A cooler stocked with Mexican Cokes in half-liter glass bottles and a rack filled with coconut candies, chili-flavored peanuts, and Crujitos corn twists greets diners walking into the Fonda Lupita
A cooler stocked with Mexican Cokes in half-liter glass bottles and a rack filled with coconut candies, chili-flavored peanuts, and Crujitos corn twists greets diners walking into the Fonda Lupita restaurant in Sanford. Latin American pop music videos play on televisions overhead, and the walls are painted with folkloric murals, featuring floral and animal motifs.
Diners can watch women in aprons in the open kitchen as they prepare stews, roast chiles, make salsas from scratch, and turn out the thick corn tortillas used in many dishes, including the restaurant’s signature gorditas — deep-fried pockets made with maize and filled with a mixture of meat, cheese, beans, and cream.
Owner Biridiana Frausto offers a dining experience inspired by what she learned from her mother, Lupita, the restaurant’s namesake. “These are things we’ve been eating in my family since I was little,” she says. “We use my mom’s recipes.”
In 2021, Fonda Lupita garnered national attention when the food website Eater named it one of the 11 best new restaurants in the country. It was the only place on the list located in a city of fewer than 100,000 people.
Fewer than 250 Latinos called Sanford home in 1990. Today, the Hispanic population numbers about 8,500, making up almost 30 percent of the city’s residents. South Horner Boulevard, where Fonda Lupita is located, is lined with taquerías, pupuserías (shops that make thick griddle cakes), and Mexican bakeries. What makes Fonda Lupita stand out? A family legacy and years spent in the kitchen.
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Frausto was born in Chapel Hill, but her family hails from the state of Querétaro in central Mexico. For a time, her mother had a thriving business selling menudo, a stew made from beef tripe, out of her house in Sanford. As the oldest child, Frausto often helped out. “I feel this was a gift my mom gave me,” she says. “My grandma passed that cooking skill on to her, and my mom passed it on to me.”
After spending most of her 20s working in restaurants, Frausto found a small storefront on Main Street in Sanford to start her own business. Fonda Lupita opened in March 2020, just as Covid was shuttering the country.
Frausto endured, however, building up a good following on social media, and the next year, after the Eater list was published, business exploded. Frausto wasn’t in town when the news was released, but she got calls about people coming from Raleigh, Charlotte, and even from out of state.
“Fonda” is a term used for small inns or restaurants in Spanish-speaking countries. But Fonda Lupita is no longer so small. Last June, it moved into a 6,000-square-foot space in a shopping center. And this summer, another location will open in Durham.
Although the business is growing, what excites Frausto most is sharing the food that she grew up with. “What would you eat when you went to Grandma’s house?” she says. “That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to do here. This is more like a home-cooked meal.”print it