Luck of the Irish: Fonda Kelly

(Fonda Kelly has closed as of the end of 2012) Phil Kelly was a prolific Irish-born painter, who for 30 years made Mexico his home. (See David Lida's fine literary portrait)  He was no ‘ex-pat’, his life was truly here. He knew el D.F. inside and out and he loved it. So after he died, in 2010, his widow Ruth (Mexican, of course), and restaurateur/provocateur Marco Rascón of the restaurant Peces, decided that the best tribute to this amante of all things urban would be to create an eating and meeting place most typically Mexican: a fonda. Open barely a month, it’s not your run-of-the-mill artsy café–-and, for a change, not located in Roma or Condesa.  

Fonda Kelly is installed in a charmingly faded colonial building near Tepito--our ‘South Bronx’ to some, a treasure trove of antique architecture and old-time Mexican ambience to others. Ruth explains  that “this place, this neighborhood is just what Phil would have wanted. It’s called a ‘fonda’ but isn’t, at least not like the old- fashioned ones around here. We keep prices low so that it's accessible to everyone. But the food is different, more healthful than what's usually found nearby.”

Part of a neighborhood cultural center offering low-cost courses in the arts, the space is casual with a few simple tables, white walls sporting several of Kelly’s watercolors and an open kitchen stretching to the backyard. 

Ruth Murgía, widow of the artist 
Chef Mariana Mora’s simple but playful menu is Mexican and  eclectic, and loaded with seafood. She imbues her dishes with Spanish and North African touches while keeping her feet firmly planted on native turf. Tapas-style starters include an hojaldre Azteca, a Provençal- style tarte topped with frijoles charros. Little vegetarian empanadas are light, crispy/crunchy. Unusual tortas of arrenque (herring) and salmon with capers are offered. The bacalao-filled tamal sounded intriguing but they were out on a recent visit. A summery green salad featuring rose petals is, to quote W.C. Fields, “easy on the eyes” and a pleasure to eat.

Thursday is pozole Guerrerense day and this bright green pipian-like soup is lightened up--perfect as a first course. Even better is the caldo de oso, a superb seafood soup sporting several huge New Zealand mussels and fragrant white clams. Its heady, lightly picante broth recalls the best Manhattan clam chowder you never had. And it’s only 25 pesos--a true bargain.  

Rose petal salad
Several classic fonda meat dishes are on the menu, such as the ubiquitous arrachera, all done correctly. But it’s fish that the Fonda Kelly does best. A grilled pulpo (octopus) turns out to be the whole animal--all eight legs and the head!  It's anointed with olive oil, roasted until tender as a baby’s tukhus and served with a flurry of parsley. It's as fine as I’ve had in Galicia. Order it to share--it was too much, even for this boundless writer.
Caldo de Oso

While the menu stays simple during the week, Saturday is paella day and I am confident that the chef knows what she’s doing with the deceptively easy Spanish rice.

Desserts are basic – pays, cakes, and an unusual twist on the commonplace gelatina.  Here it's flavored with anis.  The coffee is superior.

The Fonda Kelly is a sure winner, well worth the detour – the old centro histórico is a better place for it. Caps off to the memory of Kelly and to good food in an increasingly attractive city center.

Fonda Kelly
Calle Nicaragua 15 (about 6 blocks north of the Zócalo)
Tel. 5545-0569
Open Monday - Saturday 10 AM - 5 PM, closed Sunday

Note: the area, though quiet, can be dicey. Unaccompanied women 
may feel uncomfortable walking here.

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An explanation from the author: I only write what I believe. All opinions here are educated but subjective.  For the most part, I only publish reviews about places I like, and I try to be forgiving of minor faults. Mexico City is not Paris and I am not Michelin.  If I don't like it, I  don't write about it except, in some cases where the hype or fame may merit the negative criticism. So take it all with a grain of salt. N.G


  1. Nice recommendation. i met Phil and Ruth centuries ago, hope she does well.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, we'll check it out.

  3. Nick,I appreciate your Author's Explanation.

    Don Cuevas

  4. Jan 4, 2013...I trusted your review and made the taxi trip to Calle Nicaragua #15; but after getting out of the taxi I was surprised to find that the place was no longer in existance (at this site)...so there I was in bad neighborhood with no taxi. My wife was not happy. Finding out taxi there was not easy and traffic was at standstill.
    I would really expect you to do a better job of keeping info up to date on your recommondations...especially such a recent one. I guess the location was just too sketchy for business.

    1. You really do not get to that zone in a taxi, normally tourists from every part of the world are walking, you could easily get there after a brief walk from the most touristic part of the Centro Histórico, since it´s near the Zocalo and Cathedral and yes, it is in the edge and the zone feels sketchy but those kind of places in the middle of nowhere is where good stuff happens and great cities give the most of surprises in everything we adore: music, art, food, fashion, etc.

  5. Sadly, Fonda Kelly closed very recently - we were not informed of this and are truly sorry to those who trecked over there to try it....

  6. I was part of disappointed once too :(

  7. I was lucky to be there back in October 2012. Today I was recommending the place to a friend who lives near Alameda and sadly found out here reading this entry that Fonda Kelly was closed ... Hope it is temporary ... the food, location and atmosphere in the edge of Centro Histórico, truly had a spirit of urban renewal just like other great cities of the world