Today, if you want the El Fuego food truck’s unique fusion of Peruvian cuisine with international flavors, you’ll have to track it down first. But this fall, El Fuego will find a permanent brick-and-mortar home in Lyon Park.
El Fuego mixes traditional Peruvian food with influences from other cultures, with a particular favoritism towards Chinese and Japanese dishes. Freedom to pursue his own types of cuisine was what drew Manuel Alfaro to leave the restaurant industry and start his food truck eight years ago. Now, that same freedom is what’s bringing him back to starting his own restaurant.
“We’re going to have our own restaurant, so we’ll be able to do things that have been constantly requested,” said Alfaro. “On a food truck, you’re dealing with a kitchen that’s four feet by eight feet. You have to have a menu selected and limited.”
Alfaro says many of their dishes are broken up into summer and winter menus. Some foods, like a Peruvian pulled chicken and yellow pepper dish with the fusion twist of added cheese and wrapped in an eggroll, just don’t keep in a food truck during summer months.
“This is an item that needs to be cooked from frozen,” said Alfaro. “During the summer we tried to have that on the food truck, but it doesn’t hold up to the temperatures in the kitchen. Even though we have a freezer on truck, they still start sticking together. Having a [restaurant] location will enable us to have all of these dishes.”
For the past year, Alfaro says he’s been looking for a location to put his restaurant. But Alfaro said his options were slim. He was trying to find a location that had partially been built out as a restaurant or had previously been a restaurant to cut down on the immense initial costs of installing a hood in the kitchen.
But when Alfaro found the location on the 2300 block of N. Pershing Drive, it was perfect. The space was built as a restaurant, complete with a hood in the kitchen, back when it was originally envisioned as vegetarian restaurant Alt’s — the space only opened briefly due to family troubles among its owners, culminating in founder Bryan Morrell’s death last month.
When he first came to the area, Alfaro said he sat outside the restaurant around lunchtime and watched the traffic. There are several other restaurants in the nearby area, all of which were active around lunch. The street is a major cut-through when I-66 is backed up, and Alfaro said the nearby apartments and Fort Myer were promising for a steady dinner crowd.
Alfaro said the goal is for an opening in the middle of September, but experience in the restaurant industry tells him a grand opening sometime in early October is more likely. Alfaro said his vision for the opening day is to have the restaurant operational with the food truck serving more customers outside.
“We are serving something we are proud of,” said Alfaro. “This is our food. It’s not someone else’s menu dictating we serve this or that. This is food we are proud of… It gives us a drive to succeed and provide something any American can come in, try, and say ‘wow, this is awesome.'”