In Minnesota, we think of corn as a workhorse: It blankets much of our state, as feed for hogs and cows, and “knee-high by the Fourth of July” is as common a saying here as it is an unreliable measure of the health of our state’s largest crop.
Sure, we celebrate corn at the State Fair, we get excited for the four-week sweet corn season, but we generally don’t give corn a lot of thought.
We are not like chef Gustavo Romero. Gus is obsessed with corn. So obsessed, he has a tattoo of corn covering his right arm from his elbow to his wrist. So who better to usher in an era of heritage-corn tortillas? But Nixta is more than a celebration of corn; it’s an elevation of corn to a revered place. And the tortilla is more than just a vessel for taco fillings: The tortilla is the main event.
Nixta gets its name from the process of nixtamalization: soaking a grain in a super alkaline solution to loosen the outer hull. Romero uses Oaxacan corn and soaks it in a limestone-and-water solution overnight.
The promise is that this old-school technique preserves the nutritional integrity of the corn, and keeps the flavor that you’d lose in a machine-driven chemical process. And, oh, what a payoff: springy, bendy tortillas that feel and taste alive—unlike the food-factory flat and doughy tortillas many of us are used to.
Twice a week, Nixta does takeout family meals (pickup on Taco Tuesday and Fiesta Friday) and often on Saturday afternoon you can find fresh tortillas for sale as well as a collection of tacos. We went crazy for his smoky salsa roja and lively tomatillo-based verde on top of juicy and tender pork carnitas. The meal is cooked, but you pick it up cold, so you take it home, heat, and serve. Perfect.
Bear in mind, chef Romero is one of the most talented chefs in the Twin Cities. He’s responsible for one of the finest meals I enjoyed in 2020, when he was the resident chef at Kua, Travail’s pre-pandemic pop-up. He’s worked as sous chef at Marin and Mercy, and he’s been an executive chef in San Francisco and Miami—before coming here, getting married, and recently having his first son. Perfect time for all of this, right?
His takeout menu changes every week. I’ve seen albondigas enchipotladas (meatballs with hard boiled eggs), pollo en recado negro (a charred chili sauce), and picadillo-stuffed poblanos. The price is typically $55 or $60, and my family of four had leftovers.
Romero originally wanted a sit-down restaurant, but his storefront near Young Joni is perfect for COVID times. Takeout plus retail, built on the foundation of authentic tortillas from a truly talented chef.
1222 Second St. NE, Minneapolis