La Fondita, Hyattsville’s tiny taqueria with the big flavors

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the town where La Fondita is located. It is Edmonston, not Hyattsville, Md. This version has been corrected.


Carne asada, cow tongue, and barbacoa tacos are among a wide variety to choose from on the menu at La Fondita restaurant. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post)

The parking lot at La Fondita can hold seven or eight cars, tops. But on this Sunday afternoon, the little sliver of concrete beside the restaurant is bloated with 10 vehicles, two of which are double parked, the drivers still sitting behind the wheel, as if waiting for their stickup men to return with the cash.

As for me, I’m idling in my car across the street, waiting for someone to leave this tiny taqueria carved out of a house, its facade so unassuming you can mistake the restaurant for a residence. Its location likely explains another oddity: Every street within blocks of La Fondita is zoned for permitted vehicles only, and they police the neighborhood tight. I don’t mean the police officers, either. A wiry gray-haired man who lives nearby shuffles off his porch to give you an earful if you dare park on his block.

Because I’m in no mood for a scolding from Edmonston’s equivalent of Mick from “Rocky,” I just sit behind the wheel, watching time crawl. Five painful minutes roll by, then 10. By the 15-minute mark, I’m plotting other options. Finally, 20 minutes into my stakeout, a car pulls out and I race in. I feel as if I’ve just scored a surprise two-top at Komi.

On the weekends, securing a table at La Fondita can be as difficult as snagging a seat at Rose’s Luxury or Toki Underground. (Note: There’s a location in Glen Burnie, too.) Part of the reason is its sheer size: The guacamole-green dining room can accommodate 30 or so diners, and that’s only if everyone sucks in their gut. The waiting area consists of a small bench on the front porch, where you’re exposed to the elements, like a stray dog.

But the taqueria’s real draw is its home-style Mexican comforts: Its laminated menu maintains a tight focus on soups, quesadillas, tacos, tortas and simple meat plates. The proteins are all land-based, which distinguishes the operation from its seafood-heavy sister restaurant, La Sirenita, home of the shapely illustrated mermaid with the waterproof sombrero (ella es muy bonita!). La Fondita offers nothing as bold as La Sirenita’s signature bowl of seafood, spaghetti and vegetable soup, the Mexican equivalent of pho.

I’ve had a number of tasty plates at La Fondita over the past weeks, but whenever I walk in the door, I immediately crave tacos. I swear this longing must be based on a subliminal smell that greets you at the threshold, perhaps the faint aroma of griddled tortillas, which activates a section of my brain that screams irrationally, and repeatedly, for tacos, tacos, tacos!

Then again, it might be because La Fondita’s tacos are hot bundles of delight.

At this point, I’ve sampled all of the tacos, each wrapped in a single fragrant masa tortilla that’s simultaneously thin and puffy. The house-made tortillas also sport random grill marks for an extra element of char with every taco, regardless of the filling.

I’ve become addicted to the one La Fondita calls “tacos de enchilada.” It’s a tortilla layered with thin pieces of spiced pork, diced onions and fresh cilantro leaves. The flavors meld so harmoniously that I often gobble these down without a drop of hot sauce.

The tacos de enchilada should not be confused, however, with the chorizo-stuffed ones, which offer slightly different intoxications: The crumbly sausage dances across the tongue with a ticklish texture and spice more pronounced than its pork sibling.

If there’s a commonality to these tacos, it is each one’s ability to please without added garnish. Time and again, whether with the beef tongue (lengua) or grilled beef (carne asada), I wolfed down these fully integrated tacos with barely a thought to applying red or green sauces. Only the chicken taco, with its slightly dry breast meat, truly benefited from a drizzle of the stinging condiment.

The streamlined perfection of La Fondita’s tacos stands in sharp relief to the taqueria’s more plodding dishes, which target your pleasure center with a Normandy invasion of richness. I’m thinking about the line of torta sandwiches, such as the chicken Milanesa, which is a fat bomb, three-ways: a breaded, deep-fried cutlet slathered with mayo and a layer of mashed avocado. You can feel your belly begin to press uncomfortably against your belt even as you take another bite and another. To better balance the sandwich, I plucked a pickled jalapeno (or two) from the tabletop condiment jar and tucked them inside the soft, oblong bread — acid landmines hidden in the oil fields.

Some items require doctoring, but the necessary assistants may be AWOL. The lush, onion-dense guacamole needs both lime and salt for full enjoyment, and yet only one is available on the table. (And it’s not the one in a shaker.) Fortunately, the tomatillo salsa is within easy reach for the stack of chicken flautas, crispy-but-bland logs buried under a wet blanket of toppings: shredded iceberg lettuce, out-of-season tomatoes, avocado slices, white fresh cheese and crema. The salsa plays the motor-mouthed comic to the hulking straight man flautas, to good effect.

The cocoa-rich, labor-intensive mole poblano enchiladas stand out as the lone extravagance on an otherwise quotidian menu, a thoroughbred among draft horses. It feels like it belongs in a different restaurant. What feels right at home are the soups, like the lamb sopa, a translucent, tomato-based broth thick not only with shredded meat, but also hominy, carrots, cabbage and cilantro, which collectively elevate the bowl to something almost as complex as that mole. A bonus: You can sop up the liquid with tortillas, those rounds made fresh daily at this terrific little taqueria.

La Fondita

4901 Decatur St., Edmonston.
301-699-0785.

Hours: Daily 9 a.m.
to 9 p.m.

Nearest Metro: Prince George’s Plaza, about 2.2 miles from the restaurant.

Prices : Entrees,
$6-$13.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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