You know a Mexican restaurant is ballsy when it blasts Javier Solís. The legendary ranchera crooner nowadays is only heard in households, his melancholy singing too somber for the restaurant jukebox’s usual emphasis on ear-splitting banda, narcocorridos and Vicente Fernandez. But Solís is what the owner of Fonda la Meche plays—full albums and at a comfortable volume. This is his place and his food, and a sign in Spanish placed on a wall serves as a telling manifesto: “How You Treat Me, I’ll Treat You, Because Your Money Is as Valuable as My Job Is Sacred.”
Here is the best Mexican restaurant in Orange County right now: a wholly personal take on the food from Mexico City and its surrounding states. A fonda in Mexico is the equivalent of an inn, a place where the owners cook the same meal for travelers that they would for themselves. The tiny dining room, plastered with Mexican curios, looks like the den of an abuelito with too many gift-giving grandchildren: calendars, Aztec motifs, Zapata pictures and a painting of a mother suckling her child. The meals are similarly homey, puro chilango; you won’t find some of the entrées here anywhere else in la naranja. Take the enchiladas toluqueñas, a trio of rolled corn tortillas, with the only cheese present appearing as sprinkled cotija on top, along with a drizzle of crema fresca. Inside them sits a mush of potato and chorizo, buttery yet firm.
As for the soups: a mole de olla isn’t related to the signature dishes of Puebla and Oaxaca (though the two exist on the menu as well, and formidable versions at that), but instead is a spicy pottage bobbing with beef chunks, corn on the cob and two types of squashes. The only caldo in the county that can top Fonda la Meche’s mole de olla is right next to it on the menu: caldo tlapeño, a magnificent cauldron of chicken, rice, garbanzo beans, epazote and chile seeds, each ingredient maintaining its distinct essence before imparting its flavor to the broth.
The usual suspects of chilango cuisine also exist—freshly fried potato tacos, fat pambazos, the red-and-green-sauced huevos divorciados, thick quesadillas wrapped in some of the thickest corn tortillas you’ll ever find, fat like a New Yorker. But go by the specials on the wall, on the tables, what everyone else is enjoying. A pechuga Tuza—chicken breast topped with grilled onions, jalapeños and covered in queso fundido, chewy and gooey—is a mestizo chicken parmigiana. Nothing authentically Mexican about this, just home cooking—and just bueno.
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Fonda La Meche, 7483 Katella Ave., Stanton, (714) 484-0105.
This column appeared in print as "Fond of the Fonda."