Biridiana Frausto’s take on the quesabirria — a fried taco filled with stewed meat and cheese, accompanied by a broth for dipping — is absolutely irresistible (and yes, we’re editorializing here). It’s also extremely popular right now, so much so that what was once a special Fonda Lupita menu item available only a few times a week is now a daily staple.
Frausto describes it as “Mexican comfort food,” which makes the trendy dish right at home in her year-old restaurant located in the building that once housed the Landmark. Named for the small, simple “mom and pop” restaurants or markets in Mexico and for Frausto’s mother, Fonda Lupita has become the centerpiece of the growth and the model of potential for new businesses in Jonesboro Heights.
The restaurant’s mission is to offer traditional homemade Mexican food from recipes passed on from generations of Frausto’s family from the Quretaro, Mexico region. The menu at Fonda Lupita — which changes daily (aside from the birria) — isn’t your typical tacos, burritos and quesadillas. Instead, it’s dishes and flavors many in Sanford have never experienced. The corn tortillas and gorditas are hand made, the salsas are made in house, and it’s all owned and run by proud immigrant women.
“My grandma used to run a fonda in Mexico, and she always said that she never taught her kids how to cook,” Frausto says. “When she came to the U.S. and had to leave my mother and her siblings in Mexico, they had to figure it out. But what she passed down to them was a passion. It was something they had inside of them — a gift she passed down. These recipes weren’t really ‘taught,’ but our tastes and our palates come from them.”
Frausto was born in Chapel Hill and grew up in Sanford. She started working in the restaurant industry in the Triangle when she turned 18 and worked in several places popular among foodies until she got the experience and confidence to open her own place. She wanted to return home to Sanford to start her business, but she was unsure how the city would embrace something new and unfamiliar.
“At first, I was scared to do it,” she says. “In the Triangle, if your food is amazing and you have good ambience and good drinks, you’re going to make it. In Sanford, that doesn’t always guarantee [success]. I feel like here, it helps more if you know somebody or somebody knows you in order to get the word out. Or they’d rather have something a little cheaper. There’s uncertainty.”
Fonda Lupita opened in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Frausto adapted with a full take-out menu and Door Dash option. Business was slow in those early weeks and months, but as word of mouth got out and as she built her now impressive social media following, the restaurant began to get noticed
Business is good now, she says — a credit to not only the hard work from her and her staff and the food (of course), but also to the work she puts into social media. Fonda Lupita has more than 1,500 followers on Instagram and Facebook each, and her feeds are full of colorful photos of her dishes, shot by a professional photographer.
“We’re very strong on social media, because I’ve always been big on looks, and many of us ‘eat with our eyes,’” Frausto says. “If the food looks amazing, people are going to be interested and they’re going to want to try it. We started pushing our Instagram to be beautiful and colorful so people would get the idea of what we were about, because our restaurant is a fairly new concept here. You know, it’s casual. It’s not your typical fajita place.”
Fonda Lupita isn’t the newest business in the Jonesboro Heights area, and it’s certainly not the oldest. But it does represent the “young blood” that is revitalizing the stretch of Main Street that not long ago was filled with empty storefronts and deteriorating buildings. Frausto says she’s building strong relationships with her surrounding business owners, because their success is dependent on the success around them.
“I was just telling Brian [Mitchell from Eyelight Coffee & Comics] that I like having a neighbor that if he needs something, he can rely on me, and if I need something, I can rely on him,” she says. “Or if I’m out of town, I know they’ll help keep an eye on things. These businesses can become a family, and we’d all benefit from that.”
Frausto’s only a year into her business endeavor, and she’s already eyeing expansion. Her location in Jonesboro Heights is perfect for to-go orders and casual dining, whether inside or outdoors, but she would love to open a full restaurant in the future. If that happens in Sanford, she says she would still keep her location on Main Street should it all come to fruition.
“A lot of people have come up to us and called this place a ‘hidden gem.’ We want to keep building on that.”
— by Billy Liggett
What to Know
Fonda Lupita opened in Jonesboro Heights a year ago and has become a popular spot for local foodies and fans of Mexican comfort food. What to know:
Location: The cornerstone of Jonesboro Heights, Fonda is located at 129 W. Main St. in the old Landmark building.
The Food: Recipes, flavors and love passed down for generations in Biriddiana Frausto’s family. From the popular quesabirria to gorditas, menudo, tacos and much, much more.
Website: Go to fondalupita.com to see the menu, but see tons of pictures on Instagram @fondalupitaNC