We’re fond of Fonda’s ambition.
Fonda Mexican Cuisine & Tequila Bar, which replaced Bumpy’s Tex-Mex (which replaced the Faded Rose) in west Little Rock’s Bowman Curve Shopping Center, goes the extra mile in preparing and serving its authentic Mexican food with pride.
The warm salsa, for example, is a special slow-cooked recipe. Guacamole is whipped up fresh at the table.
Still, for all of Fonda’s efforts, some things fell a bit short. We wanted to like the food more than we actually liked it.
Located in the corner space of a strip center, the place is easy to find - the name Fonda is over the door in bold yellow letters, with a “Grand Opening” banner and an outside video screen advertising the $10.99 Sunday brunch buffet and “Bloody Maria” drink specials.
Inside it has the same layout as Faded Rose (I never made it to Bumpy’s before it bounced, but I’m told it’s pretty much identical to that) with a big bar area to the left and a woodsy dining room of booths, tables, limited metal wall decor and Corona salt and pepper shakers to the right. Fonda is on the dim side during the day, when the restaurant relies mainly on sunlight. It was so dark at night, we could barely see what we were eating.
There was a gloomy feel to a recent lunch, where there were only two other tables of diners and sports playing too loudly on a bar television. A sweet waitress tried hard, maybe too hard, to make the scene cheerier, stopping by frequently and talking up the dishes on the one-page lunch menu ($5.58-$10.49).
We would feel better when we got cheese dip. No, we wouldn’t. Fonda doesn’t serve cups of the creamy cheese dip we’ve come to expect at Mexican restaurants, and well, just about every restaurant in Arkansas. Instead, Fonda does Queso Fundido, a skillet of melted cheese ($6.38 at lunch, $8.38 at dinner) that sounded a bit heavy for a midday meal.
So we ordered guacamole (price doesn’t appear on menu, but it’s $7.99). With it, we got a cooking demonstration from an employee making the fresh avocado dip at the table, adding in Fonda’s not so secret extras - roasted onion, tomato and jalapeno. What he didn’t add, however was detectable cilantro or seasoning of any kind. The mix in the molcajete tasted dull, and it looked that way, too, taking on a slightly grayish hue from the roasted vegetables.
We also snacked on the chips and Fonda’s homemade salsa, which had heat in temperature but not in taste. It was light on flavor and heavy on hunks of vegetables and stringy sprigs, which we labeled “shrubbery.”
The same salsa topped my friend’s Razorback Burrito ($7.99), a huge tortilla bundle stuffed, true to name, with moist shredded pork. It was also packed with black beans, making the side of black beans redundant. The rice, my friend said, “did little more than take up space on the plate.” She did, however, like the jalapeno-packed pico de gallo.
I ordered a plate of three tacos ($6.49-$9.38), and was pleased to find out I could order them with different fillings. My favorite was a tie between the savory chorizo and the crisp fish with crunchy greenery and a befitting sauce. The grilled chicken breast was good, especially when piled with pico de gallo and perked up with a bit ofjuice from a charred half lime. The entree came with a side plate of cheese-covered beans and rice.
At dinner, we waited a while before a staff member came to seat us - we joked that perhaps it was too dark for him to see us. We also waited a while before ordering, between courses, for drink refills and for the check. In fairness, they were a bit busier than at lunch, and our server did apologize for the delays.
From the drinks menu, I ordered an adventurous Pineapple-Chipotle Margarita ($7.99), and was pleased with the sweet, smoky and spicy sipper. In fact, it might be the best thing I ordered. I would go back just to investigate other specialty “bebidas” like the Habanero-Lime, Pomegranate and Tamarind margaritas. Fonda offers a 3-6 p.m. happy hour with reduced beer and house margarita prices. On Ladies Night Thursdays, wine and house margaritas are $2.99.
This visit we did try the Queso Fundido and thoroughly enjoyed the skillet of molten cheese, chorizo, pico de gallo and - were those mushrooms (did we mention it was dark?)? At least we did until the mixture fused to the skillet and became impossible to scoop up with chips or spoon into the accompanying tortillas.
From the two-page dinner menu ($10.78-$16.58), my dining companion ordered the Plato de Carnitas ($13.98), a pleasing pile of tender pork on rice. Though we were perplexed by the large pile of raw vegetables - peppers, onions and tomatoes (the menu mentioned only habanero pickled red onions) - that shared the plate.
I preferred his dish to my Camerones Diablo!! ($15.39) - their exclamation points, not mine. The shrimp, served over tortilla strips, had a watery, just-thawed feel and fusty taste, and didn’t meld well with the chipotle tomato sauce. I left most of them on the plate, which was filled out with beans, rice and pico de gallo. I think. Again, it was dark.
Bonus: By not eating too much at Fonda at this meal, I didn’t have to break out workout videos by another Fonda - Jane.
Fonda Mexican Cuisine & Tequila Bar
Address: 400 N. Bowman Road, Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Weekend, Pages 31 on 09/26/2013
Print Headline: Warm salsa, service at Fonda