Does it matter if a funky little ethnic joint is lodged in a far north strip mall? Is character defined by the shell or what is inside?
Some would have you believe that location and setting matter more than unique flavors. So the fact that El Fogon is hidden behind a Sonic well beyond the cool-defining loop means we should just discount the place. If only it were lodged in some rickety Uptown shack or restored Oak Cliff facade; if only a valet stand waited out front demanding a few bucks--then it would be acceptable for the hipper sorts.
Oh, well. No one residing in those lame, cookie cutter dwellings along Frankford wants the consciously cool around, anyway. But if you live in the area, are up for a drive, or just happen to appreciate the cooking of Peru and Ecuador, you'll want to put this place on your list.
Of course, you need to see the point of filler fare, such as bland potato slices covered by prickly Huancaina, a sauce of farmers cheese and peppers, and garnished with half a hard-boiled egg. Or the tradition from whence dishes of beef heart topped with chicken gizzards earned popularity.
This isn't the sort of thing those scissors girls and torso boys (to borrow a line from Mr. Dallas) of Uptown admire. There is, however, a simple beauty to slices of green plantain, pork cracklings and cilantro, rolled into a softball-sized mound and served with criolla sauce. Murky, herbal and just barely sweet, El Fogon's tacachos are a real taste of South America.
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In the same manner, strips of beef, marinated to the point where eat bite oozes with savory salinity, sauteed with onions and served over French fries, is a working man's favorite, certainly--and also one that brings you back down to where the good things in life don't require shaved white truffles, a named local farm or valet stand outside.
Really, you have to appreciate basic food, nicely prepared.
If that's not enough to break through the nothing-good-comes-from-a-strip-mall barrier, I'm told the place transforms into a disco on weekends nights--which is hard to believe, considering the place very much looks like it belongs in an aging shopping center.
Probably qualifies as character, though.