For a down-home cuisine, Mexican food can get surprisingly upscale. Visit an ambitious Mexican-fusion restaurant — think Sayulita in South Glastonbury — and you’ll find such novel creations as lobster tacos with truffle shavings or cumin-rubbed lamb-shoulder enchiladas.
Fogata is not that. It is your corner Mexican, doing the standards and doing them well. Chef-owner Angelica Garcia, who formerly ran El Sarape in the center of Hartford, opened her new restaurant in the West End in the summer of 2020, in the thick of the pandemic. After two years in what she describes as a cramped and “hidden” location, Garcia moved her eatery this past August to a far roomier venue in a former after-hours club on Meadow Street, south of Colt Park.
Fogata restaurant is at 151 Meadow St., Hartford
Fogata — the word is Spanish for “bonfire” — is bright and cheerful, decked out with parquet wooden partitions and walls painted red and orange, decorated with colorful, kitschy art themed on Aztec splendor. A bar churns out margaritas served in vividly hued giant glasses. Mariachi music adds a rollicking vibe. We started our meal off with an order of guacamole. Chunky, sweet, loaded with onions and bits of tomato and copious cilantro, it was topnotch.
This is a family-friendly place with a family-friendly menu. My own family was glad to find queso flameado, a party nosh of cheese topped with diced chorizo, then run under the broiler and served bubbly hot. Sometimes called Mexican fondue, the dish is less about dipping than scraping — using tortilla chips to scoop up the browned cheese and sausage bits from the cast-iron broiler pan, or spooning the gooey mixture into soft tortillas. A drizzle of habanero sauce completes the pleasure.
Garcia works from her own family recipes, delivering nice results. Fajitas had a slightly higher bell-pepper-to-beef ratio than I might have liked, but the quality ran high, and the neatly arrayed complements included a large dollop of that superb guacamole. Quesadillas al pastor, rife with pork packed in with the cheese, were fried golden brown. Chicken enchiladas were pooled in a too-soupy mole that nonetheless delivered the subtle flavors of this complex sauce. A burrito offered a generous portion of carnitas — slow-cooked, pulled pork – wrapped in an unusually thick tortilla striped artfully with crema.
The platillo entrees we tried were uninteresting: Camarones came drenched in a bland tomato sauce, and a meat platter offered thin, chewy cuts of pork and steak and a mass of rubbery Oaxacan white cheese. More rewarding was the menu’s array of quesadillas, tostadas and other small dishes known as antojitos— literally, “little cravings.” We liked the sopes, in which the masa is rolled out thick and doughy into a small circle with a raised edge, like a cross between pie crust and an English muffin. Huaraches, a Mexico City specialty, are thin ovals shaped to look like the sole of the eponymous sandal, then fried. Generally I preferred the preparations that had some crunch — like crispy tostadas, or the cigar-shaped, deep-fried flautas. All these snacky items are adorned with beans, lettuce, cheese, and your choice of proteins; best were the carnitas and the smoky-tasting steak.
Fogata restaurant is at 151 Meadow St., Hartford
One Fogata highlight not to be missed are the sandwiches that Mexicans call “lonche.” Tortas are lunch-break staples made on Portuguese-style rolls resembling small baguettes. They include the Puebla delight known as the cemita — a whopper of a sandwich made on an XXL-sized sesame seed bun. Stuffed with your meat of choice, refritos, queso, chunks of avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, and jalapenos, and slathered in chipotle mayo, it is a cheesy, fiery, messy delight.
The other menu star is pozole, a soup made with hominy, corn kernels that are soaked in an alkaline solution that softens and bloats them. The kernels can be ground into masa, the ubiquitous corn flour — or deployed intact in this lavish soup, where they resemble garbanzo beans. Fortified with a relatively mellow tomato-and-serrano-pepper sauce, bulked up with an ample portion of pulled pork (chicken or veggie are alternate options), Ms. Garcia’s pozole is both brothy and hearty, with spice notes of cumin and bay. Traditionally you turn pozole into a stew by spooning in onions, radishes, avocado chunks, and shredded lettuce, then squeezing fresh lime juice over it all, but Fogata instead loads these garnishes — plus refritos and feta-like cotija cheese — onto accompanying tostadas. One way or another, the ensemble is a trencherman’s feast.
Fogata restaurant is at 151 Meadow St., Hartford
The pandemic was a struggle, Garcia admits. But with the situation finally normalizing, and in its new and attractive digs, Fogata should thrive. Quality is good and value better. The pozole, with its twin tostadas, is a meal for $12.99. That’s not just family friendly, it’s wallet wondrous. This vibrant restaurant is located in a bit of a no-man’s-land of industrial buildings and warehouses. Do not be deterred. Fogata is out of the way, but way worth it.
4 stars
151 Meadow St., Hartford
THE VIBE: Casual and highly festive.
THE BILL: Appetizers, $7 to $12; tacos, burritos, tortas, $10 to $15; enchiladas and fajitas, $14 to $19; entrée platters, $14 to $18. BYOB alcohol.
HOURS: Daily,10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations not needed.
ACCESSIBILITY: Wheelchair access through front of restaurant. Free parking in lot.
Copyright © 2022, Hartford Courant
Copyright © 2022, Hartford Courant


Shop Sephari