The premise of the column is simple; work with restaurants of all kinds to explore what they have to offer and what makes them unique. In a city like Toronto, the choices are sometimes daunting and the food reviews and critics can be snotty and too complicated for their own good. So why not keep this easy? Drinks. Appetizer. Main Course. Dessert. All along with a bit of information about what makes them my choice for Daniel’s Dish and why you should try them right away!
Fonda Lola, 942 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J
My Daniel’s Dish adventures have led me all over the city of Toronto in search of food experiences that are captivating and unique. From five star dinning to unbeknownst hot spots in tucked away corners of the city, I am always in search for not only delicious food, but also an experience. Eating at a restaurant has become so much more than an item on a menu.
For those of you who follow along on social media (@DoTheDaniel on Instagram & Twitter) you’ll know that I have been a fan of Fonda Lola for years. Be it for the chance to visit during an event or to sit down to a family dinner, this Mexican restaurant has in so many ways won my heart. It also doesn’t hurt that owner Andres Marquez is a total babe and I swoon a little bit when I get the chance to chat with him. What can I say? I’ve got a thing for Latinos.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is quaint and intimate. Immediately when you walk in, you realize that the small space is meant to feel as though you were walking off the streets of Mexico in search of a good meal. Delicious aromas and the sound of laughter greet you like the embrace of an old friend. Tin roof panelling runs along the left hand side of the space while a dark wood bar calls your name in the back. Simple decor speaks to the fact that the restaurant doesn’t need to embellish itself with over the top decor to be beautiful. Similarly, the food & beverages follow the same rule and are built on innovative interpretations of classic recipes. Keeping it simple and to the point allows for the atmosphere to be rustic without being old & energetic without being kitchy. As many of you know, if I feel immediately relaxed in a dinning room, it speaks volumes to the ability of the restaurant to welcome me into their home. Fonda Lola does just that and so much more.
As a fun behind the scenes fact of my life, what many of you might not realize is that Latino & South American cuisine is hands down my favourite food. The interesting part of this over the last few years with the addition of my husband-to-be Julio is that he is Guatemalan by birth and somewhat of an ‘aficionado’ on the subject. With a “My Mom’s is better” perspective, I knew that Fonda Lola had it’s work cut out for it when we planned a recent visit. Add into the mix my incredible Mother-in-Law who cooks these meals and I knew I was bringing two opinionated critics along with me for the night. AND it was her birthday? Ay dios…
To no surprise, I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
From start to finish, amid of bustling sea of happy customers, our evening was full of delicious drinks and dishes. The thing I loved most was sitting back and watching the various clientele come and go throughout the night. Be it for the bar, which at one point was jammed with smiling faces, to the incredible food that we devoured… Fonda Lola is one of the most authentic Mexican restaurants and experiences in all of Toronto. So let’s get to the good stuff!
Aside from the in-house infused tequila which Andres is always so happy to tell you about (and share if you’re lucky!), there is one drink that I enjoy every single time I visit Fonda Lola. The Smoked Cuba Libre is not only delicious but also an experience you simply have to see to believe. Before your very eyes, the smoke machine is fired up and infused into the coke, which is served to you in a beaker. As Andres mentioned in the video above, he loves science. Mix that with a classic combination of coke with aged rum and lime, and you’ve got what looks like a science experiment but tastes like heaven. I am immediately transported south in the first sip and know you will feel the same too!
The majority of the menu I would recommend for sharing. Typically, this style of food is meant to be passed around and savoured with the ones you love. Think of it like you would family dinner with guests you are hosting. Delicious food needs to be tasted, shared, touched and discussed. Of the many dishes we ordered, two immediately stand out in my mind that you simply have to start your experience off with. The Trout Aguachile & Panela Popper. The Trout Aguachile is similar to a ceviche but with a few more layers. Firstly it combines a sturdier fish which can stand up to bold flavours while still maintaining its consistency and flavour. The difference between ceviche and aguachile is also the fact that it is significantly more spicy and bold. Served with salty tortilla chips, it’s a perfect way to start the night for those fish & seafood lovers out there.
In addition, the Panela Poppers are something of an addictive substance that I should never be left alone in a room with. Panela is a mexican cheese made of pasteurized cow’s milk and is similar to a mozzarella in it’s consistency. Marinated in chile & wrapped in a crispy coating of cornmeal, you’ve got one delicious start to your meal. Topped with sliced Jalapenos (which, if you’re like me, the more the merrier) and served with a sauce of tomato & cumin flavours and you’ve got yourself a new addiction.
Of the main course options that we enjoyed together for a special occasion, none stand out quite like The Carne Asada Skillet. Flank steak that falls apart is combined with ancient raw mole and fresh tortillas. I think the thing that has always been such a huge part of my passion for Latin cuisine is the fact that the dishes themselves are so simple and yet take hours to prepare with love and attention to detail. For those of you who aren’t aware, mole is a dish that takes many hours to prepare and has a huge list of ingredients that, if they aren’t perfectly balanced, can create culinary chaos. Ancient mole combines (but it not limited to) papaya, thyme, cilantro & tomatillo. The dish balances earthiness, spice & just enough sweet to keep your taste buds dancing. This is the perfect dish to get your hands dirty with and will have you wanting more before you’ve finished your first bite.
It wouldn’t be a Mexican meal without a classically Mexican dessert. Homemade Churros de chocolate con Cajeta end a perfect meal in a perfect way. Cajeta is a caramel made usually with condensed milk and can be equated to heavenly balance of salty and sweet. It is considered a specialty of the city of Celaya in the state of Guanajuato. Add that to a gluten free (yes, you read that right. Fonda Lola even has gluten free options for you) crispy dough… heaven. The candle is of course optional, but being that we were celebrating a very special woman, a must for our occasion. It’s shockingly difficult to find homemade churros in Toronto that don’t come from 1 of 3 major vendors, so this was an extra special treat and one you have to try for yourself.
Secret You Should Know:
As I have come to learn about my in laws and their culture while embracing it as part of who I am, I am also learning that they do not admit things easily. Maybe it’s my in-laws, or maybe it’s a Latino thing. The secret you should know is that when it comes to food, “Mine is better” usually always dominates the opinions of those around the table. My Guatemalan Mother In Law loved every single dish at Fonda Lola and would recommend you try it for yourself, no matter what your background. Coming from a home chef of her caliber, if this isn’t the best endorsement I can give based on our experience, I don’t know what is!
The dishes are well thought out and delicious, the drinks are works of art, and the atmosphere is like being back in Mexico. Fonda Lola’s popularity in the city of Toronto speaks to the passion of the owners and the staff and I am so excited for you to try it for yourself. If you’ve haven’t had the opportunity to visit and see for yourself, I would highly recommend you get off your computer or mobile right now and get down there! You won’t be disappointed.
To stay inspired by the culinary creations of Andres and his talented team, make sure to follow @FondaLola of Twitter and Instagram. Use the #FondaLola & #MexicanFiesta hashtags during your next visit to join in on the social media conversation. I know that we are all excited to hear which dish is your favourite!
For more behind the scenes of this and other Daniel’s Dish visits, follow my #DoTheDaniel Instagram account.
Please remember to enjoy responsibly and never drink and drive.