What does Sanford, North Carolina, have in common with New York City, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago and Portland?

It’s home to one of the 11 “Best New Restaurants in America,” according to Eater, a national food-focused website with more than 3 million followers on Facebook.

Fonda Lupita — Sanford’s new “Mexican comfort food” restaurant that opened in the Jonesboro Heights area in 2020 — was named to the select list this week, joining restaurants from the largest cities in the country (Sanford’s 30,000 population was by far the smallest, with Portland, Oregon, 10th at 645,000 people).

Eater‘s Erin Perkins wrote: “Customers happily dip crispy quesabirria tacos into rich consomé, and nearly everyone has a gordita on their table. The gorditas, a hit since opening in March 2020, boast char-flecked tortillas, generously filled with chorizo con papas or chicken tinga and a sprinkling of queso fresco.”

The write-up ends: “If it’s true that a good restaurant can help define the town it’s in — and it is certainly true in North Carolina — Fonda Lupita may just put Sanford on the map for having some of the most heartful cuisine in North Carolina.”

The Rant featured Fonda Lupita in June in our write-up of new restaurants and businesses in the Jonesboro Heights area.

Owner Biridiana Frausto named Fonda Luipta by combining the small, simple “mom and pop” restaurants or markets in Mexico (fondas) and for Frausto’s mother (Lupita).

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 — 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.”

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.

Fonda Lupita has more than 2,000 followers on Instagram, 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.”

Learn more: https://www.fondalupita.com/