TLO Restaurant Review: Juan del Fuego

I’m pretty bad about eating breakfast, long referred to as the “most important meal of the day” by early risers of far more importance and social influence than me.

My father, who grew up during the Great Depression, was a master of Sunday morning biscuits and gravy while my abuela, who grew up on the Borderlands, would get up at the crack of dawn and make the best damn Mexican breakfast you’ve ever tasted. After they died, breakfasts were never quite the same to me, lacking in both regional tastes and familial meaning.

So, honestly, I wasn’t expecting much when my date and I went to the Norman joint Juan del Fuego, 223 34th Ave. SW in the Redbud Plaza, for a semi-late breakfast this past weekend. The story of Juan’s, as I understand it, is that it’s the current home of the former cook from the reputable establishment The Diner; he wanted to make Mexican food—mainly breakfast and lunch—his way and, thankfully, has been succeeding wildly ever since.

There was about a fifteen-minute wait that morning, one that we easily bypassed by choosing to sit at the counter next to the open-air kitchen. While their menu was delightfully full of Latino-based eats such as Santa Fe Papas, Chorito and the ever-present Huevos Rancheros, instead we decided to try that morning’s specials, the Roasted Poblano Pork Tamale Omelet with Ranchera Sauce ($9.99) and the South of the Border Eggs Benedict ($9.99).

As I sat back with my cup of black coffee—an item I was told was probably the worst thing on the menu but was actually just fine with me—I watched the kitchen chefs work their magia culinaria, effortlessly plating each meal with the necessary care and well-worn skill that the public very rarely sees. From conception to completion, I saw my blessed omelet go from flat grill mess to hot plate miracle.

Paired with the so-called Fuego Fries as well as biscuits and gravy, the Roasted Poblano Pork Tamale Omelet is the reason a ranchera gets up in the morning to sing their cancións de amor, a truly classical Mexican dish that made me believe in the act of breakfast again. The smoky peppers and dusky eggs were in beautiful harmony with the plump pork tamales, sealed inside the boisterous sarcophagus that I dug deep into with my fork and knife.

The Fuego Fries should probably be the new side-dish standard in Oklahoma, with a sweet burn covering every potato cube; the biscuits and gravy were a homemade wonder that was wholly unnecessary but desperately wanted. Armed with plenty of Juan Del Fuego’s small-batch hot sauce—available for sale, which I bought, of course—the whole meal was comparable only to an early-morning bout of rigorous lovemaking.

Just as carnally enviable were my date’s lusty South of the Border Eggs Benedict; a dish that I have never had before, mostly due to their nouveau riche trappings, Fuego’s has made them a fully assessable meal, one that I could have una y otra vez. The spicy eggs and salty bacon mingled with a Texas-style salsa topping that made my first bite of this roguish meal enough to seriously think about that many times in my life where I have forsaken the breakfast arts and all the reasons why.

Boxed leftovers in hand, as I was standing in line to pay my check, a fellow customer that was eating with his family walked up to me, a determined look in his eyes; at first I thought he was going to deck the Hell out of me—this is a dangerous line of work, you know—but instead he leaned in and whispered “Give ‘em a good review!” Cómpralo ya!

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 Photos courtesy of K.Y. // Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.