In Bushwick we have bodegas on every corner. In Cuba they used to have “fondas,” small restaurants run mostly by women from their home kitchens until Castro abolished private business and shut them all down.
Wish you could’ve eaten at a Cuban fonda before they disappeared? Newly opened Fonda Cubana serves up all that good home cooking right here in the neighborhood.
Owner Elizabeth Cuenca (with chef Jason Lozada, formerly of ABC Kitchen near Union Square) smiles sweetly, almost even romantically when she opens up about her new place.
Idyllic wall-to-wall murals depicting a tropical beach town provide the perfect backdrop as Elizabeth talks about her inspiration.
“Opening a Cuban restaurant has always been my dream,” she says. “It’s a very emotional thing. Everyone in my family was born in Cuba except for me. My grandmother, who was a great cook, isn’t here anymore, but I would have loved for me and her to go [to Cuba] together.”
Elizabeth, a former office manager from the Bronx, now has the pleasure of serving the food she grew up eating at an affordable price, just like a traditional fonda. The restaurant boasts a cozy family atmosphere with a more robust menu than the nearby Miami-style Cafeteria La Mejor.
While travel from New York to Havana is still a long way off and the trade embargo hasn’t been lifted yet, don’t worry—the Fonda has you covered with Celia Cruz tunes playing in the background and (according to the chef) a secret stash of Cuban olive oil personally delivered by a friend from his farm near Havana.
“Matanza” is Spanish for “slaughter,” and the Guacamole Matanzas comes with thick, almost chewy plantain chips (you can actually taste the fruit) and a spicy sweet and sour sauce that will slay your taste buds:
Lovers of shrimp and garlic, rejoice! The Camarones Fonda is served sizzling, with the shrimp poached in a bit of lobster sauce:
For a more citrusy flavor, go with the Shrimp Ceviche—Tiger Prawns marinated in lime and orange tossed with pico de gallo:
Protein-packed and cooked to perfection (can you tell this was our favorite?), the Vaca Frita delivers tender shreds of beef served over generous portions of kidney beans, rice and a fried egg on top:
Wait, more shredded beef? Nah, that’s just the red risotto-style rice in the Vegetarian Paella, packed with edamame, tomatoes, squash and mushrooms:
Sides ($4-$5), Non-Alcoholic Drinks ($3-$4.95) and Dessert ($4.95-$6.95):
The crisp Fried Yuca with a subtle garlic-parsley flavor and topped with the house chimichurrri:
These were refreshing! Mojitos, San Franciscos and Pina Coladas, all virgin for now:
Fonda’s liquor license has been approved and is coming soon, and with it, bottomless sangria for their weekend brunch menu.
Last but not least, we couldn’t get enough of pastry chef Mihai Topor’s Flan, which had a spongier texture than your typical caramel custard. Served with candied bananas and a dollop of homemade Madagascar-vanilla whipped cream:
All this comfort food was so good, we didn’t even have room for El Cubano (Fonda’s Cuban sandwich) or the staff favorite, the Churrasco Fonda! What were we thinking? Maybe next time, when we stop in for that brunch…
Fonda Cubana is located at 913 Wyckoff Avenue in Ridgewood. Hours: Tue-Thu 3pm-10pm; Fri 3pm-11pm; Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 11am-10pm; Mon closed. Phone: (718) 417-0272