Sparky: Mexican joint Fonda serves wallet-friendly fish tacos.
Sparky: Mexican joint Fonda serves wallet-friendly fish tacos. Photo: Simon Schluter

144 Chapel Street Windsor, VIC 3181

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Opening hours Daily 11.30am-late
Features Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Groups
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9521 2660

Queues must make the heart grow Fonda, because the heaving Richmond cantina that opened in 2011 has been joined (upstaged?) by a precocious little sister in where-it's-at Windsor. The new Fonda is in a huge, high-ceilinged shop that used to house the Salvos. It's been freshened up with whites and brights. I love the colourful string-backed banquettes, vibrant painted floor, blond timber tables and spunky wire-framed chairs. It's dazzling and bustling, with an eat-and-go vibe. Hard surfaces, loud music and no bookings play to a youngish crowd and, at busy times, the waiting list is managed by tablet and text message. The upstairs bar, Atico, suggests a little more lingering.

The food travels the original Fonda's light, jaunty track. Quinoa stands in for rice. Cheese is fresh and the heat factor is modest (boost as you please with salsas). Charred corn with chipotle (smoky chilli) aioli and lime isn't rocket science, but it's an enjoyable snack. A grilled chicken salad is brightened with mint and lemon and bulked with quinoa and black beans. It's nourishing, flavourful and would be my go-to lunch if I worked on Chapel Street. The kangaroo burrito makes good use of a neglected protein; it's filling and the most expensive menu item at an easy $15, but I reckon it's a little underpowered. A fish taco sparked up with pickled carrot does the job. It's not as tasty as the zinging Acland Street Cantina version of the dish but it is about half the price. I liked the vegetarian enchilada with pickled cactus, potato and black beans.

There's not much in the way of service, though there's no lack of perky cheer among the staff. Fetch your own water and order at the counter: take a number and race your food back to the table. I would have appreciated more initiative regarding the provision of share plates and serving cutlery. I didn't like the overflowing paper towels in the bathroom. I despaired at the way one server wiped half our table then got distracted and bounced away. It all made me want to shake the restaurant by the shoulders: you're busy, you're cool, I can tell you want to please and there are dishes I'd come back for. Still - and I'm sure you know it - you could be better.


3 stars out of 5