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Redwood City
Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Close to home, a Fonda

Mexican restaurant food
Anna Lee Mraz Bartra. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].

You push open the glass door of the fonda and a familiar warmth invades you, followed by the aroma of home-cooked food and your stomach immediately gurgles with excitement.

Someone greets you at the door, maybe they recognize you from the many times you've been there, and offers you a table depending on the number of people that accompany you. 

Mexican fondas are a wonderful creation. They offer homemade food from breakfast to dinner. food (which in Mexico is not lunch, lunch time(but at 3:00 in the afternoon and our most important meal of the day). The dishes at fondas are generally balanced and are the closest thing to home cooking that a Mexican can find outside of the home.

Luis Santos and his brother Alfredo came to Redwood City 14 years ago. They are originally from Ecatepec de Morelos, State of Mexico, very close to Mexico City. When they first arrived they noticed a culinary void in the area, and it still shows, because many times what looks like Mexican food is not really Mexican. 

Large food chains in the United States that sell themselves as Mexican food may fool the unwary and inexperienced about the complexity of this Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, but they will never satiate the palate of those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience authentic Mexican cuisine. 

The fondas are precisely a daily tasting of the complexity of the dishes offered by the different areas of the country. 

After sitting down at the table you find a small piece of paper printed on the same day. The title of the place reads all the way to the top. After the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and the advance of technology, there is no more printed paper, but a QR code stuck in the middle of the table. Scanning the code takes you to the menu of the day: There are three times with dishes to choose from, the first two only offer two choices most of the time:

First course 

Pasta soup or some vegetable soup/cream of your choice depending on the day

Segundo plato 

Rice or Salad 

The menus are fixed, but the ingenuity of the cooks allows for daily variety. The menu of the dayor the potluck. You can eat at the same fonda every day of the week and never repeat a single dish.

Third course?

The list goes on long enough to give you options of chicken, fish or red meat. Sometimes liver encebollado or a more elaborate special like Chiles rellenos or huauzontle in pasilla sauce can surprise you. 

The waiter or waitress comes, greets you with familiarity, makes small talk and anticipates your requests. He or she assumes, but asks first, that your rice will have a fried egg on top, maybe a banana, as you often request.

In the San Francisco Bay Area the vast majority of Mexican restaurants are taquerias. It is the export dish par excellence, after the Caesar salad invented in Tijuana, of course.  

When we lived in Mexico, my mom had a taco stand. But we wanted to put handmade quesadillas and pambazos, gorditas and other snacks. We've always wanted to do different things," says Luis when he refers to the Food Truck located at 2907 Camino Real, his first business.

Luis and Alfredo have just opened a beautiful fonda with beautiful talavera mosaic tables and walls decorated with Mexican artwork painted by family members.

Luis Santos in front of his work; woman making dough for tortillas.

 People are surprised when we bring the soup to the table," says Luis, a smile appears as soon as they taste it, "it makes them feel at home and reminds them of the soup their mother or grandmother used to make. That's the idea. I'm a food lover and I like it to transport me to another place. We want them to feel like they are in Mexico when they taste our food.

Luis also says that, although it is difficult to have a fonda, more work and not always find all the ingredients, he prefers to pay a little more to have quality products. And it shows. After eating several times at the "Fonda Los Carnalitos" at 820 Veterans Blvd, Suite B in Redwood City, I can assure you that I haven't tasted anything closer to Mexican food in this city than what they offer here. The deep dish of blue talavera with pasta soup always arrives early and the specials vary from day to day. 

I hope people come and try authentic Mexican food. We make it with heart, with the same passion with which we have always done everything? invites Luis.

The cochinita pibil is served in a casserole armed with banana leaves. I wrap the cochinita inside the handmade tortillas that are brought to us warm and the flavor invades me from the first bite.

I recommend the meatballs that sit atop their red sauce, with just enough spice to tingle the tongue, but never too much. Even though I'm Mexican, I don't tolerate a lot of chili, but these suit me just fine. 

I just tried purslane in salsa verde and was grateful to have the taste of home so close, so I miss it a little less.

Anna Lee Mraz Bartra
Anna Lee Mraz Bartra
Sociologist | Feminist | writer

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