Some of my favourite restaurants often end up being hole-in-the-wall types.
Small, family-run, serving quality, delicious food at affordable prices, but maybe isn’t the slickest or hippest looking spot—and that’s okay, because everything else is wonderful.
I’d say El Fogón Latino: Comida Venezolana, an authentic, Venezuelan restaurant located at 8026 118 Avenue, is exactly that.
El Fogón has been open for about eight months. Interestingly, it opened around the same time as the other Venezuelan arepas restaurant in Edmonton— Avila Arepas on Whyte Ave. I had never had an arepas before I tried Avila in November (see my review here) but now I’d like to have them all the time! And thankfully have even more options, with El Fogón now too.
My friend Sharon (of Only Here for the Food) first introduced me to El Fogón just before Christmas. My pal Sharman (of This Piggy’s Tale) also recently visited El Fogón, and raved about it too. (Arepas, corn buns that are sort of like tacos, are gluten-free because they are made of corn flour, so people who have celiac disease, like Sharman, can totally gorge.)
Eager to return after my first visit, I brought my friend Gina to El Fogón this week, and she ended up being just as impressed with the food and family here as I was.
El Fogón is small. There are about two dozen seats including some at the counter. Sharman described the interior of this restaurant as something like a gas station (hence the hole-in-the-wall description) which I think is the easiest way to explain it too. We don’t mean that description in a negative way, it’s just to indicate how it’s not a fancy place and that’s totally alright.
The location, near the Safeway at 82 Street, is easily missed. The family chose this spot because rent was cheap. They are actually Portuguese/Italian, but lived in Venezuela (and ran a business there) for many years before coming to Edmonton.
El Fogón’s menu is straight to the point. There’s no fancy descriptions here. They split their arepa options into cold, hot, or mixed fillings. They also have empanadas, cachapas (like a Venezuelan corn pancake), tequeños (Venezuelan cheese sticks), pupusas (Salvadorian corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings), different soups (seafood, chicken, tripe and chorizo), lunch specials and meat platters, and a variety of daily specials.
I tried the shredded beef and gouda cheese arepa ($7.99) on my first trip with Sharon, and loved it so much I had to get it again on my second visit with Gina and her daughter Hannah.
Each bite of this arepa is full of flavour, made even better with their homemade sauces green and red pepper sauces (which we were told anyone can purchase to take home too!)
We also tried a cold arepa – the ham salad with gouda cheese ($7.99), which was also flavourful, filled with ham slices, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.
Venezuelan corn buns are the perfect vehicle for delicious, savoury fillings!
We slurped up El Fogón’s passion fruit juice (yuuuum), devoured the fried breaded, gooey queso blanco cheese sticks (tequeños – 6 for $7.99), and shared a mixed pupusa ($5.50). My only feedback on these items would be that the tequeños didn’t come at me as hot and flavourful as the arepas. They were definitely gooey but those first few bites into them seemed on the blander side.
This super filling Venezuelan meal was also cheap. It cost $35 total (before tip) for all of those dishes! We would’ve tried even more too, if I had noticed their soup offerings sooner. (I LOVE soup).
The soups (I saw chicken, seafood, and tripe/chorizo) are at a bit higher price points ($12-$16) though you can get smaller cups of soup for just a few dollars. It’s definitely something I’m going to try on what I’m sure will end up being countless more visits to El Fogón.
While I’m still a fan of Avila Arepa on Whyte, I would say El Fogón’s arepas are tastier, with prices that are just a bit more affordable than Avila’s. El Fogón’s most expensive arepas are the cost of Avila’s cheapest.
Avila has a lot more arepa options though, and overall a better look and atmosphere.
At El Fogón, you can buy and check lottery tickets, and they also have an all-day Canadian breakfast menu too, which are things, in addition to the plain tables and seats, that sort of take away from the Venezuelan vibe. But I think the quality of El Fogón’s food easily makes up for its more simple interior.
I’d still recommend you try both if you’re hankering for some Venezuelan comfort food. But I think location-wise, it’s nice that there are solid arepa options both north and south of the river.
The mother, father and son team at El Fogón are very sweet. When I was with Gina and her toddler Hannah, the father brought over a red balloon Hannah could play with. The family was also so excited to recommend us dishes, and talk about their restaurant. Truly quality food and quality people at El Fogón.
When I came for lunch with Gina this week, we were one of two tables in there the whole noon hour. Service was very quick, but even when I was there the first time with Sharon, and the restaurant was packed, service was still quite fast.
If you’re looking for a hidden gem, El Fogón is it. If you’re into small, family-run restaurants serving up quality food at affordable prices, El Fogón is it. If you want to try something new, like I always am, El Fogón is it! It’s a really great food option on Alberta Avenue.
I wish this very kind family all the best. The restaurant business can be so challenging, but it really helps when what you’re serving is delicious. They’re not quite past that first-year mark, which is the hardest for new restaurants, but I have a feeling the family at El Fogón are going to be just fine. Their food assures it.
So have you been to El Fogón? What did you think?!
El Fogón Latino
8026 118 Ave NW
Mon-Fri : 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sat : 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sun : 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.