There’s nothing understated about a bucket-size margarita, an 80-ounce beer tap at your table or a life-size, saddled-up plastic zebra outside the front door, and that’s what makes La Fondita the hottest fiesta in Sonoma County.
Downtown Santa Rosa’s newest restaurant is a quiet cantina by day with nine pages of regional Mexican and Californian classics ranging from breakfast burritos, tacos and enchiladas to ceviche and molcajetes. Things get wonderfully loco after 8 p.m. on weekends.
Mariachi bands fill the space with music and staff parade through the restaurant with flashing lights and whistles to announce the arrival of mega-margaritas. Wacky drinks like La Pitufina (Smurfette) with vodka, ice cream and blue Curacao seem like excellent ideas. Fortunately, the kitchen is open late so you can soak up all the booze in your belly. And watch out if it’s your birthday because you’ll be celebrated like a rock star with singing, picture-taking and clapping.
“We think downtown deserves a half-time show of authentic, reasonably priced food. … You’ll be able to have a meal without breaking your wallet,” Ivy Reyes said.
Reyes works with her extended family to run both this restaurant and the original Roseland location started by her mother in 1996.
A large mural on the back wall of the new restaurant illustrates the journey of the Reyes family from Mexico to America.
Elena Maria Reyes started the original La Fondita with an old food truck she and her husband financed by selling their cars and asking her grandmother for a few thousand dollars in start-up money.
That same truck — which became the unmistakable orange Delicias Elenitas mobile kitchen — is permanently parked outside the 816 Sebastopol Road restaurant. It remains one of the most popular stops on Sebastopol Road and is open until 3 a.m.
Throughout the new restaurant is the hashtag #vamoscontodo, Spanish for “We’re all in,” Reyes said. After a drink or two, you will be, too.
El Mananero, $12.95: Eggs, pico, chorizo, Jack cheese, rice, black beans and sour cream wrapped up in a tortilla and ready to start your day.
Al Pastor Taco, $4: Spit-roasted pork with a sweet pineapple glaze. You’ll also find a variety of Mexican favorites, including lengua (tongue), stewy and delicious cabeza (head), tripa (tripe) and chicharron (pork rind), as well as tinga (shredded chicken), asada (steak) and cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pork flavored with citrus). You can watch the tortillas being made by hand at a small plancha near the kitchen.
Mariscos: Seafood is a specialty, and it’s worth perusing the many raw, fried and sauteed fish, shrimp and octopus options, such as Tostada de Ceviche, $7.95. It’s raw cod marinated in lime juice and mixed with onions, tomato and cilantro. A perfect balance of tart leche de tigre (the delicious juice of ceviche), buttery avocado, crunchy onions and cilantro.
Camaronillas, $17.95: Shrimp and cheese? Breaking the age-old taboo of pairing seafood with dairy, juicy sauteed shrimp and melted Jack cheese are tucked into a crispy folded tortilla and served with rice and slaw.
Molcajetes ($24-$27): A sizzling stone bowl is filled with meat, vegetables, nopales (cactus) and cheese swimming in a stew-like sauce and brought to the table steaming and sputtering. Go for the 7 Mares with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, crab legs and baby octopus. It’s a perfect dish for two or more to share.
Elotes $3.95: The famous street cob corn covered in mayonnaise and cheese from the Delicias Elenitas truck is on the menu but hidden with the desserts. A favorite.
Drinks: Margarita, schmargarita. There are, of course, plenty of fruity margarita flavors, either blended or on the rocks. But crowd-pleasers like the Flor de Capomo ($18), served in a wooden bowl surrounded by crushed ice, is a pretty pink passion fruit sipper with vodka, limoncello and pineapple juice.
El Chocolatzo, $17: Think grown-up chocolate shake with vodka, Kaluha, ice cream and chocolate sauce.
El Borrego, $150: A planter-sized pot with two bottles of tequila and margarita mix with a handful of straws. Dive in if you dare.
Mexican Pizza, $12.95: With all the hubbub about Taco Bell bringing back the Mexican Pizza (why?), this version has it beat. A crispy flour tortilla with melted cheese, tomatoes, chives and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.
Open 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 630 Third St., Santa Rosa, 707-843-7595, Instagram @lafonditadowntown (no website).