His new restaurant El Fogon just opened, but already Edwin Martinez has heard it plenty of times.
“People come in and say ‘this is different, do you have real Mexican food?’” said the young restaurateur.
He eagerly assures them he does, and points out not just the menu but some of the gear on hand to prepare it, like the namesake fogon, a wood-fired grill.
El Fogon is a New Mexican restaurant at an address already well known for tacos. The boxy little building on Veterans Boulevard was for decades home to a location of Taco Tico, part of a regional chain for American-style Mexican fast food (crunchy shell tacos are the calling card). This location closed in 2015.
El Fogon, however, is aiming for a different niche. It serves traditional Mexican flavors in a setting that feels like a homey, family-friendly taqueria with a menu that reaches beyond the taco shop standards (see the menu here).
“We want people to taste what we think of when we think about Mexican food, the food of home,” said Martinez, whose family hails from Querétaro in central Mexico.
One head-turner is the pina Maya, a split pineapple that’s grilled and stuffed with shrimp and chicken, peppers and onions and mango, all of it grilled for a sweet/savory/charred blend. It’s filling but still refreshingly light with all that grilled fruit.
Others specialties here are chiles rellenos, fried and stuffed with cheese and various combinations of meats and vegetables, and sopes, or thicker, ridge-lined tortillas piled with toppings. The kitchen turns out Mexican-style shish kabobs (brochetas), mixed grill platters with ribs and chorizo and steak and seafood dishes, like bacon-wrapped grilled fish and Cozumel-style ceviche.
You can get tacos and burritos and quesadillas at El Fogon too, built on tortillas made by hand in house. In fact the whole restaurant feels hand made.
Martinez himself grew up both in Dallas and New Orleans. His father, a local contractor, started gradually building El Fogon with his crew not long after the Taco Tico here closed.
It was conceived as a tribute to Martinez’s late uncle. That explains the namesake fogon, which is the kind of cooking station you might find in the backyard of someone who loves to host and cook.
This restaurant version rises behind a glass wall in the dining room. It’s a shed-sized brick stove equipped with a 10-foot-long grill and various levels and hooks for cooking meats at different temperatures. The new restaurant is still awaiting final approvals to light the grill, but other parts of the glassed-in kitchen are in action, including smaller grills and a rotisserie spinning flame-licked stacks of al pastor pork for tacos and burritos.
The restaurant serves a full bar but does not have a stand-alone bar, which is part of a bid to keep it more family friendly. Margaritas and joined by other Mexican drinks, like palomas, micheladas (sort of a beer bloody Mary) and vampiros, made with tequila, orange and lime juice and sangrita, a fruity, blood-red beverage popular as a tequila chaser.
El Fogon is full service, with a kids’ menu, a mix of tables and booths and a small, covered side area with outdoor tables.
Meanwhile, Taco Tico still has one local outpost, at 2529 Williams Blvd. in Kenner. While the regional chain has dwindled elsewhere over the years, there have been recent reports of new Taco Tico locations opening or reopening in other cities.
4726 Veterans Memorial Blvd., 504-265-8793
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat.
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