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WHAT SHE'S HAVING

Condesa at Arsenal Yards offers hard-to-find Mexican dishes in a convenient venue

The new Watertown restaurant serves family recipes, plus a terrific cheese dip.

Chiles en nogada at Condesa, a poblano pepper stuffed with ground beef mixed with apples, pears, plantains, and raisins. It’s topped with a creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

It was Saturday night, and my kids craved Mexican. I did, too, but somewhere other than our usual haunts for a change. There are plenty of excellent taco spots near us — Belmont’s La Victoria and Waltham’s Taqueria El Amigo spring to mind — but I wanted to try something different while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the 87th time. Then I remembered that a new Mexican restaurant had opened at Arsenal Yards in Watertown after a slight pandemic-induced delay.

As befitting a large retail complex, Arsenal Yards is home to several chains: Chipotle; Shack Shack; Sweetgreen. But there are also local spots like Condesa, run by brothers Roberto and Ernesto Leon. Their parents, Juan and Esmeralda, were born in Jalisco; Juan later moved to Mexico City. Condesa is named for the neighborhood where he grew up. The restaurants — their third, with two in Rhode Island — are a homage to their parents’ heritage and recipes. Esmeralda, 62, even taste-tests some of them.

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Guacamole with pomegranate.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“Even here in Watertown, she came to the soft opening, and she tried one of the sauces. She was like, ‘Oh, you guys changed a little bit.’ So she went back, and we let her do her thing,” says Roberto Leon, who lives in East Greenwich, R.I.

The menu here is long, with many hard-to-find dishes.

“The simple fact is that we pride ourselves on our food. Our sauces, everything, are made from scratch. That’s not easy to do — deveining peppers and everything. It’s a big process,” Leon says. “We make traditional dishes that are hard to get elsewhere.”

Molcajete.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

One of these is chiles en nogada, a poblano pepper stuffed with ground beef mixed with apples, pears, plantains, and raisins. It’s topped with a creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. It’s delicious: sweet, savory, and spicy, like eating a pepper full of fall. In Mexico, it’s commonly eaten during September and October.

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“People compete with their different versions. I happened to be in Mexico around that time a few years back, and I was like, ‘I wonder why nobody has ever tried this dish in the States!’ And, you know, we started poking around, we found a recipe from my aunt, and we added it to the menu,” he says.

Sopes at Condesa.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Leon also recommends the steak tacos topped with onion and cilantro, a staple at taco stands in Mexico. Condesa’s have a twist.

“Ours come with an avocado sauce, which is delicious,” he says.

But the sleeper hit is incredibly simple and not particularly original: smooth, zingy Monterey Jack cheese dip that will disappear from the table immediately.

Condesa's cheese dip.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“You know, it’s funny. It’s one of those things that usually every Mexican restaurant has, but there’s nothing too Mexican about it … It’s something that’s very unique to restaurants over here in the States. But it’s crazy. People love it. I put it on anything, even fajitas sometimes,” Leon says gamely.

There’s also a lengthy margarita menu (cucumber, hibiscus, tamarind, watermelon), plus a $6.99 kids’ menu that includes burritos, enchiladas, and tacos, plus a side of rice, beans, fries, or fruit.

A Maynard location is in the works for 2023. But, first, Leon plans to take time off.

“This has been our biggest project to date here in Watertown, and it was a lot of stress. I feel like I aged 10 years,” he says.

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The hard work was worth it.

Condesa, 80 Arsenal Yards Blvd., Watertown, 617-402-5315, www.condesarestaurant.com

Enchiladas.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff



Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her @kcbaskin.