|Side wall of Fonda Mexican, Richmond|
Actually, I'm not that fond of Mexican. I used to be very anti-chilli - thankfully, not the case anymore, although I still prefer other people to cook with chilli for me, rather than cook it myself. Plus, Australia wasn't so fortunate in the '80s and '90s as it is now, with such a large spectrum of international cuisines available to us - so I never grew up eating Mexican food. Then, when I did, it was mainly crappy Tex-Mex: lots of heavy, fried, oily, cheesy stuff that actually barely resembles Real Mexican food. Only in the last few years have Melburnians been privy to (hopefully more) genuine Mexican flavours - and fresh ingredients - through the likes of Mamasita, Chingon, Acland St Cantina, and Fonda Mexican. So, I'm coming around. :)
|Fish taco from Fonda Mexican, Richmond|
In 2001, David Youl and Tim McDonald opened the original Fonda Mexican at 248 Swan Street, Richmond (luckily for me, only a short walk from my office). The aim was to provide fresh, healthy Mexican food, served quickly, at affordable prices, in a restaurant environment (rather than a high-end restaurant or fast food venue). The menu is smartly executed by chefs Ravi Presser (ex-Cumulus Inc.) and Lupita Manzo (ex-Cantinero, Manly, Sydney).
|Fonda Mexican, Swan Street, Richmond|
With an instant fan base, owners Youl and McDonald stumbled across a former Salvation Army site which turned into their second venue (144 Chapel Street, Windsor), a 130-capacity restaurant with a 60-person bar upstairs. More recently, they opened the third, 200-seater Fonda on the former site of Mercy Bar + Eatery in the CBD (31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne). Tantalisingly, the website currently also promises yet another "New location coming soon...".
I have only been to the original Richmond Fonda (which is relatively small at 55 seats, compared to its sister venues), so that's all I can tell you about. We had a phase at work of pre-ordering takeaway Fonda over the phone, then popping up to Swan Street to collect it.
|Footpath seating at Fonda Richmond|
They used to make chicharrons - basically deep-fried pork rind, that came out like meat-flavoured prawn crackers, but tougher to chew - served with a tomato salsa and guacamole. Sadly, these are no longer on the menu, but they were my favourite.
|Corn tortilla crisps with guacamole and smokey salsa|
Now, whether eating in or taking away, I usually go for an entree of tortilla crisps or a fish taco, followed by a chicken quesadilla or mushroom burrito. Ingredients are always fresh, and (unless I eat too much) the food is substantial, without being too heavy. I find it all wonderfully textured and a great combination of flavours. Fonda's tortilla press was imported especially, and the freshness when you bite into your burrito is evident.
Fonda's design is clean, strong, bright, modern and colourful - no tacky red tablecloths or yellow sombreros here. It is clearly trying to appeal to the young social crowd - and succeeding. Having said that, I find the service is often rushed, and a little too-cool-for-school. The design (at the Richmond site) is also a bit messy: you're not sure where to wait, order or sit, and there isn't much guidance provided. I love the colours, but there are lots of hard surfaces, so it can get a bit noisy.
Additionally, although the food is cheap, the drinks are on the pricey side. It can be a bit confronting when your soft drink - albeit a genuine Mexican one - costs the same as your taco!
I'm not sure it lives up to the huge amounts of hype it was afforded in its early days, but Fonda is a solidly good restaurant. It's casual enough to pop into for a quick lunch or dinner, but also funky enough to bring a bunch of friends with you and test your chilli tolerance levels, washed down by a Pacifico. I think Fonda has succeeded in achieving its goal of making fresh, healthy, affordable Mexican food more accessible, and I will continue to take advantage of that.