Sometimes, learning another language involves diving in the deep end. In my case, my first Spanish lesson took me to the bottom of the sea at Fonda del Mar, which loosely translates to "trattoria by the sea." The walls inside coincided with lesson plan one, my friend so generously put together, as paintings highlight common words (moon, fish, etc.) and pictures with their Spanish meanings (la luna, el pescado).
From the moment we walked in, my profesora advised our mesero: NO ENGLISH. Byron Tovar played along, excited about his inclusion and providing my first experience limited to Spanish as well as my first encounter with Fonda del Mar - one that left me hooked like any number of fish on the menu.
Previously on a Logan Square site, this sister branch in North Center offers a roomier presentation equally suited for the ceremonial events occurring inside. Simple, architecturally inspired furniture sits in a space engulfed by bright orange and lemon yellow walls. High ceilings hang overhead and exotic plants bookend the room. A small bar doles out mojitos, margaritas and a range of Mexican beers, but no one appears hanging out solely for cocktails.
Homemade tortillas and the tacos ensanada set the stage before a saucy plate of salmon en chileatole: grilled salmon in a tomatillo-serrano-infused broth, poblano rojas, sweet corn, epazote and crispy beets. You'll find many of the seafood plates come dripping in a unique sauce, be it the black tiger shrimp or fresh mahi mahi. Braised pork and adobo marinated skirt steaks work for anyone who puts the fin in finicky.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez