In the old days, creating a bar menu was as easy as dumping a bag of pretzels into a bowl.
Not so today. Bar patrons expect hot food made in a kitchen, and if there’s no kitchen, then there should be at least one food truck outside. No matter if the setting is a swanky rooftop patio, an industrial-style brewpub or a pool hall – the customers want good food with their drinks.
The owners of Fuego 505, a new bar/restaurant on the West Side, understand this.
They built their place around the food; specifically, a selection of meats cooked on skewers over a rotisserie grill. Options reveal an adventurous streak. Alongside the usual chicken, steak and shrimp, you’ll find sausages made from elk, wild boar, and rabbit and rattlesnake. The food is backed up with a full bar featuring an impressive array of local beers on tap.
Fuego 505’s ownership group of Matt Jones, Matthew Barela, Raul Maestas and Ted Sandoval brings considerable experience to the new endeavor. Chef Maestas runs Ohana Hut, the Hawaiian-Japanese fusion restaurant inside Marble Brewery’s West Side taproom, and co-owns the StreetFoodBlvd food truck with Sandoval. Barela used to manage Sidelines Sports Bar & Grill.
Fuego 505 sits on the end of one of the myriad brick- and stucco-faced buildings that make up McMahon Marketplace at the southeast corner of McMahon and Unser. My friend and lunch companion who lives nearby recalled a time when the lot was a dusty, weed-choked patch where rabbits roamed. Over the last decade, it’s been transformed into a sprawling complex made up of familiar chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks with a few local businesses sprinkled in.
Fuego 505 is dominated inside by a U-shaped bar that wraps around a display of bottles of booze and a kitchen in the back. Numerous TV screens hang above, all tuned in to sporting events, and high-top tables are scattered around the perimeter. The place was drowsy during a recent weekday lunch.
The menu, presented on an embossed sheet of paper, has food on one side, drinks on the other. Food choices are divided into tacos, skewers, a few salads and some side dishes.
The taco menu samples from Asian, Mexican and New Mexican cuisine. At $5 to $6 each, they’re on the pricey side.
The Borracho Barrio Tacos, served three to a plate ($14), were reminiscent of the birria tacos that are all the rage today. The tortillas, reddened from a dip in consommé and charred from the grill, were filled to bursting with moist, shredded braised beef and cheese. The accompanying cup of red chile consommé was thick, smooth and smoky.
Also terrific were the Carnitas Tacos ($5 each), served open-faced and topped with guacamole, salsa, shredded cheese and queso fresco. The shredded pork was succulent and fragrant with cumin.
The prospect of rotisserie-cooked meat on skewers made me think of Brazilian steakhouses like Tucanos or Fogo de ChÃ£o, where servers brings skewers to your table and slice off pieces of meat. Fuego 505 does it differently. You choose from an assortment of proteins and sides, and when the food is ready, a server comes out and offloads the contents of the skewers onto your plate.
There are four skewer choices ranging from $18 to $34. I ordered the Rabbit Rattlesnake Sausage, Duck, Pork Loin combination ($26), which comes with two sides. The sausage, while missing any sear on its skin, was juicy and well-seasoned and not gamey at all.
The hunk of duck breast was cooked rare, as it’s supposed to be. It was juicy and held some citrus tang from the orange-soy sauce marinade. The pork loin was cooked through but still carried a little juice in it along with a hint of the sweet and spicy mango-jalapeño glaze.
Sides accompanying the skewer were nicely done. The Green Chile Mac & Cheese combined al dente pasta shells with a creamy sauce that had a little snap to it. The Elote was served off the cob in a shallow cup – less messy to eat, and the lime and chili powder cut the creaminess of the mayonnaise cream sauce.
Besides the local beers on tap, the drinks menu features an array of hard seltzers and cocktails like the Fuego Margarita that’s spiced up with muddled jalapeño.
Service was solid and we never waited long. Other than the battered and fried stuff, most of the items are gluten-friendly.
Business was slow while we were there, but the server told us things pick up later when the after-work crowd shows up. She suggested there may be some adjustments in the hours of operation in the future.
Fuego 505’s rotisserie grill makes it a unique addition to the city’s bar food scene. The food makes it a draw even for those who don’t drink alcohol.