacos are available on the other side of St. Francis Drive. The enchiladas, meanwhile, proved a complex and satisfying treat with the mole unveiling a flavor complexity that evolved moment to moment. At first, flavors that were almost like sweet licorice appeared, which gave way to a more earthy, familiar taste. Nailed it!

I’d be remiss not to mention the house salsa, a subtly sweet and satisfyingly thick affair served with chips from Alicia’s. Corn chips are funny in that you’ll sometimes encounter an unexpectedly tasty version, the kind you’d be OK eating without salsa or guac. La Fogata offers tableside guacamole service, too, for $16, but we were saving room for dessert.

At three items, that menu’s a simple one featuring flan, a chocolate mousse cake and tres leches ($9 each). Tres leches is the obvious choice always, though dessert was the low point of our evening given its hefty serving of Cool Whip rather than a housemade whipped cream of some sort. A small price to pay in the big picture, and we did eat it all.

The only question now is how quickly we can get back to La Fogata for even more tacos and mole. Soon sounds good. It’s adorable/excellent that owner Jorge Santos runs the restaurant with his mother, Eusebia Gonzales. According to the website, Santos grew up in Mexico eating dishes his mother learned from his grandmother, and she now brings those to the table at La Fogata. You really get that homecooked vibe.

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