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El Fogón Tacos & Tequila Bar  |  Oak Creek, WI

El Fogón Tacos & Tequila Bar | Oak Creek, WI

Family and Fresh Flavors of Mexico

If there's one thing Phil Landa understands, it’s if his mother-in-law wants to stay in the kitchen and cook, you let her.

"My mother in law helps in the kitchen about six days a week," said Phil Landa, who owns El Fogón Tacos & Tequila Bar just outside of Milwaukee with his wife, Nelly. "We try to give her less days, but she insists on being there every day. She just loves to cook."

Landa worked at Chicago's Zacatacos where he really learned the ins and outs of running a restaurant. But it wasn't until moving to the Milwaukee area to open the dark, yet cozy El Fogón, which features art and images of Mexico City, that he learned his way around a kitchen — and for that he can thank his mother-in-law.

"We all really learned how to cook here with my mother-in-law," he said. "We decided to open our own place and the goal was to have the same recipes we have at our home."

Whether that's their Mexican Nachos with chorizo, Chihuahua cheese, avocado, corn and diced jalapeño all sautéed in a pan; shrimp a la crema (jumbo shrimp sautéed with sour cream and chipotle sauce); pozole (spicy hominy soup with chicken); or tortas (Mexican sandwiches stuffed with beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, guacamole and sour cream), the menu represents food they grew up making and eating in Mexico City, Guererro and Puebla. And where some restaurants put out processed food, it's important for everything at El Fogón to be fresh.

"A lot of restaurants take shortcuts with canned and prepared foods," Phil said. "We try to use everything as fresh as possible. We're only 1,500 square feet and the kitchen is 480 square feet with one double door cooler. Everything is small so we keep everything fresh."

One thing El Fogón isn't? Authentic. Now before you take that the wrong way, that's not to say the food isn't delicious. Or truly Mexican. But as Landa says, "you can't be authentic because every region has its own flavors. Everyone has their own way of doing things. We can't be authentic to one place or another. We just try to be a little different."

And that includes experimenting with new dishes and recipes and testing them out with their customers. They'll create a new dish, like their avocado salsa, and will give small portions to diners as part of their meal to try. If they get good feedback, they'll add it to their menu. They also offer daily specials like $2 chicken or ground beef Taco Tuesday, $6 Burrito Wednesday, $7.95 Nacho Thursday and happy hour on Fridays.

Landa's sister in law, Claudia Guerrero, who runs the bar program, crafts daily drink specials — like a cucumber, mint mezcal cocktail with a salt-and-pepper rim — that get posted to Facebook and also on a board in the bar area, which was recently remodeled. The menu features more than 15 different kinds of margaritas, which all use fresh ingredients. They'll make seasonal drinks as fruits come into season and also infuse tequila with habanero and ghost peppers.

"We use a lot of fresh ingredients. We use better tequila," Landa said. "You can taste the difference in your drink. We concentrate on the taste and flavor."

And that sentiment carries through with everything they do — especially when mama is in the kitchen.

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