New Kid on the Block: Fonda

Roberto Santibañez would sit at the bar at Blaue Gans and say to his partner, “Wouldn’t this place make a great Fonda?” Of course that was a solid four years ago, before Savida, before the pandemic and all that came with it. Fast forward to last year, after a dinner at the Odeon, he and his partner were again walking through the neighborhood (they live on Pine Street) when they saw the “for lease” signs on the windows.

“I called the next day, the landlord met me that afternoon, and then he came to eat at Fonda,” Santibañez said. They signed the lease not long afterwards. “It felt right. I feel nothing but good vibes here. I hope the neighborhood feels the same way.” He opened on Duane on April 22.

Like so many Mexican chefs, Santibañez started cooking with the women in his family in Mexico City — “a good family of gluttons, really food people” — who would start planning the next meal around the table of the last. He grew up “playing” in the kitchen with his grandmother, and by his teenage years, there was no question that he would become a chef. By 18 he was living in Paris with his mother and step-father (anthropologists who designed museums), attending Le Cordon Bleu.

The culinary institution was, of course, a great training ground, but it also cemented his love of Mexican food. “I felt deep in my heart our food was better — more exciting, with more punch,” he said. “French cooking is about timing and process and balance, and learning that made me fall in love with the cuisine of my country in a different way.”

Santibañez returned to Mexico City and opened his first restaurant, La Circunstancia, in 1990, just when the downtown neighborhoods were coming alive. But by 1996 he sold the restaurant and came to New York for an offer to work with the founder of Rosa Mexicano, who, when she returned to Mexico, would eat at La Circunstancia.

“At the time there were not so many of us, male chefs, making innovations and playing with Mexican food,” he said. She and her partners wanted to grow the business here — and of course they eventually did, opening a branch on Murray Street for a time — but when the founder became ill, Santibañez decamped for Austin where he was the chef at the 47-year-old Mexican institution Fonda San Miguel. He was lured back to the city in 2002 to develop the culinary program for Rosa Mexicano.

Clearly it wasn’t such a stretch to start his own restaurant here. Santibañez opened the first Fonda in Park Slope in 2009, the East Village in 2011 and Chelsea in 2014, but lost the East Village to the pandemic. He has two restaurants in DC with a third on the way. The Tribeca location took advantage of the beautiful vaulted high ceiling (and I still love those window tables). There is more art coming for the walls, but in the meantime the space is festive, bright and modern — the architect had the walls skim-coated but with a silver hue embedded in the plaster — beautiful.

The food, by the way, is exceptional. He does enchiladas in black mole, plus modern twists on crab coquettes, ceviche and my favorite, zarape de pato — braised duck sandwiched between tortillas with habanero-spiked salsa. My friends asked for extra sriracha peppers to pump up the heat, but I was fine without any extra. The mezcal list is huge, and our table loved the cocktails. I would go back soon for the salmon — seared over sweet potato mash with ancho pineapple sauce.

Santibañez still spends much of his time in the kitchen, developing new recipes (he showed me pictures on his phone of his latest Caesar salad with herbs) and managing his staff, many of whom have been with him from the beginning. (Edward Youkilis from Edward’s came by for a meal and told him it seemed he had been open for years — a huge compliment.) But he thinks he might try to slow down a bit.

“I am on drive all the time, but lately I’ve been thinking, ‘How much more busy do I want to be?'” Santibañez said. (He says he’s an introvert, but you would never know it — no one could be more warm or welcoming. That’s him on the right with general manager John Rodriguez.) He’d like to spend a little more time at his place on Fire Island, where last year he planted three cherry trees that are now blooming. “I was so proud.”

Fonda | Comida Mexicana
139 Duane | West Broadway & Church
Now open for Saturday brunch, 11 to 4p, Sunday brunch noon to 4p, and lunch starting Monday



  1. Welcome to our neighborhood! Thanks for investing in Tribeca.

    While we loved Blaue Gans, we are excited for Fonda’s arrival and success! We will visiting this Sunday brunch, hopefully in the window seats :)

  2. We had dinner there – it was great! Fantastic food, service and drinks. A very welcome addition.

  3. So so good. We loved it and will be back very soon!!!!

  4. We sat at the bar for drinks and dinner last weekend and it was excellent! They may need to put some sound absorption as it was pretty loud and not even full.

    Happy to see them in the neighborhood, though I hope Tribeca can support the growing high-end Mexican food scene with Anejo, Casa Carmen, Fonda and Chela (coming soon). I know I will do my part!

  5. Thrilled to welcome you to the neighborhood! Our meal at your Park Slope location before the Final Four when we watched our alma mater lose to our arch rival made that night bearable.
    And prior to Blaue Gans wasn’t it Le Zinc? Talk about history