"This is the food I grew up with," Martín Vasquez, co-owner of La Siesta Restaurante in Winthrop, explains enthusiastically. "I want to introduce people to it."
The Mexican specialties Vasquez and his chef, Jacinto Pizarro, serve in La Siesta's sunny yellow dining room, just a few blocks from the water in the town center, really is the food their moms used to make. Mexico-born Vasquez and Pizarro are from the same little town near Durango (Pizarro's sister is married to Vasquez's brother), and their recipes are based on the meals they ate while growing up.
"These are family recipes," says Vasquez, who co-owns the spot with his wife, Ann. "You're not going to find this food in most places."
You're certainly not going to find salsa and guacamole this good. The salsa is full of ripe tomato flavor, with chunks of tomato and bits of cilantro kicked up a notch by jalapeño peppers. On a hot day last week, we fight the desire to get a spoon and sip the salsa as gazpacho. It's tempting to make a meal out of the guacamole ($6.50 for a bowl), too: The cool, smooth puree is studded with generous chunks of rich, ripe avocado and bits of tomato, and a dash of jalapeño gives it a little kick.
Fish tacos ($13.95 for three) are soft tortillas filled with grilled tilapia, pico de gallo, and a chipotle cream sauce. The many hunks of fish are tender and taste of the grill, a nice contrast with the sharp spiciness of the mayonnaise.
Though the menu lists one of the enchilada choices as "mole poblano" ($8.95), Vasquez explains that it's not exactly mole. "Our mothers always made enchiladas like this. I call it mole so people will know that the sauce is sweet," he explains. Two soft corn tortillas are wrapped around juicy hunks of chicken and topped with the dark sauce made from dried poblano peppers slow-cooked with Mexican chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, and sesame seeds. Its big, rich flavor goes nicely with the chicken; rice accompanies the dish. Too often rice is treated as an afterthought, but these plump grains, boiled with a puree of tomatoes, onions, and garlic and some cumin, add layers of flavor.
Tilapia Veracruz ($12.95) is a piece of fish sauteed with white wine, lemon, olives, mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes. The fish is moist and perfectly cooked and comes with a generous serving of rice. It's a lovely dish for a hot evening; the white wine and lemon are a bright, tangy but light sauce for the mild fish and vegetables.
In a sort of Mexican take on chicken marsala, a roasted poblano cream sauce with mushrooms covers white and dark meat in the chicken poblano ($13.95). The sauce is slightly sweet and earthy. If only there had been bread rather than chips on the table, we would have sopped up every drop.
An enormous chile verde burrito ($9.95) is filled with marinated pork and covered with a tomatillo sauce. The green sauce is bright and flavorful, but there's a lot of salt in the pork, and after several bites it becomes overpowering.
For dessert, La Siesta offers fried ice cream, flan, and apple burrito ($3.95 each). We try the flan, and even though the custard has a nice flavor, the consistency is way off. It had been cooked too long, and is tough to cut.
We don't mind. We're all full, the service is polite and friendly, and the dining room, with its pretty inlaid-tile tables and colorful chairs, has a distinct south of the border feel. Only a pitcher of sangria or a margarita would make our meal more pleasant.
Happily, La Siesta got its alcohol license this week. When I ask if the restaurant's license allows for tequila drinks, Vasquez, who was a bar manager for 15 years before opening La Siesta, says, "Oh, we'll have margaritas. We'll have great margaritas."