The seat you want is at the counter.
If you’re waiting for a table at Juan del Fuego, well, that’s normal. And while you’re liable to take whatever you can get, especially as the mid-morning hungries take hold and you find the whirlwind of culinary scents wafting past your nose ever more enchanting; if you’ve got a choice, choose the counter.
There is no better crow’s nest than a griddle-side seat at a hopping diner. You get to see everything being made and plated. And if you’re sitting with a fellow food enthusiast, it’s pretty fun to guess at what each dish is before it goes out.
That said, sit where you can. Juan del Fuego gets busy and it doesn’t let up, because this is one of those restaurants where the wait is worth it. That means it gets noisy and elbows get bumped and the servers are doing their best to keep your coffee full, but that’s fine. That’s success. Don’t be mad at success. Just get there earlier.
I rarely taste things that are flavored with bananas because a) bananas give me a mild, but unpleasant allergic reaction and b) most banana-flavored stuff doesn’t actually taste like bananas. That is not the case with the banana cakes ($6.99) at Juan del Fuego, which I ate like the monster I am.
The key here is cooking the bananas. Whatever it is about a raw banana that I can’t take disappears with the application of heat and these caramelized bananas were perfect in every way. It’s a tender pancake that soak up syrup like a champ and the way the warm maple and banana work together is making me melt in my chair just thinking about it.
As a founding member of the Savory Boys (nothing like the Proud Boys at all, thank you very much), I found Juan’s selection of dishes particularly enticing. The tamales and eggs ($9.99) were recommended to me by the Car King of Norman, Oklahoma (Jonathan Fowler, humblebrag) and, much like his thoughts on all-wheel drive, this dish was right on.
The pork-filled tamales are wonderful, of course, but the staff at Juan’s fries them up so the outside edges are just crisped up, adding a new layer of texture. I get the eggs over medium, like a gentleman, so I can crack into a runny egg yolk and let it swirl around in a melange of red and green chili sauce. You’re given a choice among green, red and ranchero and I highly recommend you ask for “Christmas,” aka red and green.
Good tamales, like good dumplings, are a life-changing dish and the ones at JDF are absolutely textbook. Nice spice on the red pork inside, lots of the mild sweet corn flavor in the masa and the crispiness of the edges makes them perfect.
Juan’s immediately caused me problems, because so many of the dishes on the menu sound amazing. And the specials! Oh, how I wish I could just review specials sometimes.
Luckily for me, another favorite is on the regular menu: relleno omelet ($9.25).
The omelet is simply done, kind of a mix between those paper-thin folded Vietnamese omelets and a diner-style puffed up omelet. This one was tender and thin, perfect for wrapping around a core of roasted poblano peppers, sauteed red onion, garlic and cream cheese. On top was a poblano sauce and slices of fresh avocado.
Yowza. The garlic was especially flavorful and I was there for it. Just an altogether top-notch omelet.
Finally, we tried the Santa Fe papas ($8.25), which consists of eggs scrambled with onions, tomatoes, sausage and green chiles, served atop a bed of crispy home fries with shredded cheese.
It comes with a couple of tortillas, but you ought to order extra, because you are about to make some of the best breakfast tacos you’ve ever tasted. The proportions of egg-to-not eggs is perfect for loading up a tortilla, which is in turn the perfect way to get a little of everything on the plate into your mouth in a single bite.
Garnish liberally with the green sauce and enjoy. These were really lovely.
As was the entire Juan del Fuego experience, really. This truly is a gem and I’m sure the owner is constantly fielding requests to relocate to or open a second location in Oklahoma City. While I wouldn’t begrudge being closer to the restaurant, I think this is one that’s well worth the occasional drive and wait, especially when I get to sit at the counter.