Corn is not only one of the most important crops worldwide but also THE most important ingredient for us Mexicans.
You can find this versatile ingredient practically everywhere, when having breakfast you can indulge in hearty treats like tamales and the thick warm drink atole, if in need of a quick evening snack you’ll find it slathered with mayonnaise and served on the cob, and don’t even get me started with the countless types of tacos you can find in every corner.
Sadly, in the last years big evil companies have taken over the corn production and have flooded the market with low quality corn and over processed flours which due to its lower price have taken over most small tortillerías in the country.
But, as it always happens, there is now a counter-movement that’s focusing on shining a light in the importance of corn, its origins, seasonalities, varieties and how this has direct impact both the taste of the final produce and the chain of production.
This is a list of the best places where you can taste the versatility of corn and that showcase the amazing creativity of Mexican cooks who use ingredients most likely you’ve never heard of before; and at the same time are working directly with small farmers to cut the middleman and improve
In most spots you may also be able to see them making tortillas some even offer courses and private lessons where you can expand your corn knowledge.
Expendio de Maíz
Cal y Maíz
Maíz de Cacao
Molino El Pujol
Expendio de Maíz Sin Nombre
This discret spot in the heart of colonia Roma is at the top of my Favorites list this year for a very strong reason: their amazing, versatile yet traditional use of heirloom corn.
They focus completely in getting the best ingredients both from the markets and from the state of Guerrero, where one of the owners has a farm and gets his culinary inspiration from.
Different corn strains arrive weekly (respecting seasonality), it is then nixtamalized in-house and turned into the freshest, cutest, pig-shaped tortillas you’ve ever seen, among other delicacies. Don’t worry about ordering, there’s no menu available so the place kinda works like an omakase, as soon as you sit down you’ll be asked about your food preferences and allergies, and food won’t stop coming to your table until you are completely full. Beware of the humongous portion sizes that had never let me go beyond the second course.
A little bit further down south in the city, but well worth the trip, Cal y Maíz focuses on buying corn from small producers and turning it into the most simple yet delicious quesadillas and tortillas.
You can step into their workshop and eat freshly made quesadillas with unique ingredients such as huitlacoche (corn mushroom), passion fruit, cacao nibs, goat cheese, honey and more. You can also buy their tortillas and other corn based products, all while you watch the staff pressing the tortillas and cooking them on sight.
If you’re interested you can also buy a Nixtamal class, where you will learn all about the ancient process, types of corn, tortillas and you can even get down on your knees to grind you own corn on a traditional metate.
Maíz de Cacao
A fairly new and unknown restaurant in Roma neighborhood that focuses on corn and the cuisine from the Huasteca region, an area located in the middle of the country starting in the north of Veracruz, then following the south of Tamaulipas and a big chunk of San Luis Potosí state.
Their menu is very rich, entreés, main dishes, drinks and desserts. As well as seasonal dishes like the massive tamal called Zacahuil, made with corn chunks, whole pieces of chicken and pork, tomatoes, herbs and all wrapped in banana leaves and that is commonly served during Day of the Dead and funerals in the Huasteca region.
When visiting this casual spot you must try the esquites served on a corn husk and topped with cotija cheese. -Amazing!-
The only one place in the list focusing just on hearty wrapped up and steamed delicacy known as tamal. Tamales madre is located in the trendy Juarez neighborhood, with a very cool interior design, a huge communal table in the middle and the most beautiful tamales presentation.
Mole and plantain, tomatillo and chicken, vegan or vegetarian, sweet or savory, steamed in banana leaf or corn husk, each one of the possibilities will fill your palate with some of the finest flavors in Mexican cuisine.
The menu is short enough you can sit with a couple of hungry friends and go through the whole thing in one visit. And if that’s not enough you can always book a private event with them, whether you want to improve your tamales skills or want to know more about mezcal.
Pioneers in the heirloom corn movement and with close ties to the very famous and traditional Mexican restaurant Nico’s, this little workshop/warehouse is quite far from any of the famous and touristy areas.
Maizajo has been spreading the corn and nixtamal knowledge before it became cool, and they still work closely with many different producers from around the country as well as famous chefs and restaurants.
You can book a workshop where you’ll learn about nixtamal and the different corn varieties they use in house.
FUN FACT: Maizajo gets its name from one of the most beautiful (yet almost completely useless) kinds of corn. Maíz translates as corn, and ajo as garlic and it’s due to the fact each kernels is covered in the tiniest little corn husk, making almost impossible to peel without first losing your mind.
You can follow the smell of the freshly made tortillas from the corner, and it will lead you to what might be the smallest place on the list, but certainly not the smallest menu.
Cintli, with their mill and comal on plain sight, gets their main ingredients from small producers and offer different dishes such as the triangle shaped pattie called tetela, the famous chilaquiles and enchiladas for a hearty breakfast, several types of quesadillas, tlacoyos and many different drinks.
And if what you want is to buy tortillas that air safe to carry on a plane this is also your spot. You can go for the traditional tortillas or take a chance with the ones mixed with ingredients such as kale, cactus, quinoa, turmeric and other super foods, they all come vacuum sealed and are perfect to freeze until you’re ready to eat them.
Molino El Pujol
This is perhaps the most popular spot on the list, maybe because it’s the one that shares owner with the most famous high-end restaurant in the city Pujol. This very minimalistic and fancy tortillería located in the beautiful and hipster Condesa neighborhood focuses mainly on making masa, tortillas and a few (and quite small) corn-based dishes like tamales, quesadillas, atole and a delicious corn on the cob completely covered with a smoky and slightly salty chicatana ant mayonnaise.
You might not be able to get a complete corn workshop here, but if you ask nicely, they’ll surely show you around the store and through the back of the house for a crash course. They maybe even finish by giving you a warm tortilla for you to top with a pinch of salt and roll tightly with the palm of your hands, a basic move all Mexicans learn from a really early stage in life.
Aside from all things corn, they also offer seasonal produce like heirloom tomatoes, beans, freshly made salsas and of course, cute little tote bags.
And here’s a map that might help you find the best corn the city has to offer. If you click on the star it will download to your phone.
If you want to know more about Mexico City’s food and navigate through its amazing food scene by the hand of an expert, head over to my food tour website: Devoured!
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