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Mex for less 

Fonda stands out in West Little Rock.

MADE TO ORDER: Guacamole at Fonda Mexican Cuisine. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • MADE TO ORDER: Guacamole at Fonda Mexican Cuisine.

We're fond of Fonda. It's hard to write about the place and not use that throwaway line. It's a bit of a quirky spot, though, an anomaly in an otherwise pretty generic part of West Little Rock.

Bowman Curve used to feel a lot farther west when The Faded Rose opened in this space in 1988, but for downtowners like us with a growing number of great spots to eat not far outside our door, we still don't venture out to WLR too often. But Fonda gives us a good reason to go (and the new, nearby Whole Foods grocery is pretty cool, too).

Fonda offers the style of Mexican food more commonly found in Southwest Little Rock or maybe Levy — not often in a Tex-Mex sort of neighborhood. That's the anomaly part. We first picked up on the quirkiness when we were perusing the menu. One of us noticed the guacamole was touted as "prepared table side" on one menu and "made to order" on the other. And the prices were way different — $2 or $3 higher on many items on one menu than the other. We asked the waitress and were shocked to learn the "new" menu was the one with the lower prices. That's a switch.

We saw only a $7.99 version of the guacamole offered, but when we were asked "small or large" we opted for small and found when our bill came we had been served a "side order" of guacamole, which was a decent, small-bowl portion for $2.49. No one sliced/diced at our table, but the guacamole indeed seems "made to order" — very chunky with just about as much tomato as avocado and enough onion and jalapeno to jazz it up a bit.

The main courses arrived only about five minutes after the guac. The Tacos Arabe ($8.99 for four) are in the same not-overstuffed "street taco" style many around here equate with food truck tacos. They featured well-seasoned pork shoulder griddled with a little crunch, on small, soft, thickish corn tortillas topped with cilantro and a dusting of Oaxaca cheese. Squirts of lime brightened the flavor, and sauteed onion sweetened the deal. The advertised side of chipotle sauce was absent but not missed.

We had equated "barbacoa" with pork but later learned the word applies to the slow-roasting style of cooking and the meat varies by district of Mexico. In central Mexico, and at Fonda, that equates to lamb. Though the menu touted "lamb chunks," we were served shredded lamb, pot roast style ($13.98). Topped with onions and cilantro the meat was tender, flavorful and succulent. We also enjoyed the black beans and the somewhat-salty rice, but not as much as we adored the lamb, and the portion was plenty to stretch to the next day's lunch.

Another quirky thing: Neither version of the menu listed desserts, but when we asked our waitress we were told Kahlua flan and cream-stuffed churros were available. We opted for the churros just as we heard a waiter at the next table also mention sopapillas as an option. We're glad we went for the homemade, still-warm churros ($5.99), which were four small, soft, cinnamony pastries with a chocolate sauce drizzle (that didn't add a lot to the taste).

Our margaritas were made from scratch with quality ingredients, which was a constant throughout our fine meal at Fonda. As for the look of the place, the booth/table layout is about the same as The Faded Rose and the relatively short-lived Bumpy's. The decor is a mix of beer- and tequila-brand lanterns, alternately campy and gaudy art, cone-dominated piñatas, artful cacti, iguanas and other figurines. And there's just enough Razorback stuff to remind you where you are.

QUICK BITE

Three breakfast items and six lunch dishes are included on the Sunday brunch buffet ($10.99). Served 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the brunch also features $2 mimosas and Bloody Marys.

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Speaking of Fonda Mexican Cuisine

  • The 5 Best Bites of 2013

    December 20, 2013
    We’ve been fortunate to sample many delightful dishes this year, and we’ve choked down our share of less than stellar meals as well. But there are always those dishes that stand out in our minds, the food that lingers around in those pleasure centers of the brain, the flavors that we just can’t seem to stop thinking about. And so, here we present our 5 Best Bites of 2013. /more/
  • Fonda a welcome entry into crowded Mex scene

    October 10, 2013
    Small authentic menu full of tasty fare. /more/
  • Fonda Mexican Cuisine: Tex-Mex no more

    September 27, 2013
    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. /more/
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