I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tortilleria Nixtamal, Fresh Tortillas, Cannolis and Alfajores in Corona

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: If Burritos are bean blankets then what are tacos?

For the past couple of months, I have been craving tacos like a 7 month pregnant woman. The thing is, every time the opportunity came that I could get a taco, I have already eaten or I foolishly did not save any room. Most normal people, if they were craving a taco would give in and just go to a Taco Bell, a Chipotle or even a Baja Fresh. I put emphasis on normal people. I am not normal. I did not want to spoil my taco craving on just subpar tacos or wanted a chicken or steak taco. I was craving stuff like barbacoa, al pastor and other offal bits. So while most would give into the crunch wrap supreme, I patiently waited a free weekend to travel up to Queens to get myself tacos and fresh tortillas.
This is how I ended up at Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona, Queens on a Saturday morning. I love New York in which I can jump on the no. 7 train and go down a couple of stops and I can be transported to another country. Go down further and I can be in a totally different country. Getting off at the Junction Blvd. stop and taking a leisurely walk down Roosevelt Avenue brought back memories of traveling in Peru, of the sudden immersion of rapid Spanish being spoken and being the minority.  After an abrupt brain switch to Spanish (bad Spanish) mode, I made my way to Tortilleria Nixtamal.  I was there bright and early, so bright and early that they were not even open yet.   So I stopped by for a cup of coffee and a chocolate cannoli at Leo's Latticini Mama's the Italian bakery and deli one of the few places that is still evidence of a once thriving Italian neighborhood. Although they are known for their sandwiches and cheeses, I had to fight the fatty urges and focus on my taco craving mission. Like cake, a cannoli, especially a chocolate cannoli is good anytime of the day. The cannoli was rich and had a delicate fresh mascarpone filling and had the satisfying crunch that a good cannoli should have. After the pastry amuse bouche I went to Tortilleria Nixtamal to get my fresh tortillas and finally, get some good tacos. 

Onward to Mexican Food! 
Tortilleria Nixtamal is not just a taco joint; it is first and foremost a Tortilla factory that is pumping out fresh corn tortillas for multiple restaurants in New York but for general retail as well. What is special about Nixtamal is that they are not using masa hernia (corn flour) or just flour to make their tortillas, they are using straight up corn and using a process called “Nixtamal” (hence the name) in which the corn is partially cooked and treated with calcium hydroxide, which they boast health benefits to which I am iffy about but mainly it produces a finer and consistent grain when it comes to making the tortillas or tamales. 

So where am I?
Forewarning and definitely to keep in mind is that this is first a tortilla factory that serves tacos on the side so it is hot in there. The tortilla machine/press is running and they got the whole industrial fan going on. Ignoring the heat, I went for the jugular and knew what I wanted even before I sat down. Two tacos al pastor and tamales and fresh tortillas go and make in snappy because I am in a damned hurry! (Smokey and the Bandit reference)

The Workhorse, pumping out tortillas
 Nixtamal has the usual choices of tacos fillings like steak, chicken and even going baja style with fish and shrimp. On the weekends however, they also have al pastor and carnitas tacos which are some of my favorite ways to eat tacos. Carnitas is basically Mexican style pulled pork that is simmered down and shredded and it ever so juicy. Al pastor is a hard find and to get true al pastor is even harder. Al pastor originated from Greek immigrants to Mexico and they heavily season pork with chili and stick it on a spit, gyro style and stick a pineapple on top. The pineapple slowly roasts and bastes the meat tenderizing it and adding a sweet acidic tang. Although Nixtamal does not do it spit style, they do a respectable al pastor. The pork is a fiery red color but does not have a lot of heat. Topped with a few pineapple cubes added a nice sweetness. Although the meat was intricately spiced, the taco itself was simply dressed. There was no gloppy sour cream, and a salad on top. It was just some cilantro and onions and served with a side of salsa, if you so choose to add some extra heat or taste bud kick. The tortillas were fresh, soft and the sweet corn flavor came all the way through. I would have been happy with just eating the tortillas. 

Finally, I eat a damn taco
Conserving stomach capacity to eat at El Globo nearby, I got 3 tamales to go and at a Tortilleria, had to get fresh tortillas. I ended up getting the chicken mole, the verde carnitas and one dulce one. I originally wanted to try the Italian one but they were all out of those. Oh well, guess I need to go back! My current standards of tamales are the ones I had in Peru so this would be interesting to compare.
Mole Top and Verde on the bottom

Dulce Tamale

The tamales at Nixtamal are denser and are not as fluffy. However, they are also bigger and the masa flavor is prominent. The chicken mole was rich and warm spices while the verde carnitas was light and slightly spicy. The meats in both tamales were moist. The dulce tamale although admirable, did not personally work for me. Electric pink and filled with pineapple and raisins it was a bit too sweet for me and the masa corn flavor was lost to me. 

Big Alfajor
Afterwards I went to Panaderia Aconcagua to get myself some alfajores. Shortbread sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche, Serious Eats boasted this place as being the best in the Queens area so I got a regular alfajor and a chocolate one. The alfajor were good but something that would be best eaten with coffee of tea. Although I was hoping for a bit more of dulce de leche filling, they tasted good and were fresh and had the slight hint of corn. This bakery is Argentinean/Uruguay style bake goods and the alfajor were clearly different from the ones sampled in Peru which were more buttery.  The tortillas? They gave them to me fresh off the press, and a pound is more than enough and I have been making way too many quesadillas. Here is a tip, if you do not have any Mexican cheeses like cojtia or queso blanco, goat cheese works amazing, especially a Humboldt Fog.
This is the first time I ventured out to Queens ever and I am ashamed of how long it took for me to come here. The neighborhoods are diverse and rich of culture and food. A for your information, at Nixtamal, they do speak English but at Panaderia Aconcagua, I do not think so because when I walked in, I was greeted in Spanish and spoken to only in Spanish. Either they have more faith than I do in my Spanish skills or their English skills are not that strong, either way, best brush up on that High School Spanish when venturing out here or start practicing your grunt and point communication skill.

Tortilleria Nixtamal
10405 47th Avenue
Queens, New York 11368


Panaderia Aconcagua
4804 108 St
Queens, NY 11368

 Leo's Latticini Mama's
4602 104th Street
Queens, NY 11368-2813

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