a b c Fonda

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40 Avenue B

Avenue B is the newest location for Roberto Santibanez's Fonda restaurants; the first is in Brooklyn. This champion of Mexican cuisine, author of Truly Mexican, and a Latin cuisines advisor for the Culinary Institute of America showcases some of the best Mexican food you are likely to find anywhere in this simple and charming restaurant with a small lounge, a bar, and tables in the back. (Fonda means "tavern" or, "small restaurant.")

Mole is a rich and complex staple of Mexican cuisine and a closely guarded secret among the moleros (mole masters), a role Santibanez enjoys here; try his spicy hazelnut mole served with Shrimp and Scallop Enchiladas. The salsas are also terrific. Salsa verde is so fresh and green you will think you are in an herb garden. Try some with Fish Salpicon, a signature appetizer salad of chopped white fish slightly cooked and crunchy onions, Serrano chiles, and cilantro -- meant to be rolled into a hand-pressed corn tortilla. Squeeze on some lime and add a big dollop of salsa verde. Tlacoyo con Hongos is a black bean masa "boat," so called because it is a torpedo-shaped corn cake layered with bean spread, big chunks of sautéed shitake mushrooms, salsas, cheese, and crema. Mushrooms are marvelous in this setting and you will want more.

The Tres Leches dessert is literally to die for -- the Cajeta-soaked sponge cake contains three milks and is topped with rompope (eggnog) sauce, whipped cream and toasted slivered almonds. Dinner daily from 5 to 10pm; later Thursday-Saturday; brunch weekends, 11am to 4pm. -- Marian Betancourt

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