Omnivore - Nostalgia attack at La Fonda Latina

I've been visiting Cuban restaurants during the last week. La Fonda Latina (1639 McLendon Ave., 404-378-5200) actually features food from most of the Spanish-speaking nations, but its Cuban-style grilled chicken is one of the favorite dishes here. The menu also includes a variety of Cuban sandwiches.

It had been several years since I visited La Fonda — there are several others in the city — but I found it as much a tasty bargain as ever. I ordered my longtime favorite here, a quicky version of paella with yellow rice, chicken, sausage, squid and shrimp. Yes, I know it doesn't follow the strict rules of paella-making to mix meat and seafood, but you can order other versions here that don't mix it up.

Paella is native to Valencia, Spain. I once spent a winter week in a small mountain town in Spain where I ate the best paella I've ever tasted every evening. You had to order it a few hours ahead of arriving at the restaurant, which had blanket-covered tables that held warm coals to keep the diners warm. The paellas there always included the socarrat, the bottom layer of crunchy rice typical of authentic paellas.

Despite the lack of the socarrat, La Fonda's quicky version is better than most local restaurants' attempt at an authentic version.

Besides reminiscing about Spain, I got further nostalgic at the restaurant because, like the Fellini's across the street, La Fonda was decorated and painted by the late artist Christine Sibley, my neighbor in Inman Park 15 years ago. A wacky woman with purple-dyed hair, she kept a goat and huge rabbits in her back yard. Several times she left the goat on my front porch, rang the doorbell and hid. Her house was painted, inside and out, like an enchanted witch's cabin.

Besides the paella and grilled chicken, we ordered a flan to share. I'm not sure why La Fonda doesn't remove the custard from the bowl in which it's made, but it is among the city's best, without a drop of air disturbing its texture.

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