Good, Cheap Tongue
By Bill Gerdes
No dish is boring at El Fogon with fish tacos and a little cow tongue
Liver, kidneys, and other organ meats have gotten serious attention in the foodie world over the last few years. Ditto for snouts, gizzards, all types of feet and let’s not forget pig’s ears, pig’s face and bacon in the strangest of places. There’s much to say for this movement, including the idea that if an animal need die we should at least eat all of it when it’s gone. And there’s also the point that some of this stuff is quite tasty—I’m looking at you, pig’s ears. For many of us though the idea of eating cow brains puts us just a little off. Enter the tongue, or lengua, perhaps the gateway drug for curious eaters who want to try something new but aren’t yet up for fish eyes. Many cultures eat tongue, including the Japanese and the English but it figures most prominently in Mexican cuisine, and they do a nice job of it at El Fogon in Riverside.
Now, El Fogon doesn’t look like much, and it’s rather small. Soccer was on the television the night we went, a welcome respite from the presidential race. While we waited for our food a 1-year-old ran laps in the adjacent Laundromat. The fact that he was burning some serious calories struck me as a good thing. Waiting as it turns out is a leading indicator that the food might be worthwhile; it means they are cooking it after all.
So we snacked on El Fogon’s tasty muscular shards of tortilla chips and dipped them in their mediocre salsa and talked. To my chagrin there’s no booze of any sort here, so we sipped soda and waited and then the tacos arrived. And I was happy. Its Tacos de Lengua are in no way especially stylistic; just two thin corn tortillas holding up small cubes of cow’s tongue, along with chopped onions, bits of cilantro, tomato and the salsa verde I had judiciously applied. Th tongue tacos are special because they’re scrumptious, mostly due to the meat itself, tenderly brought to a boil and set to marinate in its own gravy. For the uninitiated, the Tacos de Lengua at El Fogon are a nice setting off point and are neither chewy, nor that most nebulous of descriptions, weird.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Fish Tacos are fresh and yummy. They’re not a recreation of a Baja-style fish taco, there’s less grease, less white sauce, no cabbage. Instead we got a fresh bit of white fish, with shredded lettuce, a restrained amount of sauce along with onion and tomato that evoked feelings of delight, if not the fish market in Ensenada in the ’90s. It’s also worth noting El Fogon is cheap, with many items under two bucks, including the tongue bits. Hell, even the rice and beans aren’t boring.
El Fogon, 765 Blaine St., Riverside, (951) 782-8959. Open Mon-Fri, 10am-9pm. Sat, 9am-9pm. Sun, 9am-6pm. AE, V.