Saturday, Jan 05 2013 10:31 PM

DINING OUT: Blink, and you might miss this place

By The Bakersfield Californian

BY PETE TITTL

Contributing columnist

Related Info

241 Bear Mountain Blvd., Arvin 854-2884

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily

Prices: Breakfast, $4.99 to $6.99; appetizers, $3.99 to $5.99; entrees, $6.99 to $10.99; seafood, $2.99 to $9.99. Buffet 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday $7.99.

Payment: MasterCard, Visa and Discover accepted. American Express and personal checks not accepted.

Dress: Casual

Amenities: Wheelchair accessible; no alcohol served; few vegetarian options.

Food: ***

Atmosphere: **½

Service: ***

Value: ***½

Next week: Izumo

Dining Out

LA FOGATA RESTAURANTE MEXICANO

A restaurant like La Fogata in Arvin is why I have a job. Why I can help people. Why I exist.

It's one of those "finds" with a low profile and a humble existence that needs a spotlight shined on its existence.

A reader who noted my regular promotion of El Pueblo in Lamont (not too far away from Arvin) told me about the place, insisting it's a great place for fresh-made tortillas and humble home cooking in a restaurant whose name translates into "The Campfire."

So I checked it out and, although it's on the same level in some aspects, it doesn't have the extensive menu, the bar or the huge dining room as El Pueblo.

Instead this is like eating in someone's kitchen, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's a drive from Bakersfield (99 to the Bear Mountain Boulevard/223 exit, then drive about six miles east to Arvin), but if you're willing to drive to Lamont this isn't that much farther.

It's a small place and you might almost miss it, with a tiny parking lot.

The dining room is narrow with only five booths, four tables and a stainless-steel heavy counter (where you can order) that dominates the space.

After looking at the menu board, we went ahead and sat down, receiving table service from the pleasant group of women working at this place.

It's homey (curtains, blankets on the table under Plexiglass) and very clean (an A rating from the county), so we felt comfortable and welcome.

The menu is pretty spare (19 items, including breakfast). I had to get one of the specialties, the carne asada ($9.99) because the picture of it looked so appealing: a plate of rice, beans, beef, avocado slices, onions, cactus and jalapeno peppers. My companion chose one of the five seafood items, the camarones a la diabla ($9.99), which the menu warned us was "very hot." We've been to that rodeo before, so we didn't back down.

They do a lot here that pleased me.

On my plate, they had grilled onions and thick-cut slices of jalapeno pepper and cactus together with a bit of oil. The onions were scorched here and there, as were the peppers and cactus. It dominated the plate, and was perfect in the center of a fresh-made corn tortilla (soft and moist, like a piece of cornbread).

The mix of flavors in these vegetables was nearly perfect. The thin, authentic beef steak was appropriately fatty, and you had to cut through that, but it was OK.

The beans were covered with fresh cotija cheese, not jack. Another plus for authenticity.

The rice was orange and fluffy and, as you can tell as I've gone through all these details, I finished it all. Everything on the plate except the fat. A man's got to know his limitations.

My companion was less thrilled with the shrimp, which came with a similar setup of those grilled vegetables, rice, beans and flour tortillas (which were just as satisfying as my corn).

The shrimp were just OK, just not incredibly nutty and fresh tasting as we've sampled at some restaurants in the past. The fresh avocado slices on top of everything were the crowning touch.

There is a lunch buffet on weekdays, and they have tacos and flautas available for $1.25 to $1.50, so I imagine it's a great place to pick up a quick snack. Tostadas are $1.99 or $2.99 with meat. You can get my carne meal with cheese, chicken or potato enchiladas for only a dollar more.

If you're planning to be in the area, mark La Fogata down. It's not a high-profile place, but it's definitely a spot I'd revisit in a minute, if only for the deft treatment of vegetables that are just fantastic in fresh-made tortillas.

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