El Nopalito brings three continents of food together in Montague

  • Salvador Antonio Martinez Carranza slices up a pizza at the El Nopalito restaurant on Turners Falls Road in Montague. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The El Nopalito restaurant on Turners Falls Road in Montague. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Leni Rendon and Jesus Ayala have opened the El Nopalito restaurant at 196 Turners Falls Road in Montague serving Mexican fare and pizza. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • A special of fish and chips at the El Nopalito restaurant on Turners Falls Road in Montague. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Leni Rendon with a torta, a traditional Mexican sandwich, at the El Nopalito restaurant on Turners Falls Road in Montague. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • El Nopalito has opened at 196 Turners Falls Road in Montague in the former Roberto’s Pizzeria space. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2022 2:16:43 PM

MONTAGUE — Although Roberto’s Pizzeria no longer exists as a beloved Montague staple, 196 Turners Falls Road is keeping the pies coming, along with much more.

Fresh off years of working in Hampshire County restaurants, Jesus Ayala and son-in-law Leni Rendon saw the space as an opportunity to pursue a shared dream of starting their own restaurant. Having just opened for business near the end of June, El Nopalito is now offering an array of Italian, Mexican and El Salvadoran cuisine.

With Rendon having emigrated from Mexico as a child, Ayala having emigrated from El Salvador in 1988, Rendon having married into Ayala’s family and both having spent years of their adulthood hopping from restaurant to restaurant separately, the two began thinking about how to make their worlds smaller. In doing so, the two agreed to bring parts of their world to a place they saw as devoid of Latin American cuisine.

“There was nothing in this area around here,” Rendon said.

What emerged was an eclectic menu that fuses staples of not only Mexican and El Salvadoran food, but pizza and Italian food, with Rendon having developed a fondness for preparing pasta throughout his career.

Rendon said that while the ultimate goal is to prepare food in a way “so that people will be happy,” he and Ayala are inclined to stick to traditional methods of preparation in an effort to stay true to themselves. This, Rendon explained, can mean a reliance on fresh vegetables or an insistence on tacos that use full-size tortillas instead of the “mini-tacos” typically served at Mexican-American restaurants. So far, so good, he said.

“The people, the way we make it, they like it,” Rendon said. “We try to make everything good because if it’s not good, they’re not going to come back.”

Going forward, the duo intends to expand what they offer to include things such as house-made tortillas and a larger menu that includes a variety of lunch specials. It might take some time to reach a point where this comes to fruition, though, Rendon said.

“If I don’t have enough help, I don’t want to take the risk,” he said, referencing staffing shortages. “I don’t want to disappoint the customers.”

Partially due to such staffing shortages that have plagued the workforce, it has been challenging to grow accustomed to “a lot of responsibility” running a restaurant, Rendon said. The duo has been hard at work filling out their staff, focusing largely on recruiting delivery drivers and an ample amount of weekend help. As they keep up with the new restaurant’s demands, though, spirits remain high.

“Every time when I start a new job, I like the challenge,” Rendon said. “I always want to be on top.”

Hours of operation are still pending solidification, Rendon said. El Nopalito is currently listed as open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, but these hours will be subject to change. The restaurant can be reached at 413-863-5419.

Reach Julian Mendoza
at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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