La Fuente Warms Up Winter
Happy hour prices on spicy Mexican food and beer or Margaritas six days a week.
As I dive into my second year of happy hours I’m writing from a new residence. My lady and I recently moved to Walker’s Point and we’re overwhelmed with the number of great restaurants and bars within walking distance. I’ve already covered Steny’s, whose bloody mary’s, chicken wings, sports watching, and shuttle buses have made it a staple of the neighborhood since 1985. I also wrote up Meraki, one of the new kids on the block that boasts unique bar snacks, craft cocktails and a show kitchen. Now that I’m a resident, Walker’s Point stops on this column will become more regular, but you can still expect a diversity of locales.
After some deliberation I decided to begin discovering my new neighborhood with what initially compelled my family to visit Walker’s Point: the Mexican restaurant corridor around 5th and National. Conejitos is our original spot, but they don’t have a happy hour. As a child, La Fuente (625 S. 5th St.) was my favorite and it’s where I first tasted Mexican chorizo (spiced ground pork). Chorizo, eggs and cheese has become one of my go-to breakfasts, especially as a hangover cure. It always irks me when I see chorizo on a menu and it’s the Spanish sausage kind, not the ground Mexican variety.
While living in Minneapolis and abroad, my two traditions when I returned home was to eat at La Fuente and after I turned 21, drink a pint of Spotted Cow. You can now do both at the Zarate family establishment, as Spotted Cow is among La Fuente’s taps. Beer is not included in La Fuente’s standard Tuesday through Saturday happy hour, 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. However, the signature Mexican restaurant drink, margaritas, are $1 off glasses and $4 off half-pitchers of House lime or strawberry, blended or on the rocks. Margarita prices range depending on the quality of the tequila, with five levels from House (rail tequila, $6 glass/$14 half-pitcher regularly) to Supreme (Patron or Don Julio, $12 glass/$24 half-pitcher). If you go with the House lime I recommended getting it blended, since you can taste the cheap tequila more when it’s on the rocks.
One of the best features of Mexican dining is the free tortilla chips and salsa. When we stopped in the other day our chips were fresh, and there’s nothing quite like a warm chip. The salsa is very good, a signature blend of salty and sweet, with a hot kick at the end. We started our meal with two new menu items, mushroom morelos (portabellas stuffed with pico de gallo, avocado and chicken or a crab/shrimp mix) and tortilla soup. I suspect that they were inspired by a short-lived competitor who occupied the orange and yellow brick building across the street called Cafe La Paloma.
Opened in the summer of 2013 by artist/businessman Jose Chavez, with a menu created by one of Café Corazón’s original cooks, Paloma quickly became my favorite Mexican restaurant in town. It featured bright, beautiful Mexican art and decor, and a forward-thinking menu with many vegetarian options. Their tortilla soup was the best I’ve ever tried. But fierce competition from nearby La Perla, Botanas, Conejito’s and La Fuente, plus a bitterly cold winter resulted in a brief but wonderful existence for Cafe La Paloma, which closed in April 2014. Its legacy lives on in some of La Fuente’s new menu items, though La Fuente’s tortilla soup doesn’t match up.
The mushroom morelos, topped with cheese and a chipotle ranch sauce, were a nice departure from the usual Mexican appetizers. However, if you want to go the traditional route, a half-order of nachos and large quesadilla (chicken or pork) are each $5 during happy hour. The rest of their menu is pretty much what you expect from a Mexican restaurant; fajitas, enchiladas, chimichangas, tacos, burritos, seafood and house specialties. A few items caught my eye, including the Chile Español (two roasted red bell peppers stuffed with Chihuahua cheese and their special ground beef picadillo), Chicken Mole Oaxaca (chicken breast topped with a rich mole sauce made from roasted almonds, guajillo peppers and dark chocolate), Fish Tacos (breaded tilapia with herb seasoning topped with a red cabbage slaw), and Choriquezo (chorizo with melted cheese and chips).
Winter is now fully upon us and the NFL regular season is entering the home stretch. La Fuente is a great place to heat things up on Sundays and Monday nights, with a special Game Day happy hour menu (at the bar only), starting at noon on Sundays and 5 p.m. on Mondays. Pitchers of beer are $2 off, with Miller Lite and Bud Lite at $10 ($2.50 glass), Dos Equis and Modelo Especial at $12 ($3.50 glass), and Spotted Cow at $16 ($4 glass). Artist turned businessman Jose Chavez’s venture may not have worked out across from La Fuente, but down the street another artist turned businessman, Mike Brenner, has a budding brewery. Brenner Brewing Company will get its own column, but just know that their City Fox Pale Ale is one of the best around and it’s on tap at La Fuente ($12 pitchers, $3.50 glasses during Game Day happy hour).
La Fuente’s Game Day happy hour features five food options, including their new Yucatan chicken wings (10 for $5). They also have mini sopes (2 for $5), mini taquitos (3 for $5), carnita sliders (3 for $5.50), and Game Night nachos (serves 2 for $7). Though team allegiances vary on the South Side (I’m looking at you, new downstairs neighbor/Bears fan), free tequila shots are given out for Packers touchdowns only. Their extensive outdoor patios, including the titular “fuente” (fountain), are a great place to eat and drink when the weather finally warms up. La Fuente has had so much success since opening in 1991 that they’ve added two more locations in the last few years, Wauwatosa (9155 W. Bluemound Rd.) and Waukesha (2423 Kossow Rd.), but I can only vouch for the specials in Walker’s Point. They’re a good deal.