Melbourne's cheap and colourful Mexican chain takes over two storeys on Smith Street.
It took a tad longer than most of Melbourne's other culinary precincts, but it seems Collingwood and Fitzroy are finally well and truly aboard the modern Mexican bandwagon. Meat-free favourite Trippy Taco was flying solo for a long time, before Mamasita's long-awaited second venue Hotel Jesus took over the former Collingwood Post Office space towards the end of 2016. Now Fonda has arrived at the fiesta, with the group choosing a buzzy Smith Street corner as the location for their seventh Melbourne Mexican joint.
David Youl and Tim McDonald have breathed new life into the strip's familiar former pink cheesecake outlet, transforming it from dingy corner shop into a two-storey space that's light, bright and surprisingly massive. They've worked in that signature Fonda energy — it's all blond wood laced with pops of colour, and a bouncy soundtrack turned up loud.
A sunken open bar and kitchen take centre stage on the lower level, surrounded by curvy timber booths and high communal tables. Then, upstairs, you'll find a separate bar — for easy access to margaritas — and a sun-drenched, openair terrace out back.
The menu's an upbeat arrangement of snacks and larger plates, making it ideal both for quick bites and those all-out feasting sessions. It's easygoing and yet big on the details, incorporating fresh-pressed tortillas, quality Aussie meat and non-GMO corn.
A basket of white and blue tortilla crisps ($9) works a treat alongside those after-work Coronas ($8), or as a prelude to something bigger. If snacking is all you're doing, the DIY tostada board ($21) is gold.
A selection of six-inch tacos reads like a roll-call of the classics, though if you look closely, you'll find it's interspersed with clever additions. Lightly battered prawns work beautifully alongside pineapple, caramelised kimchi, and Japanese mayo ($7.50), while market-fresh rockling gets a kick from pickled carrot, chipotle aioli, and a drizzle of lime ($7.50).
Heartier appetites will flock straight to the trio of quesadillas ($15-16), or the burritos, which are loaded up with black beans and quinoa. Here, again, the list covers all the favourites, with the meatiest being the chopped beef ($16) — a tasty mix of shaved cabbage, house salsa, and a subtle chipotle aioli.
To wash it down, the bar's whipping up six different margaritas, as well as a handful of signature creations, with options by the glass or the jug. If you like your drinks sweet, you'll appreciate the gin-based Netflix & Chill ($17), which blends grapefruit and honey with ginger, coriander, and a hint of fresh chilli. Otherwise, go for the tangy embrace of a burnt orange margarita ($17) — an infusion of el Jimador Blanco tequila, vanilla, burnt orange, lime, and OJ. It goes down nicely with a taco on the terrace with the sound of a tram rumbling up Smith Street in the background.
Images: Brook James.