Food historians have suggested that the taco was introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants less than a century ago. The method of stacking thin slices of lamb onto a rotating spit for shawarma was adopted using local resources, substituting pork for lamb.
Eventually, tacos al pastor (shepherd’s tacos) gained enough popularity to influence northern Mexico and much of the United States. Despite the fact that Wichita has plenty of Mexican and Lebanese influences, it’s hard to find an example of a restaurant that takes the time to build the rotisserie in-house.
Visit Taqueria El Fogon, the latest restaurant to occupy a hidden building near Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph, and you will see an impressive example of this rotating trompo displayed prominently within eyesight of the register. Al pastor is the restaurant’s specialty, and they put it in tacos, burritos, sopes and tortas.
Regardless of the delivery device, the meat is the star: thin, tender slices of juicy pork, slightly crisp from the lick of the flames, fire-engine red from achiote, deeply seasoned with a paste of dried chiles and a kiss of pineapple juice. Wrap it in a tortilla, top it with chopped onions, cilantro and a squirt of lime, and revel in how something so simple can be so satisfying.
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There are more meats to choose from than just the al pastor, and they are all of a surprisingly high quality; the saporous carnitas and barbacoa exceed expectations. Even the humble rajas, the mixture of cheese and poblanos, balances fatty and rich with punctuated vegetal freshness.
The food doesn’t need to be doused in salsa, but you’ll be tempted to do it anyway: the red offers earthy complex flavors, and the green brings bright acidity to complement your order.
Pineapple is used beyond the al pastor marinade. Check out the torta Hawaiiana, a monstrous sandwich of pastor topped with every major ingredient in the kitchen, then made even larger with the addition of hefty slices of ham and pineapple. It’s unruly and sloppy and more food than one person should eat in a sitting, but why should any of that stop you?
The ham and pineapple also appear in the sincronizada and gringa, respectively. Both are variations on a typical quesadilla, though the sincronizada adds ham and the gringa adds pastor meat and pineapple. It’s not common to see these items on the menu at many Mexican restaurants because they’re not keeping the pineapple around for the pastor marinade, so take advantage where you can find it.
Wichita is not hurting for good Mexican restaurants, but Taqueria El Fogon is one of those rare finds that not only offers great food but also specializes in something that’s not well represented in the city.
Taqueria El Fogon
Where: 1555 S. Bluffview, 316-681-0969
Type of food: Mexican
Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. daily
Price range: Tacos are $1.50 to $7.75 for a giant taco; quesadillas are $4.99; tortas are $5.50 to $7.75; cash only.