New York’s ‘best tacos’ coming to old Fernanda’s Market space in Fort Lauderdale

South Florida Sun Sentinel

Feb 02, 2022 12:15 PM

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The longtime location of Fernanda's International Market at Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard has been sold and will be turned into a Mexican restaurant.

The longtime location of Fernanda’s International Market at Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard has been sold and will be turned into a Mexican restaurant. (Susan Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The longtime location of Fernanda’s International Market, beloved Fort Lauderdale gourmet food shop at the corner of Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard, soon will be home to a new Mexican restaurant operated by a couple whose celebrated tacos once were named best in New York.

Husband and wife co-owners Leonardo and Kiki Gonzalez have operated the restaurant Estrellita Poblana in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx since 1999. They also have two sister restaurants nearby.

Their menu focuses on the food of Leonardo Gonzalez’s home state of Puebla, in central Mexico, a rich and ancient cuisine renowned for its chiles-meet-chocolate mole sauces.

One Yelper called his meal at Estrellita Poblana “the platonic ideal of Mexican food. This place is the benchmark I use for anytime I eat Mexican food elsewhere.”

Enchiladas de mole poblano from Estrellita Poblana restaurant in New York, soon to open a location in Fort Lauderdale.

Enchiladas de mole poblano from Estrellita Poblana restaurant in New York, soon to open a location in Fort Lauderdale. (Estrellita Poblana)

Kiki Gonzalez says the new restaurant will serve the same popular dishes, based on distinctive recipes borrowed from Leonardo’s mother. It also will be called Estrellita Poblana.

The primary draw will be authenticity, Gonzalez says.

“It’s real Mexican. Our flavors are really homemade, how his mom taught me,” she says. “A lot of people claim that they’re authentic, but the tastes are not there, you know?”

Estrellita Poblana’s tacos achieved a modicum of fame in 2011 when they were named “the best in the city” by the New York Daily News. Specifically cited were the tacos al pastor, embedded with pork and pineapple, which will be on the menu at the Fort Lauderdale restaurant.

Other specialties will be cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán, and birria tacos, served with a savory stew meant for dipping.

“Birria tacos are a craze all over New York right now,” Gonzalez says.

Fish tacos from Estrellita Poblana, which the Daily News once said was home to the best tacos in New York.

Fish tacos from Estrellita Poblana, which the Daily News once said was home to the best tacos in New York. (Estrellita Poblana)

The couple, who bought the building, are targeting an August opening for the new Estrellita Poblana. They hope to lease an adjacent strip of land for outdoor dining — the New York restaurants are known for a family-friendly atmosphere and popular brunch (with mariachi musicians).

Gonzalez’s mother and brother live in east Fort Lauderdale, near the restaurant location. During a recent vacation, she and her husband decided to take the plunge and move down, too.

“We want a better life for us, a better lifestyle. The restaurant business in New York is getting more difficult every day,” she says.

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The Gonzalezes will continue to operate the original Estrellita Poblana, but are mulling options for the other two restaurants.

The South Florida restaurant will be in a spot well known to foodies, music fans and commuters: The 3,000-square-foot building is on the Federal Highway end of the L-shaped strip center that includes live-music venue the Culture Room and Kelly Brothers Irish Pub.

For more than 40 years and just a couple of ownership changes, Fernanda’s was a family-run favorite for sandwiches, bakery goods and, later, well-chosen bottles of wine and rare food finds from around the globe. The store closed in 2019, a year after a new set of owners took over.

Gonzalez appreciates that history: “We hope that we are as much loved as they were.”

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