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Tortilleria Nixtamal

Pia Mileaf-Patel

$15 a person

I have to thank Creative Time’s summer 2010 “Key to The City” for leading me to this godly temple of Mexican food. It’s located in Corona, Queens, where I wouldn’t normally be walking around, but the project’s instructions said that if I went to Nixtamal with my key, I could unlock a door in the back, and someone would show me what to do from there.

            I walked in on a hot August day, with the whole fam in tow (Nonna, Papa, Mommie, Daddy and Emlyn). The restaurant is small, and very inviting, and decorated in warm colors, lime greens, reds, oranges and yellows. There are a few picnic tables inside, and some outdoor seating as well, both in front of t

he restaurant and in a sort of side-yard to it. A half-kitchen is visible. I was greeted by Shauna, one of the owners, or part of the “family” as they say on their website. I explained to her the key and she led me to the back of the restaurant, where the key opened up a closet. She was being very secretive about it. Inside the closet were a broom, and a bucket. I was kind of stumped about what the big surprise was and stood there wondering what to do when she told me to go inside.

            Confused, I took a step forward and realized that there was a staircase to my left, leading into a basement! Shauna led us all downstairs to see the real kitchen, and when we got there, we were greeted by a mass of machinery. The key unlocked a tour of the Nixtamal kitchen, where they are famous for making their own corn tortillas from scratch. Shauna talked us through the whole process, from the very beginning when they take the dried corn, and grind it themselves in the machines filling the basement kitchen, to how they cook them. Then, one of the women cooking tortillas handed my brother and me some dough and we each made a tortilla. They were amazing: chewy, and filled with flavor, the polar opposite of the dry, tasteless store-bought kind.

            My family went upstairs and sat down at one of the picnic tables to eat lunch. They were prepping for a party in the yard, so we sat inside. To drink, they offer Mexican sodas, sangria, beer, and homemade horchata. I had horchata to drink, a milky, nutty, refreshing drink. They made it perfectly, which is apparently pretty hard to do (I’ve never made horchata). The menu is very easy to figure out; you can order individually, or for the table.

            We started off with some chips and guacamole. The guac was creamy, and I could taste all of the fresh ingredients that went into it. The chips, made of the homemade corn tortillas, were freshly fried (still hot!!) and delightfully salty. Then, we ordered a round of carnitas for the table. It came to the table, a heaping plate of tender, delicious pork, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with limejuice. The carnitas came with the heavenly corn tortillas, and two salsas, red and green, that were both made freshly in the restaurant.

            As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Mexican food is one of my favorite kinds of food. I’m always in the mood for it, especially now as I’m salivating, wishing I was at Nixtemal, one of the best Mexican restaurants. I often come across the problem that Mexican food isn’t spicy enough, or doesn’t have enough flavor as I’d anticipated, as many places Americanize it so it’ll appeal to a lot of people, but Nixtemal is perfect for me, with all of their food bursting with colorful flavors.

I highly recommend Tortilleria Nixtemal! It is 100% worth the trip to Queens (if you live in a different borough like me), and while you’re there, you should go to Corona Lemon Ice King, for the best lemon ices ever. If you don’t want to go to Corona, Nixtemal caters and would be delicious for a party!