767 S. State Road 434, Altamonte Springs | 407-517-4661 | $
Latin American restaurants in Orlando spring up like skeeters after a summer rainstorm, and many combine cuisines with varying levels of success.
Luckily, Altamonte Springs’ La Fogata seems to have all their patitos in a row. The spacious spot on 434 feels fresh and open, and the menu offerings speak to the diverse foodways of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
All odds are against you actually finding the place, though: The storefront faces away from the road, there are trees in front of the signage, and Google Maps has the address wrong – it says North 434 when it’s actually South 434, so beware. When we visited, the lettering on the front of the building had been removed to make way for their new more modern branding.
We started the meal with ensalada de mariscos (small, $4.99; large, $7.89), La Fogata’s version of ceviche, and though I could tell the shrimp had been parboiled before going into the citrusy marinade, it didn’t bother me. The shrimp were firm but not tough, with the right amount of acidity, flanked by red onion, cilantro and crisp red bell pepper strips. The menu stated that there would be a mixture of fish, shellfish and octopus in the salad, but sadly, I found only shrimp in our portion.
The empanada de carne ($1.75) was enormous by any standards and the filling of ground beef was savory and well-seasoned, though my hunch is that their oil wasn’t hot enough because the dough ended up greasy. Goat dishes are hard to find in Orlando, though it remains one of the most widely consumed meats in the world, so it was disappointing to hear that La Fogata had neither the goat nor oxtail stew from the lunch menu when I visited. We opted for the carne guisada (beef stew) instead, which was rich, tender, and studded with fluffy potatoes enveloped in a thick, tomato-based sauce.
La Fogata’s moniker, which means “campfire” in Spanish, “reflects the kind of simple, home-style food we all grew up eating in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba,” says manager Ali Castro, and the proof is in the flan. My partner and I identify flan as an airy, wiggly, gelatinous custard. La Fogata’s version is, happily, the opposite. It’s rich and thick and creamy and utterly comforting.
During our visit, I got the distinct impression that they were glad to have our business. The staff was professional and very gracious, smiling and going the extra mile to make sure our meal went well. Our order was read back to us twice (once before we paid and again when the meal arrived) to ensure accuracy, and we were given a takeout menu before we left as one of the staff opened the door for us on our way out. A note: I was referred to as “sweetie” a couple of times, which might bug some, but didn’t faze this Southern girl.
The homey feel of La Fogata shines through in its food and is reflected in its warm service; dining here is like showing up at your grandma’s house with all of your cousins, eating until you’re beyond full, and leaving all the happier for it.
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