September 27, 2010

Cheap Eats: El Fuego

As A and I are on a relatively tight budget due to our somewhat measly grad student stipends, we can't always have decadent weekend meals. Don't get me wrong, we definitely set a large portion of our salaries aside for food. However, after a long week in the lab sometimes it's just easier to grab a no-nonsense (and cheap!) dinner somewhere quick. One of my favorite "fast food" options is Mexican: between Moe's, Qdoba, and Chipotle, there's certainly enough competition in this category to keep the food decent (but don't get me started on how the Center City Susanna Foo is being replaced by a Chipotle. A disgrace.) A non-chain Philly version of these conglomerates is El Fuego. With two locations, we've walked by El Fuego quite a few times and always commented that we should try it.. you know how it goes.

Last Friday, we were looking for a quick dinner option and finally decided to check it out. The neon green chairs accompanying outdoor sidewalk seating, as well as the huge open windows along the front certainly make the Chestnut Street location welcoming. Inside, only a few diners filled the large eating area, and the guys working the counter looked bored. The chalkboard menu offers all the usuals: burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.

I decided to go with a "bowl" ($6.95)- essentially all the typical burrito fillings on top of either greens or rice- of course, I chose greens. I topped my salad with chorizo, pinto beans, and a big dollop of their mild salsa. The guy making my bowl asked "cheesesourcreamandlettuce?" to which I responded to with a hesitant "Sure...". Yes, he topped my salad with... more salad. No dressing was offered, which was fine by me- all those other toppings add in more than enough flavor. Overall the bowl was pretty good. The salsa had big chunks of fresh tomato and purple onion, with the chorizo adding a chewy, meaty texture and lots of spice. El Fuego makes all of their salsas and guacamole from scratch every day, using local, seasonal produce (when possible, of course).

A ordered a vegetarian burrito ($6.95) which was enormous. It was so stuffed that she could only manage a couple of bites of one end before it exploded and required a fork. Rice, roasted peppers and onions, pinto beans, both mild and hot salsas (the hot is a green-based sauce), and a ridiculous amount of guac filled up the soft white tortilla. The tortillas are steamed before they're filled up, but somehow it got down to a chilly temperature before consumption, which was a little odd. Overall this ended up pretty much like the salad, but with less lettuce and more soggy, doughy tortilla (yummm).

Because we were eating during "Happy Hour" (4-7 PM M-F), we also scored cheap chips and quac ($2). Their guacamole is super delicious- creamy while still maintaining a few chunks, just the right amount of acid, and a large grain salt making for little bursts of saltiness. The basket of chips we were given was also ridiculously big, full of crispy crunchy triangles of tortilla goodness.

Overall a solid, inexpensive, and quick dinner. Nothing spectacular or super memorable, but no real negatives (besides the exploding burrito phenomenon). With ESPN on in the background, and a great people-watching view of Chestnut Street, the airy and open atmosphere is quite pleasant. While this place has nothing on Baja Burrito, it's a good addition to our Cheap Eats list.

El Fuego
723 Walnut St
2104 Chestnut St