If Walls Could Talk: Fonda La Reforma

“Stop!” I yelled as our car sailed down a narrow street in Colonia Guerrero, an area north of the historic center, bustling with funky Sunday commerce.

It was the sign on a corner restaurant that had caught my eye. “Fonda La Reforma: We’re backed by 75 years of tradition” it proudly proclaimed. I love tradition--and old, timeworn places. By the time I left my city of birth, New York, we had little of either left. But here in Mexico City, venues for nostalgia still abound. They linger, sometimes languish, waiting to be re-discovered and lauded by, well, people like me.

Aluminum soup pots, dented by years of serious stirring and ancient chipped cazuelas, browned by flame and mole, filled the window of the open kitchen. An old lady, in no hurry at all, stirred one of them. In another window the words “exquisito mole” were emblazoned over a crude painting of a mole pot. This is an archetypal fonda. It offers 35 or 40 peso comida corridas like any other.

But here there’s a difference. Besides its age--over 80 years--La Reforma has the distinction of having been a hangout for one of the most important writers of Mexico’s golden age, Salvador Novo. Poet, essayist, novelist and general bon vivant, Novo (1904-1974) was perhaps best known as a chronicler of life in the big city. A genuine eccentric, gay and out at an early age, he was sort of a Mexican Oscar Wilde but with a relatively happy ending. Novo loved all things urban, especially food. His Cocina Mexicana is and informal chronicle of cooking and eating in Mexico City. The Fonda la Reforma appears in its pages. Novo ate here with Octavio Paz. One of the elderly owners claims that other famous people also graced her humble dining room, but she can’t recall their names. If walls could talk.

Located across from the huge Mercado Martinez de la Torre (see my earlier post), La Reforma was founded in the late 1920’s by Maria Canales as a simple puesto offering pancita to feed hungry market venders and shoppers. It was taken over a few years later by her daughter, who had no less than 12 children herself.

Two generations later, the restaurant is still in the hands of the Canales Sánchez family. ‘Baby brother’ Marco Antonio, 60-something, whips up egg whites for the chiles rellenos, a house specialty since time immemorial. Meanwhile, sister Jovita, who’s approaching 80 (from which direction I’m not sure), deep-fries the chilies themselves. And they’ve got those chilies down! The crust is crisp but fluffy, the chili and cheese light as a cloud, the caldo de jitomate just thick enough and mildly spiky.

I sampled an earthy verdolagas con carne (purslane with chunks of falling-apart pork). The chocolaty mole (offered only Saturday, Sunday and Monday) is if not quite exquisite, certainly good. Lunches are served daily to old-timers and young locals alike. As they have been for 80 years.

I don’t promise a four-star meal at La Reforma. But for those wanting a soul-satisfying, authentic home-style meal in a prototypical inner-city D.F. fonda, this is the place.

Fonda La Reforma is located at the corner of calles Heroes & Degollado,
Colonia Guerrero
It's 2 blocks north and west of Metro Guerrero
Open daily for comida

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A note to my readers: Good Food in Mexico City has been chosen by Saveur Magazine as one of the top Global food blogs! See: http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/SAVEURs-Favorite-Global-Food-Blogs


Dinner at Eight: Osteria 8

I was skeptical, even though a French friend had highly recommended the place. “This little hole in the wall is GOOD?” I thought as we sat down at one of the eight little tables. But this particular lady, Françoise, had owned a restaurant in Paris, so I figured if she said “c’est bon” I'd try it.

Little did I imagine the gem I would find. No bigger or fancier than the fonda it undoubtedly replaced, this mini-trattoría and pizzeria does some of the best Italian this side of the Lido. Owner Stephan Gialleonardo hails from that bastion of great Italian cooking--the Bronx. “I learned from my grandfather, a Napolitano who worked as chef on a depression-era gambling boat,” he explains. “Those floating casinos were owned by some rather discerning eaters.” he adds. The chef, who later studied at New York’s French Culinary Institute, decided to open his own place. He and his wife Patricia Ramirez inaugurated Osteria 8 two years ago and it has been a well-kept secret amongst savvy Condechis ever since.

Raw ingredients are fresh, seasonal and, in many cases organic and local. Pasta is house-made. A smartly limited menu of regional standards includes six appetizers (e.g., fried calamares and several salads), five pastas--none of them clichés--and a risotto ‘de chef’. There are specials, such as the knockout ‘ensalada romana’, soon to appear on the regular menu by popular demand. ‘Lechuga romana’ is iceberg lettuce and I admire a chef who’s not afraid of it. Here the old steakhouse special has been given a touch of class – a perfect wedge is swathed in a light gorgonzola sauce, then accessorized with chopped tomato, red onion and bacon – a Park Avenue debutante never looked so pretty. Chef Gialleonardo takes advantage of what’s in the market: “I love this season –especially the wild mushrooms, which right now (September) are particularly good” he says, disappearing into the tiny kitchen to prepare a spectacular tagliatelle with chantarelles. The lighter-than-angel’s-wings pasta is tossed with delicate slivers of golden mushrooms and bits of guanciale (a type of unsmoked bacon), good olive oil and parmesan. Divine. A home-made sausage I sampled was just as good. “The sausage recipe was my grandfather’s,” the chef explains. “But it took a lot of experiments to get it just right”. Then arrives what is just about the prettiest pizza I’ve seen outside Fordham Road – or Naples. Patricia does the pizzas. “My wife’s a kick-ass pizza-maker”, the chef assures me. She is indeed: the tomato-based mushroom and guanciale number I order is textbook-perfect. I’m an old New Yorker: when it comes to pizza, you CAN be too rich and too thin. This one has chutzpah, but is delicate and subtle at the same time.

Desserts are rich, dairy-based affairs your
nonna would fatten you up with: panna cotta, crème brulée, gelato, all done correctly.
House wine is decent and its price customer-friendly. Service is swift and efficient. Prices may seem
on the steep side for such an apparently humble place ($200-300 per person), but it’s worth every peso.
Plans to open a larger space in the neighborhood are underway. But meanwhile, we’ll gladly pack into this little gem of an Italo-hole-in-the-wall. Cin cin & buona provata!

Osteria 8
Sinaloa 252, (near Av. Veracruz) on the edge of Colonias Roma & Condesa

Open Tuesday- Saturday 1:30 - 11 p.m., Sunday until 8, closed Mondays

A note to my readers: Good Food in Mexico City has been chosen by Saveur Magazine as one of the top Global food blogs! See: http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/SAVEURs-Favorite-Global-Food-Blogs