Go Slow on Queso

Taqueria El Fogon l https://www.facebook.com/El-Fogon-Playa-del-Carmen-Mexico-113664555317230/ l Avenida Constituyentes, Quintas del Carmen, 77720 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico l +52 984 806 8382 l Visited June 2017

There’s something very reassuring of choosing a food destination in a foreign country and arriving to realise that there are more locals than tourists. Double that statement for somewhere like Playa del Carmen that is packed full of tourists. All of which makes finding a spot locals want to eat, even more rewarding.

El Fogon has absolutely no glitz or glamour, and I say that in the best possible way. There are plastic cutlery and chairs, and paper napkins in a box. It’s almost like an American diner. Sauces are thrown at you, with love, but like your family do at Sunday lunch.The usual green sauce, pico de gallo and a pokey red salsa form a trusty trio. There’s no standing on ceremony here. A little plate of cactus also joins the welcome. It might be the best cactus I’ve ever eaten, I’m still not sure that’s a compliment.

El Fogon

Bright Lights, Big City –
Twinkling lights outside El Fogon

I spot a few other tourists but I would say 80% of the open dining room are Mexicans with their family. The restaurant pooling out onto the quiet street as Sunday dinner proceeds. Indeed, El Fogon is pleasantly out of the bustling PDC strip. You’ll pass some hostels etc, which makes you realise that you don’t stumble upon this place, you plan to come here before you do.

Much like the clientele, the food is unabashedly Mexican. It consists of staples like tacos, nachos, and alambre. And it’s things like alambre, a dish of grilled beef and other treats, that again gives you the nod that this is authentic. It also takes advantage of the large open grill and the rotating spit, with meat for tacos slowly basting in the glare of the direct heat.

There’s only really one way to devour food like this, and that’s with ice cold, light beer. Pick Corona, pick Tecate Light (of which, you’ll have noticed, I have drunken too many of this trip). I would warn you to try and stay away from the sugary juices that come in huge glasses to upset your dentist.

I’m still searching for the best tacos while I’m in Mexico. Although the judgement of these things is on the plane home, El Fogon stakes a pretty good claim. Chorizo, carved straight off the spit, is juicy with the rendered down pork fat and packs a real intense hit of paprika. It’s simple, but all the best tacos are.

Beef Alambres at El Fogon

A Queso Too Far – Beef Alambre with even more queso

Everything else is drenched in queso, with varying degrees of success. The nachos are everything I’ve been waiting for. Crisp tortilla chips, a muddle of soft pinto beans and succulent chicken chunks blanketed in queso. It looks like a snow storm, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to my light bear.

My limited Spanish managed to navigate the menu and I wasn’t leaving without joining the locals in trying the alambre. Unfortunately, and this is probably on my over excitement, I ordered the steak and queso variant. What comes is a plate of grilled steak, green peppers, onions, bacon and another generous veneer of queso. The problem is that the medley ingredients have already been treated to a loving amount of oil, the cheese adding another unnecessary hit of slightly greasy fat. The alambre minus the queso and with a dose of the fresh pico de gallo is ok. Altogether everything is too much.

This isn’t the healthiest of meals I’ve experienced in Mexico and definitely is best after chasing down a few tequilas. It’s a fast service experience with no rush to move on. There’s a ‘get in and get on with it’ vibe that suits the locals. You’re not going to over spend as even the Rib Eye is less than £5 (What?!? Why didn’t I order that). It’s great to relax with a beer, surrounded by the bustle of Mexican families and the tacos are some of the best we had. Just make sure you go easy on the queso!