Cramped in among the many restaurants of Solano Ave, Fonda’s is one of the largest and more impressively decorated. Its red upholstered lounge area, wooden tables and tapas setting is like an experimental set design for Django Unchained. The host is excellent, always smiling and helpful, servers are prompt, and bussers are on point, the one thing lapsing sadly, is the food. With a bar menu whose happy hour extends past most others in Berkeley/Albany, and in keeping its doors open until 11pm, Fonda’s should be a great late night food destination. Having been put on the market by K2, perhaps its fallen into some kind of corporate blackhole, like the economic lapse that follows a revolution, maybe Fonda’s will get back on its feet in a few months with authentic dishes that impress. Perhaps these are just dark days but as it stands:
The ‘Grilled Calamari’ is served in a ‘sikil pak’ sauce or at Fondas ‘siquil pak’. Traditionally this is a pumpkin seed paste plus seasonings, while at Fondas it was more a black pepper, cheese and pumpkin seed paste in that order. The calamari alone was tasty, the black pepper was an overkill to the charcoal flavor making the cherry tomato garnish a necessity to cool the flavor of pepper from the tongue.
The ‘Empanadas’ were in an orangey liquid salsa and a cubed ‘queso fresco’. For starters, something called ‘fresco’ shouldn’t replicate the shape of a storage container other than fresher and more organic association. The salsa was more of a puree, with very slight flavor, not that salsa has to chunky, but something in it should be indicative of its ingredients though this had none to be found. the meat within the pastry was reminiscent of mystery meat from old school lunches, and this may be nostalgia, but the latter recants more flavor than the meat at Fondas. The peppers and onions were miniscule denominations, while the pastry was not flaky or crunchy, but dense and tasted like it had been frozen. If Trader Joe’s sold empanadas, Fondas would be cornered with some serious competition.
The’ Platanos’ were THE silver lining. Thickly sliced large plantains, perfectly cooked and served on a bed of black beans, topped with salsa and ‘crema fresca’ just like any old school abuela would make. This is the dish to come in for, it will take you straight to the Caribbean. Luckily it is also a large serving.
The ‘Quesadillas’ were unfortunately housed in the same freezer and pastry crust as the ‘Empanadas’. Although the filling was better with melted cheese and mushrooms, the pastry persisted in its heavy, frozen flavor.
The ‘Kale’ was a non-experience topped with a ‘cascabel chili vinaigrette’ similar to Sriracha and tossed with some more of the ‘queso fresco’ and crushed almonds that gave each bite a blocky texture which made it difficult to eat.
Fearful that dessert would taste like a freezer, it was an easy pass. Fondas is not the “upscale” experience promised on their website but everyone who does work there is excellent. If more in house dishes like the ‘platanos’ could be incorporated the menu would be a more genuine and impressive offering. As it stands, warm up something you have at home before you head to Fonda’s, unless you wanna have cocktails.