You think you’ve had Mexican. You think because someone handed you some meat on a bun and called it a taco that you’ve been South of the Border. Well, friends, we’re here to tell you that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Fonda Lola, the recently opened restaurant at 942 Queen W., is the real Mexican deal. Owned by Andrés Márquez of Charlie Burger fame, Ernesto Rodriguez, and Howard Dubrovsky (former chef and owner of L.A.B.) this cantina-style space stretches its roots all the way back to the Aztecs. Márquez’s great aunt was an anthropologist and passed down her collection of ancient recipes – much to our benefit. And yes, her name was Lola.
Márquez explains to us that in Mexico a Fonda is a local restaurant, one in which the menu can change daily according to the locally sourced food. He adds with a smile that at some, you simply walk in, sit down, and are served whatever’s in the kitchen – no menu is even offered. And it’s in this vein that Fonda Lola welcomes its customers; the atmosphere is incredibly laid back. Despite only opening in the past few weeks, the restaurant claims an old-world charm that makes it feel as if it’s been operating for decades, just waiting for you to discover it.
Speaking of discovery, whatever you thought you knew about tequila, Fonda Lola will help you know even more. In fact, in September they co-hosted what might turn out to be the world’s largest ever tequila tasting (still waiting on The Guinness Book to confirm – seriously). In house, they currently keep three regulars behind the bar. They’re intent on growing the collection, but in the Fonda style, they’re not about showing off bottles you can’t pick up at the LCBO. The three stalwarts they’ve selected will introduce you to a wonderful agave world whether you’re sipping them straight up or getting deeply involved in a delicious Kombucha Margarita.
The local theme wouldn’t be much of a theme if it didn’t continue throughout the entire restaurant, which is why Chef Howard Dubrowsk heads to Kensington Market every single day to pick out the freshest locally sourced ingredients available in the city. And it shows. The Ensalada de Chayote featuring kale and arugula as well as caramelized pumpkin seeds and agave lime dressing was like a breath of fresh air. The Trout Aguachile is exactly as explained – a rougher and spicier version of ceviche. It may be pretty as hell when it’s delivered, but it also kicks you in the ass on the way down. It’s perfect. Next up we were introduced to Green Pozole, a rich green soup full of corn, radish, and crunchy chicharron. It’s the kind of dish you feel stronger just for having in front of you, let alone eating. Last, but definitely not least, our Tacos al Pastor were served in a skillet (to keep them hot and toasty) and we filled several small shells with the superb Mexico City-style pork, sweet pineapple, cilantro, and lime. The blend of spicy and sweet is something we could get used to on the daily.
Even with all the love we’ve been throwing Fonda Lola we still haven’t mentioned the best thing about them: the price point. A meal here is one of the best deals you’re going to find anywhere in the city. Don’t believe us? Try their #mexicanfiesta. For $100 you’ll get every single item on the menu (all 13 of them). That’s enough food to comfortably split two, three, or sometimes even four ways. Looks to us like Mexico just got a heck of a lot closer to home.