Sometimes I want to escape. Sometimes I need to escape. And when I desperately need time away and can’t leave the city, we find ourselves going to a restaurant where we can feel like “we’re not in San Antonio anymore.” If you venture to an ethnic restaurant where most of the customers are speaking a language other than English, you might just feel like you’re on a trip.
We recently found a new “vacation spot” called Fonda Latina that offers Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine. Located at 6714 San Pedro, this getaway transcended us directly into Latin America. No passport required, no bad airplane food, no extra charge for luggage and absolutely no jet lag.
Upon entering the restaurant on our second visit, from across the room, our waitress cheerfully welcomed us with “Hola, mi muneca!” which literally translates to “Hello, my doll.” Yes, that would be me.
Dorian’s beautiful face, great smile and bubbly personality charmed us on the first visit and made us feel completely en casa (at home), while the classic, homemade flavors of Colombia brought us back for more.
The fruit drinks come in eight indigenous flavors including maracuya (passion fruit), lulo (it means “little orange” and has a strong citrus flavor but is both sweet and tangy), guanabana (soursop), tomate (tomatoe), piña (pineapple), tamarindo (tamarind), curuba (banana passion fruit) and mamey (mamey sapote).The three-page menu offers a compilation of Colombia’s favorite dishes and a few Venezuelan treats as well. Most of the regulars traditionally start off with a jugo de fruta, which is a blended tropical fruit drink that can be made with either milk or water. Ice is added to make a smoothie-like sensation.
Not wanting to spoil our meal, but also not wanting to miss out on this national drink of choice, we ordered a mango fruit drink made with water, ice and no sugar. I sprinkled and stirred in a little Sweet-n-Low and it was delicious and refreshing and made me think of the frozen mango concoctions I used to drink while lying by the pool in Mexico. Not too sweet, not too rich, but just right.
Next we treated ourselves to Colombia’s very famous appetizer, yucca frita with agao guasacaca, fried yucca served with an oil-based salsa of tomatoes and onions. The little cup below is hardly enough for the entire order of yucca frita, but Dorian generously brought another salsa to the table which saved the day.
The Colombianos call this salsa aji and it is more like a vinaigrette. Made with onions, cilantro, tomato, jalapenos, garlic, lime, vinegar and olive oil, you’ll want to spoon this stuff on everything that is put in front of you. It’s not spicy, but has more flavor than you thought possible and is a beautiful symphony of flavors that you just can’t get enough of. Dorian knows how much we love aji, so she is on high alert and keeps our ramekin full.
Another classic Colombian appetizer is the arepa. And Fonda Latina has an assortment of arepas, which could be compared to a Mexican quesadilla or a Salvadorian pupusa. Fresh corn masa is prepared in a thick, round disc and cooked on the flat-top. Once it’s cooked and browned on both sides, it may be sliced open and stuffed with chorizo, cheese, shredded beef or chicken or a simply with pat of butter.
Colombian food is not for vegetarians. In fact, the first time we went, I only ordered appetizers and sides, but this time I went big and had the Chuleta de Cerdo Asado (grilled pork chops). This plate comes with two thin pork chops, rice, salad and my beloved platanos maduros.
On both visits, David has ordered the plate that Colombia is famous for, Bandeja Paisa. This monster of a meal comes fully loaded and includes carne asada (grilled meat), a pork sausage link, a big portion of chicharron (fried pork skin with chunks of meat on it), red beans, rice, a fried egg, avocado, platanos maduros and a small arepa.
Other entrees include Pabellon Venezolano, a typical Venezuelan dish that features shredded beef, white rice, black beans and platano maduro. David wanted to try the Guisado de Pollo (stewed chicken in a homemade sauce) on our second visit, but they were sold out, which indicates that this, too, is a dish worth trying.
As with all Latin American countries, no menu is complete without the standard Milanesa dishes, a rendition of pounded out beef or chicken that is then coated with breading and fried on the cook top. At Fonda Latina, you can have either Milanesa de Carne o Pollo (beef or chicken).
Fonda Latina has been open for four years and I am ashamed to admit that it took us this long to find it. But when our neighbor, Alex, who is from Colombia and told us “it’s every bit as good as back home,” we knew we had to go! It seems there are plenty of others who have found this Latin American nugget and return again and again for a taste of their pais (country) or, like us, to savor someone else’s.
The owners, Gabriel and Luz Betancur, are originally from Colombia and came to San Antonio via Venezuela, which is why the menu offers a combination of the most famous dishes of both countries. Gabriel is a gracious host and stops by the table to make sure you are enjoying everything and to see if there is anything he can get you. His wife, Luz, is hard at work in the kitchen making everything to order. Each and every plate is make with authenticity and carino (love and care). You will taste it in every bite.
In case you, too, are seeking solace in a vacation but just can’t find the time to get away, steal a few hours and sneak over to Fonda Latina. You can dive into the comida of Colombia and Venezuela, watch TV Colombiano, listen to live music on the weekends and close your eyes and imagine you are somewhere else. Not here.
6714 San Pedro
San Antonio, Texas 78216
Open Tuesdays – Sundays 11 am – 10 pm
Live Music every Friday and Saturday night from 7-10 pm and Sundays from 2-4 pm
Tango lessons are offered every Wednesday from 6-8 pm