Fuego Mexican Grill: Oh Halal Yes!
Serving fresh, made-from-scratch dishes, Fuego chef and owner Sam Alvarado is bringing his style of Mexican cuisine to east Dearborn.
Fuego Mexican Grill has the distinction of being the only Halal Mexican restaurant in the midwest. Given its location in Dearborn, halal is almost a necessity. Owners Sam and Nallely Alvarado opened Fuego six months ago after seeing a void in Dearborn's Mexican dining scene.
"East Dearborn has not had a popular destination for years," he says. "Since we've opened, lots of new faces are coming this way. It's very exciting."
Sam was classically trained at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago while Nallely is a teacher. Currently, Nallely is not teaching and is working at the restaurant full time. Owning a Mexican restaurant is in Sam's blood: His grandfather founded Mexican Fiesta in Dearborn and is the namesake for some of the menu items (anything with Big Sam's in the name is grandpa's original recipe).
Alvarado has been keeping up with the reviews of his place. One of the main complaints he sees often is about the length of time it takes food to reach the table. Everything at Fuego is made from scratch and dishes are made to order. Alvarado understands the problem and is doing his best to streamline his processes, but wants to hold true to his ideals of made-to-order cooking.
Being in Dearborn, Alvarado smartly has hummus on the menu. Fuego Grill Hummus is an excellent example of Middle Eastern-Mexican fusion. Deep roasted smokiness gives way to a subtly spicy finish. The fresh pico de gallo adds a new dimension of flavor to the hummus.
One of the Alvarados' hopes in opening Fuego is to introduce Mexican cuisine to the people of Dearborn. His view is that food is a way to bring people together. In this case, he feels like he is introducing Mexican food to Muslim culture, especially since he is halal certified.
"There is a human side to Fuego Grill," he states. "Making each other's cultures accessible is very rewarding."
If one dish missed the mark completely, it had to be the Mexican shrimp cocktail.
The menu describes the dish as having five shrimp. This may be true, but since they were cut up it was hard to tell. An incredibly acidic dish with a strange amalgamation of flavors, there just isn't much to recommend about this appetizer. There was one shrimp on the rim of the glass that was perfectly cooked and seasoned.
That shrimp cocktail was the only oddity of the night and was immediately forgotten about once the chicken fajitas came out.
We could smell the fajitas coming from across the restaurant. The aroma of citrus, onions and peppers filled the air. Not your usual blend of veggies, Fuego's fajitas have peppers, onions, tomato and yellow squash along with your choice of meat. We had the chicken, which was boldly seasoned and played well with the citrus and veggies.
Instead of classic beans and rice (which are available), we were served papas (fried potatoes) and Big Sam's coleslaw. Papas are Fuego's version of home fries that are seasoned with Sazon, a house seasoning that Alvarado makes. Crispy little bites of fried taters are hard to mess up, but these are particularly addictive. It must be the Sazon, because it is almost impossible to stop eating these babies.
Coleslaw, on the other hand, just doesn't belong on a Mexican menu. I understand the homage to his grandfather, but there is something about mayonnaise-laden cabbage that won't jive with jalapeno. The coleslaw does have decent flavor, but it is just too out of place for me.
Taco salads can be heavy, especially when served with a greasy tortilla bowl. For a refreshing change of pace, Alvarado uses tortilla strips so there is still a crunch, but no cumbersome bowl. Instead of iceberg lettuce, he uses a baby spring mix for added flavor and texture. Strips of steak are plentiful and slightly spicy Fuego ranch is quite good. My only complaint about the salad is the use of refried beans instead of whole black beans. Whole beans seem to work better on salad, while refried beans are better as a side dish.
Fuego's sopapillas are an example of how thoughtful a chef can be.
At their most basic, sopapillas are fried tortillas dusted with cinnamon and topped with honey. Alvarado takes this basic dessert a step further by adding chocolate sauce and Mexican chocolate shavings. For good measure, he tops it off with whipped cream and maraschino cherries. A seemingly simple dish is brought to new levels just with the addition of the gently spiced Mexican chocolate. But be warned: This dessert is big enough to share with one, maybe two other people.
Fuego is type of the place you want to see succeed. Sam and Nallely are genuinely nice people who are trying to do this restaurant thing the right way. Don't visit Fuego in a rush and you will undoubtedly be pleased with the food and the service.