By the looks of the ceaseless stream of people waiting to eat at Fonda Mexican on a weeknight, Melbourne can’t get enough of this Mexican wave we’re riding.
So much so that Fonda Mexican has branched out from its small Richmond digs to skip across the river to Prahran. The second Fonda Mexican is bigger, brighter and bolder than its little sister, while the menu remains mostly the same. The Prahran outpost has also recently opened up a clubby attic bar called Atico as a holding pen for the buzzing restaurant below (which doesn’t take bookings).
Don’t shiver in the Chapel Street wind tunnel, climb the vertiginous stairs and cosy up with a sharp little wine list, some tequila or the best priced cocktails in town ($12-$16) until you receive that text message telling you ‘ping’ your table is ready. I recommend the La Paloma with Tromba Blanco tequila, grapefruit soda, lime ($12) and a twist on the classic margarita with Tromba Blanco tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice, agave nectar ($16).
Just be very careful when you head back downstairs, the stairs are narrow, carpeted and steep – I’d even recommend a sideways parallel descent so you don’t slip!
As for the food at Fonda Mexican, it’s what I’d call Mexican for the masses. It’s quick, filling, tasty and consists of the kind of Mexican cuisine that most of us are familiar with – tacos, burritos, quesadillas, plus a few snacks and sides.
We tried a cob of charred corn, super sweet with a hit of heat in the chipotle aioli ($4). It was good but dare I say not of the same knock-your-socks-off amazing as that other Mexican joint starting with ‘M’. I would have preferred more charring on the kernels – perhaps this was a function of the fact that the corn arrived quick as a flash after I placed my order at the counter.
Of the soft-shelled taco selection my favourite was the fish taco, a nugget of sweet rockling nestled with shards of cabbage and pickled carrot and onion, with that chipotle aioli making another appearance ($6 for one). If you’re not a fish fan then try the braised pork dripping with juice and tucked into the taco with some scrapings of fresh pineapple, slivers of onion and coriander ($6 for one).
Pork is also the star ingredient in the pulled pork quesadilla, an extremely filling cheese and meat melt with smoked chipotle and tomato ($13). This is a dish to be shared as four quadrants of the quesadilla will be too much for most appetites. It also benefits from a dose of house made hot sauce to cut through all that cheesiness. Jane Fonda is the mild(er) bottle while F**k you has a good kick of heat without breaking you out into an uncontrollable sweat.
The least successful dish was the grilled chicken burrito. While it’s impressive that the tortilla dough is prepared daily and the tortillas are pressed to order, we found the quinoa, corn, queso fresco and cabbage filling to be too dry and frankly just too much with every mouthful ($14).
If you’ve had enough of the alcoholic drinks from Atico try the non-alcoholic options in the restaurant. The huge jam jar of horchata made from a traditional Mexican family recipe of rice, water, cinnamon, vanilla and evaporated milk, is my new favourite drink ($4.50). And don’t be dismayed by the pond water appearance of the pineapple, young ginger and mint ($4 or have it with tequila for $12) as it’s sweet and refreshing and will go down well with all that chilli.
Fonda Mexican has obviously hit on a winning formula of Mexican food with flair that’s not too ‘out there’. Combined with the buzzy atmosphere and smart interior (love the light fittings referencing the iconic Acapulco chair), it provides a dining experience that’s cool without being cooler-than-thou and which is very reasonable on the wallet.
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