If Walls Could Talk: Fonda La Reforma
“Stop!” I yelled, as our car sailed down a narrow street in Colonia Guerrero. The well-worn working class neighborhood was bustling with 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 an informal chronicle of cooking and eating in Mexico City. 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 stand 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.
And they’ve got those chilies down! The crust is crisp but fluffy, the chile 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 soul-satisfying, authentic home-style cooking in a prototypical inner-city D.F. fonda, this is the place.
Fonda La Reforma
Located at the corner of calles Heroes & Degollado, Colonia Guerrero It's 2 blocks north and west of Metro Guerrero see map
Open Wednesday - Monday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., closed Tuesday