When you order at El Fogon in Longmont, you’re supposed to look up at the old Spanish-only menu with pictures and relay your choice to the cashier. But in practice it’s hard not to look at the giant rotisserie of bright red meat behind the counter and point and say, “That.”
It looks like a peel-able, edible model of Mars, and orbiting around it is one cook dicing and flipping on the open skillet and one cashier patiently explaining to me all the vehicles through which I could explore it. It, a basketballsized rotisserie of pork al pastor, tender pork butt meat marinated and rubbed in a mixture of chilies, spices and pineapple.
So I place the order for a plate of tacos, a plate of sopes and a big bowl of menudo. As I wait, I walk into the adjoining El Fogon market and peruse the ample selection of raw, marinated and stuffed meat at the butcher counter, and some really beautiful produce in the open refrigerated display.
But by the force of gravity I’m pulled back into the restaurant as the plates of food start coming out. First is the menudo.
It’s a deep, dark red bowl filled with two large bones — typically beef feet — that had tender scraps of meat clinging on. The focus of the menudo is tripe, or beef stomach, and it’s cut into long tender strips that over the hours of cooking have become soft, salty and fatty. At the bottom of the dish are whole kernels of hominy. The base for the dish is wild and exciting — it’s like chili oil reinforced with the structure and umami of bone marrow, with the savor of the offal and the essence of beef.
It’s easy to love every bit of the soup, which is available only on the weekends. The spices in the sauce are perfectly apportioned — oregano, garlic and onion. Each bite is a balance of texture with the cracking hominy and the buttery, evanescent tripe.
The next plate to arrive carries three sopes. They look like little tortilla waffles piled with meat, vegetables and topped with sour cream. They are a marked change in tone from the menudo; an unpretentious fun fest that makes for sloppy and indulgent eating.
On the sopes is really well-cooked carne asada. The meat is peppery and flavorful, diced to about the size of your pinky nail. Fresh shredded lettuce and pico de gallo are piled high and cotija cheese is sprin kled on as well, in addition to the sour cream. It’s a bit like eating a taco pizza. It’s a customer favorite, and the three on the plate are more than enough for a full, easy meal.
Last comes the taco plate, and for as much as I loved the menudo, the tacos were where El Fogon shined. Finally, the pork al pastor was on my plate, beside a lengua taco and a carnitas taco. The tongue was cubed and bristly, but savory with that slight characteristic funk. Smothered in some excellent spicy and bright orange salsa, it was an ideal texture and satisfying. The carnitas were finely diced bits of marinated pork meat — not as flavorful as the lengua or the meats from the other dishes, but this was an everyday kind of taco.
And finally, the al pastor. Stripped from the rotisserie, the pork was cut so thin. Bright red from the marinade and blackened by charring, it was a terrific cut of meat. It was tender and juicy, slightly bitter from the char and sweet from the pineapple. It had a kick from the chili rub, and piled on the taco, the al pastor bits were amplified by the judicious additions of white onion and cilantro.
Put simply, El Fogon embraces flavor and texture, while also focusing on serving food designed to please.