Fonda Fora and Saucy Burger: From Mexican to melty cheese, new spots are popping up in Calgary’s culinary scene

With travel still, for the most part, off the menu given the global pandemic, those yearning for the flavours of Mexico should consider a trip downtown.

Thanks to Thank You Hospitality — the restaurant group behind Native Tongues, A1Bodega and Calcutta Cricket Club — there’s a new Mexican restaurant in the mix. 

Bringing Yucatan-inspired flavours and dishes from head chef Rafael Castillo’s home region, Fonda Fora, now open in the new Westley Hotel, aims to bring something different to the table than Thank You’s other hot spots. 

Heavily punctuated with vegetable- and seafood-centric dishes, the menu pays homage to Castillo’s childhood. Traditional dishes like sikil p’aak, a toasted pumpkin seed and charred tomato dip, are tucked alongside the unexpected hibiscus tostada and the impeccable empanada, an indigo-blue pocket filled with corn and poblanos. (A must order.)

The menu is neatly matched by the drinks list of wine, beers and Michaledas — think beer crossed with a Bloody Mary — and creative cocktails from beverage director Allie Martin, which play on traditional flavours with a twist. The refreshing Lee Trevino, a play on an Arnold Palmer, brings together vodka, lemon and peppermint, and orange pekoe tea — ideal for patio sipping through the heatwave. The inventive Dulce de Papaya, meanwhile, turns a traditional candied fruit dessert into a delightful drink served in a teacup. 

Defying expectations of a hotel restaurant, Fonda Fora is a fundamental part of the hotel’s design, rather than something tucked off to one side. 

Once an oil-and-gas office building on 4th Ave. at 5th St. S.W., the low-rise with its wrap-around windows has been transformed into The Westley Hotel — a 104-room boutique hotel falling under the Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Calgary’s Frank Architecture undertook the transformation, translating corner offices into contemporary rooms.

Fonda Fora’s lounge appears as if part of the Westley’s lobby — letting the music and feel of the restaurant spill into an area that traditionally would see patrons hurrying through to the check-in desk. 

The space is airy, framed with softly sloping arches and an open kitchen where diners can watch the bustle of chefs preparing dishes. 

And for these hot days, the enclosed patio will be just the ticket for that feeling of escape.

Fonda Fora isn’t the only new spot throwing open its doors. Just a few blocks south on bustling 17th Ave., a burger joint is offering up an atypical take on a traditional dish.

And, as it’s from the culinary mastermind who once helmed the kitchen at Rouge and now is teaching the next generation of chefs at SAIT, you can bet the burgers will be good.

The signature cheese sauce that makes up the “saucy” part of Saucy Burger — now open at the corner of 17th Ave. and 9th St. S.W. — is what turns the standard burger on its head.

Chef Mike Dekker has taken the traditional expectations of a burger — beef chuck patty, potato bun and all the fixings — but given it a cheesy update with the so-called Signature Farmers Cheese Sauce. 

Plus, he has all the bases covered with customizations. Chili? Check. Pickled onions? Yup. Jalapenos? Sure thing.

Not to mention all those, plus more, are options for the fries — regular or lattice.

And, for those with dietary restrictions, Dekker has you covered. There are vegan or turkey patties, a vegan cheeze sauce for those fries and even gluten-free options for sauce and bun.

It isn’t summer — or any season, really — without burgers and fries, so Saucy Burger is opening right on time.