In recent food writing, the term “authentic” has become taboo. The current thinking behind this is that most food in America isn’t truly “authentic,” as it is being served by people living here in America, people whose culinary tastes, techniques and even traditions have been influenced simply by living here. By default, the food has become “Americanized.” However, no other word can better describe Sarapes Restaurante, a hidden gem of an eatery in Enfield whose sign even reads “Authentic Mexican Food.”
Currently located at 917 Enfield Street (Route 5) but soon moving approximately a quarter mile down the road to 95 High Street, Sarapes straddles the CT/ MA line, making it an ideal dining destination for the Go Local reader who is craving traditional Mexican. The restaurant’s name comes from the brightly colored striped shawls worn throughout Mexico and Central America and which are used as festive tablecloths here. The High Street location will be the third iteration of Sarapes. The Chavez family opened the first one in Hartford back in 1999, a few years after husband and wife Eduardo and Cutberta (affectionately known as “Mama Berta”) moved from Mexico to America with their children. Daughter Maria says, “Dad brought all us kids here for a better life. He worked hard and really focused on that.”
While the Hartford location flourished, the Chavez children found themselves working for other employers around their new hometown of Enfield. However, it was always Eduardo’s dream to open a restaurant closer to home and for the entire family to work there – a true family endeavor. He fulfilled that dream in 2002, and since then, Sarapes has become one of the few places in New England to experience authentic Mexican food.
Family history is one of the secret ingredients that go inside every Sarapes dish. Mama Berta says she learned many of her recipes from the older women in her family, including her grandmothers and aunts as well as her mother-in-law. The Chavez family also possesses vast knowledge and experience with Mexico’s culinary specialties. As Maria tells it, “My father was from Oaxaca, Mexico, and my mother was from Veracruz. When they got together, they moved to Mexico City for some time, and then to Monterrey. So, all the food we make is from different regions of Mexico.”
One of those regional dishes is the house specialty mole poblano, chicken served in mole sauce, a dark, silky sauce richly layered with deep spices and seasonings. Berta says the sauce contains thirteen or fourteen ingredients including peppers, tomatoes, chocolate, raisins, plantains, cinnamon, sesame seeds, and many more. She adds that it takes a few days to make, starting with cleaning and roasting the peppers to adding the various components to grinding and blending the sauce to develop the flavor. She says everyone knows when they’re making the mole sauce because the restaurant smells so good inside. Mole is not only one of the house specialties at Sarapes, but it is also the dish most associated with Cinco de Mayo. This holiday, which takes place on May 5th, marks the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla when Mexico won an unlikely victory over France in 1862. It is the restaurant’s biggest holiday, and as such, they will be having celebrations at both the Enfield and High Street locations, including a special holiday menu featuring their famous mole poblano, chile relleno, fajitas and more, and musical entertainment from live mariachi bands.
Everything at Sarapes, from the three types of salsa to the homemade flan, is made from scratch, in-house. The menu features several dishes not commonly found on a typical Tex-Mex or Mexican chain restaurant menu. Puerco di pipian is pork chops served in Mama Berta’s special pumpkin seed sauce. Another pork dish, puerco con nopales, is made with fresh cactus. Just like they did when they lived in Mexico, the Chavez family makes special dishes on weekends only, including menudo, a beef tripe soup, and pozole, a stew made with white hominy and chicken. Tamale Oaxacano is a dish from Oaxaca consisting of a banana leaf stuffed with chicken in a spicy red sauce. The restaurant is also known for its seafood soup made with fish, shrimp, mussels, octopus, clams and scallops.
However, those looking for the more familiar will be happy to find popular favorites like tacos, burritos and enchiladas on the Sarapes menu as well. There are also many gluten-free and vegetarian options from which to choose. Breakfast items like huevos rancheros (sunnyside up eggs in ranchero sauce over tortilla chips) and chilaquiles (tortilla dipped in green salsa served with eggs) are available daily from 10 a.m. until noon. Their guacamole is so fresh that they don’t even open the avocado until the order is placed. In addition to a full liquor license, they offer several Mexican imported beer, wine, and specialty drinks like orchata fresca (made with rice, milk and cinnamon) and limonada fresca (freshly squeezed lime juice). For dessert, Mama Berta makes baked flan, churros and three-milk cake.
Maria says customers come from all over Massachusetts and Connecticut, even from New York and New Jersey, to experience the authentic Mexican cuisine at Sarapes. She says, “People come here and feel like they’re in Mexico.” One customer, Jake Peterson of Suffield, says, “We come here all the time. We love the people and the food. We’re particularly partial to the chicken burritos, but really, it’s all good. We come here as often as we can.”
The restaurant’s popularity forced the need for a bigger space with better parking. For that reason, they are in the midst of moving from Enfield Street to High Street. The move is bittersweet for the family, for the bigger, nicer location is something the family patriarch Eduardo would have loved to see. Unfortunately, he passed away in April of 2017. The family sorely misses him, as do many of the customers who used to come to chat with him over a cup of Mexican coffee brewed with cinnamon.
One of the last things Eduardo did before he passed was to reprint the Sarapes menu, both in Spanish and English, including a special message of thanks from the family to its customers. Berta and Maria both share that sentiment. Their restaurant is not only Eduardo’s legacy, it’s their home, a place they’ve been running for almost thirty years. But they realize they owe much of their success to their customers. Maria says, “We really want to thank the town of Enfield and all the people from places around us for their really good support. Without our customers and the workers who do such a wonderful job for us, we are nothing.”
Sarapes is open Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. They are currently open for breakfast only at 95 High Street and for lunch and dinner at 917 Enfield Street, but will transition over to High Street in the upcoming weeks. The Chavez family hopes to see all their customers in the new location where they will keep serving the best authentic Mexican food around.