Bargain Restaurant Review: Tacos El Poblano/La Fonda Poblana
Shining examples of Westchester’s new breed of Mexican restaurant
Oh, how it used to pain New Yorkers to admit that California was superior in anything but milder weather and a wide availability of cheap plastic surgery. But it was. For generations, Californians enjoyed vibrant, exciting Mexican food when even sophisticated New Yorkers could be caught chugging mix margaritas and bland, greasy burritos. This shocking cultural disparity can be explained with a simple demographic fact: Until the last few decades, New York had not benefited from the Mexican migration that informed California’s Mexican food scene.
That all changed in the last generation when New York State, and especially its densely populated “inner ring” suburb cities—Yonkers, New Rochelle, and Port Chester—became home to a growing population of Mexican-born diners. Since 2000, Westchester’s Mexican-born community has grown by 72 percent. They bring knowing palates and a desire for the tacos, tortas, cemitas, and paletas of home.
The twin Yonkers institutions, next-door sisters Tacos El Poblano and La Fonda Poblana (which translates to Puebla market stall), represent Westchester’s growing sophistication in Mexican cuisine. The restaurants share a menu of reasonably priced dishes though La Fonda Poblana also offers a full bar.
At Tacos and Fonda Poblana, you’ll find unbeatable lemony spiced pork tacos al árabes developed by Lebanese immigrants who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, swept into Mexico, often to work as shepherds. This rich cultural confluence also yielded tacos al pastor, “shepherds’” tacos (at Taco and Fonda Poblana) of juicy, sweet, and chile-spiced broiled pork that is folded into two corn tortillas.
Also look for tacos filled with melting, intense goat barbacoa, and many others including cesina (dried aged beef), lengua (tongue), and de alambre (steak and cheese). With the exception of a watery, flavorless shrimp taco, all of the tacos ($2.75-$3.50) at Poblano/Poblana are fabulous. There is a bar in both Tacos El Poblano and La Fonda Poblana, with all toppings and condiments freely available.
Though the humbler twin restaurant is named Tacos El Poblano, the story doesn’t end at tacos. We found delectable, briny huitlacoche (corn smut, aka Mexican truffle) quesadillas whose mushroom-y funk paired nicely with milky, melted Oaxacan cheese. Don’t miss generous portions of buttery guacamole that, given the cost of avocados, seems a steal at $5.95, while popular cemitas ($6.60) make a bargain feast. This Pueblan specialty is served on a huge, circular, seeded roll, and is very much like a Mexican wedge with fillings that include carnitas (spiced pork), Milanese (breaded beef cutlet), pechugo de pollo (breaded chicken breast), pastor (broiled spiced pork), etc. For an indulgence, try the “pambaso” ($7)—a pork torta that mimics the American “French dip” in that the bread has been dipped in sauce—here, the Pueblan specialty, mole. Poblano’s lush, raisiny mole also can be found gracing meltingly tender chicken in mole Poblano ($12.95), and chicken or beef enchiladas with mole ($10.50 + $2 for the mole). All of these amply portioned mains are served with corn tortillas, rice, and refried beans.
Judged individually as restaurants (though they offer an identical menu), Tacos El Poblano and La Fonda Poblana have slightly different aims and varying degrees of success. Tacos El Poblano is a cheery, modest joint with laminated tabletops. Its service is friendly and efficient, but this humble taqueria offers only bottled beer and soft drinks. Sadly, Fonda Poblana, decorated with kitschy Mexicana, loses some of its sister’s robust energy in catering to the margarita trade. At Fonda, the room can feel deserted and service can be inattentive. You could probably make brighter, less sugary margaritas at home—though we were fans of Fonda’s house-infused pineapple tequila. At either spot, one could skip desserts of tiramisu and out-of-season strawberries for excellent, creamy batidos (fruit/milk smoothies) of mamey, mango, and papaya.
But it feels harsh to end on minor complaints, which pale beside the quality of these twin restaurants. Both offer excellent value along with honest, delicious flavors.