Bringing the fire

El Fuego, the new Mexican restaurant in the former Eagles Nest location on Grand Avenue, hopes its house-made from scratch food sets it apart.


Tavo Perez and Connie Hernandez opened El Fuego on Grand Avenue in Wausau.

You know a restaurant has promise when the owners use their abuelita’s, or grandmother’s, recipes for the backbone of their menu. El Fuego Mexican Family Restaurant has been open just over three weeks now at 2105 Grand Ave. in Wausau. The building is best-known as the longtime former Eagle’s Nest location, where two short-lived restaurants since then have started but quietly disappeared.

Husband and wife owners of El Fuego, Tavo Perez and Connie Hernandez, previously owned a Stevens Point restaurant, Octaviano’s Dine-In, which served pizza and some Mexican dishes. The goal for their restaurant in Wausau is to showcase Mexican food exclusively.

They had been looking around at real estate with that idea in mind, when the empty building on Grand Avenue came up as an option. The couple now are in the process of moving from Stevens Point to Wausau to be closer to El Fuego.

Perez, originally from the Mexico City area, and Hernandez, from California, decided the Wausau area would be a great place to start their eatery after living in Stevens Point for many years. Owning a Mexican restaurant is a vision they both share and know how to do. “I have worked in restaurants my whole life,” says Perez, who now can be found in the kitchen of El Fuego, manning the food prep.

“I love Mexican food and a lot of people are asking for it,” says Hernandez. The couple believes the area is big enough for another Mexican restaurant and aren’t concerned that there are already several other Mexican eateries in the area. The busy lunch rushes at El Fuego seem to confirm that fact. “A lot of people have commented already that the food is really tasty,” she says.

El Fuego can be described as a typical Mexican comida corrida (fast food) sit-down restaurant with dishes ranging from the beloved puzzle (a hominy and pork based stew-like meal) to torts (sub-style sandwiches served with condiments such as beans, guacamole or salsa on a soft bun), to the more Americanized chimichanga.

While many of their offerings are to-the-letter authentic like the chiles rellenos (stuffed poblano peppers) and Puerto (pork served in red or green sauce), Perez says they’ve adjusted how they plate some dishes to keep in line with what most people in the area want. For example, they use lettuce instead of cabbage and sour cream over Mexican cream.

All the menu items are made from scratch in house, including the refried beans, which Perez says are boiled, mashed and re-fried in both olive oil and traditional lard, all by hand. His grandmother’s mole (pronounced moe-lay), a classic spicy sauce traditionally made with onions, garlic, nuts and a touch of chocolate, makes an appearance and is showcased in the chicken dish pollo en mole.

Perez says his favorite entree on the menu is the llengua (beef tongue) served in red or green salsa. And, he says, “You can’t go wrong with a simple torta.” He also points out that their enchiladas are made with handmade corn tortillas and smothered in a red, green or molesauce.

There are also vegetarian options of chiles rellenos, tostadas, veggie enchiladas, veggie burritos and veggie hopes (pinched tortillas topped with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and cheese).

Desserts include deep fried ice cream, pastel de tres leches(three milks cake), flan, an ice cream chimichanga, and churros, which are rope-like fried pastries sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

El Fuego is hoping to grab the lunch and dinner crowd looking for quality Mexican food at reasonable prices, says Perez. Hours are Mon.–Sat. 11 am to 9 pm; Sun. 11 am to 6 pm.