I suspect there weren’t many within the dining public surprised to discover that Bumpy’s Tex-Mex on Bowman had recently closed its doors for good. Mediocre food, uninspired takes on Americanized Mexican dishes, and somewhat pitiful location. I was, however, slightly surprised that, seemingly within only a few weeks, the space was housing another Mexican establishment. Didn’t they learn the first time around? Hadn’t they already attempted to squeeze that spot for every refried bean it’s worth? The Mexican monster had reared its ever-present head again, this time referring to itself as Fonda Mexican Cuisine. To be honest, I was about as enthusiastic about trying the new place as I am about getting a colonoscopy.
But curiosity got the better of me. It’s nearby, it definitely isn’t crowded (yet), and hey, I like Mexican food. So last weekend, I took my seat in the polished and comfortable restaurant.
And I’m pleased I did…I’m sort of “fonda” the place now (See what I did there? Stay with me, folks).
Fonda’s menu is rather petite, especially compared to the encyclopedic, novel-like constructions you might find at a place like Chuy’s. A small handful of appetizers, a dozen or so entrees. But you’ll soon realize, while perusing the menu options, Fonda is tTex-Mex no more. It’s got a bit more authenticity than it’s predecessor, and while it still manages to maintain that sense of familiarity we Americans have come to enjoy in our Mexican options, there’s enough intrigue and originality to keep your taste buds on their toes, so to speak.
You’ll find dishes such as pollo con mole, which uses authentic family recipes, the mole a conglomeration of “nineteen ingredients in a silky sauce.” Guisado de peurco finds pork shoulder diced and simmered in an oven-roasted tomatillo sauce. The “chef’s favorite” utilizes slow-roasted lamb, pulled from the bone and stewed in a chipotle broth.
You’ll begin with a complimentary serving of warm salsa and freshly fried corn chips. The salsa is a blend of stewed tomato, jalapeño, and onion. It’s not the first warm salsa we’ve been served, but this brand is certainly in the minority amongst Mexican establishments. It was flavorful, bright, and hearty, but we would have liked a bit more spice. Still, the chips were flawless. Hot, thin, and brittle. They cracked delicately when bitten into but managed to maintain enough resilience to support the weight of our sizable scoops of salsa.
We were first enticed by the “queso fundido” ($8.38). The appetizer takes a substantial serving of shredded Chihuahua cheese—a soft, white Mexican variety—and throws it on a scorching cast iron plate. To this, diners may choose to top with chorizo or mild, roasted Poblano pepper strips and sautéed mushrooms. The whole dish is served alongside freshly made flour tortillas. The entire process is a beautiful thing to behold. Hot plate meets cheese, the soft white substance gives way under the heat, melting and bubbling as it arrives at the table. It quickly forms a thin layer of slightly burned fried cheese at the base—this crispy, caramelized layer is not to be overlooked. As you eat, you simply scrape the contents of the plate up with a spoon and spread on a tortilla or corn chip. It’s greasy, salty and absolutely splendid. We opted for chorizo, which imparted a wonderful spicy note to the cool, creaminess of the cheese.
We also decided upon the “guisado de res” ($13.99). I’m particularly fond of guisados or Mexican stews—when done right, the slowly cooked meats are rendered soft and tender, and as they are typically bathed in a blend of peppers, tomatoes, and other spices, the meats are extremely flavorful when ready to be served. Fonda’s version uses chunks of stewed sirloin in a roasted tomato, chipotle, and bay leaf blend. The results were marvelous—everything I’d expect from a fine guisado. The stew surrounds a mound of soft, flavorful rice. The concoction may be enjoyed on tortillas, scooped up in corn chips, or simply alone on a spoon.
One thing is clear, the folks in the kitchen at Fonda are confident in their ability to recreate the flavors of Mexico. It’s undoubtedly an improvement on what was being served by prior tenants. One can only hope that Fonda finds its place in a city that is already (seemingly) over-run with Mexican options. But truth be told, only a rare few are as appetizing as Fonda.
Fonda Mexican Cuisine: 400 N Bowman Rd, Little Rock. (501) 313-4120. Open Tues-Sun 11 am-10 pm. Closed Monday.