Exploring traditional Mexican cuisine with Condesa restaurant
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Though it may be far from its roots in Mexico City, Condesa has found a new home for its refined artisanal Mexican cuisine in the city of Philadelphia.
On the building's ground floor is the Condesa restaurant, but above it is El Tiempo, a separate restaurant that provides for those seeking a faster experience, both overseen by the same executive chef, also founded by Defined Hospitality.
Named after the historic neighborhood in Mexico City, Condesa has found its home in the heart of Center City, where it takes full advantage of Philadelphia as a crossroads of international cuisine, making it a prime location for the opening of a traditional Mexican restaurant.
While the restaurant opened in 2019, its debut was to be cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic just six months later.
Early attempts to operate as a takeout restaurant failed, but the spirit remained, and reopened with El Tiempo first in 2021, before being able to remain continuously open.
When creating Condesa, a part of the design philosophy was to take the fine dining found in a restaurant in Mexico, and to transplant it into Philadelphia while providing a feeling of being at the neighborhood spot.
While Mexican food can be purchased from many other restaurants and food outlets, Condesa seeks to uplift the style and elevate it to a higher level, and to push back against the myth of Mexican food being “cheap late night food.”
“Mexican food should be at the same level as French food, should be at the same level as Eurocentric foods, where people don't mind spending $20 a plate for those kinds of dishes,” said Steven Pressman, the General Manager of Condesa, during an interview with AL DÍA.
“They should feel the same way about these Mexican dishes that are cooked in the same ethical ways with organic produce, farm fresh, and certified meats… all things that we're really proud to do here,” he continued.
As General Manager, Pressman has been involved in the Condesa restaurant since its inception, working as a part of its parent company, Defined Hospitality.
For Define Hospitality, Condesa was not their first restaurant they founded within the city. The first was centered on Lebanese cuisine, named Suraya.
“We were kind of always going to be Philly based,” Pressman said. “It feels right to be here for us, because we have such a great connection to local farms and producers, fresh seafood, where it works within the concept in the space.”
For example, Condesa’s sous chef prepares salsas over several days, taking the time to cook and prepare each sauce in traditional methods, down to the volcanic stone used to grind ingredients.
The restaurant's cuisine doesn't stop at their menu, as they have delved into the breadth of Mexican spirits as well, bringing more than just the standard fare of tequila and mezcal from Mexico, each made as close as possible to the “ancestral and artisanal” way.
“Making things from scratch, and using great ingredients really is the ultimate payoff where you're able to really build layers and depth and a flavor,” Pressman said. “That attention plays a factor in the ultimate tastes of the dish.”