La Fogata

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Lafogata exterior

La Fogata saved my Friday night recently.

My destination was another restaurant in the complex on the southwest corner of South Orange Blossom Trail and West Sand Lake Road, across from the Florida Mall. It was an obscure place, but when you write about restaurants you look for the obscure finds, listen for leads, go hunting on a hunch.

This time it didn’t work out. My companion and I walked into the intended restaurant and were greeted with a glare by a staff member holding a microphone and tending to a very large party just inside the front door. His look made it clear that if we weren’t part of this group we didn’t really belong there that night. Although another staff member offered to show us to a booth — just a few feet away from the party and its amplified host — we said we’d come back another time and left.

Just across the way, I saw the sign for La Fogata and said, Let’s give it a try. It was delightful.

La Fogata, Spanish for the wood fire, features a pan Latin American menu, though there are a couple of outlier entrees from Italy.

Lafogata maduros

For an appetizer we shared the Maduritos con Queso, an Ecuadorian dish of sweet plantains stuffed with cheese. Deep fried, they looked like oversized croquettas and were gooey cheesy. The sweet dipping sauce was superfluous.

Lafogata mofongo

Lafogata shrimp

For my entree I chose the Mofongo Camarones, which were separate components of a typical Puerto Rican mofongo of green plantains with crispy chicharonnes and lots of garlic. The shrimp were smothered in a rich bechamel, which was delicious when spooned over the fried and mashed plantains. The shrimp were nice and firm, though I wish the tails had been removed.

Lafogata bandeja

My friend chose the Bandeja Paisa La Fogata, a Colombian dish featuring a grilled New York strip with a long strip of chiccaron, or pig skin, and chorizo, served with a side of red beans and a mound of rice topped with a fried egg. More sweet plantains, a slice of fresh avocado and a rather lifeless arepa were also included. The quality of the steak was quite good, and the value of the meal — all that food for $16.85 — was impressive.

Lafogata interior

The large dining room is bright and has a cafeteria sort of feel. There are several televisions placed around the room, including two over a service bar (full liquor is available) with a big electrical junction box between them. Each table has a napkin dispenser with rather flimsy paperware in them.

But the people here are quite pleasant and welcoming. At one point while we waited for our entrees, our server brought us two glasses of red house wine for no reason. It was a nice gesture.

I was glad we ducked out of our original destination and even gladder that La Fogata was right there to welcome us. Nice people with good food at a great price.

La Fogata is at 1718 Sand Lake Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone is 407-250-5020.