The word on Chowhound and Serious Eats about the month-old Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona, Queens, has been rapturous. The reason for all the fuss? The tortilleria is the first known New York establishment to make its own nixtamal and grind it into fresh masa (corn dough). Nixtamal is corn that’s been dried, and then cooked with lime (the mineral, not the citrus) in water. All other tortillerias in New York, as far as I can tell, use dried corn flour for tortilla-making, instead of going through the process of making nixtamal.
Fernando Ruiz, the owner of Tortilleria Nixtamal, said that they must order a special grade of corn from Illinois to make the nixtamal, from a farmer who also supplies tortillerias in California and Chicago. At Tortilleria Nixtamal, the making of the nixtamal and masa happens in the downstairs kitchen, and then the dough is hauled upstairs, and put through a small tortilla-making machine imported from Mexico, which sits in the small dining room. Those fresh tortillas, steamy, fragrant and floppy, are really something to make a fuss over.
And there’s more good food to be had here, much of it corn-based.
Chipotle pork-chicken tamale
The fish tacos (3 for $5), described as Vera Cruz style (not the battered Baja style), are made with skate, which has a mild meatiness that works nicely with the flavorful tortilla. The tacos are garnished simply with cilantro and small-diced onion and bell pepper, no salsa in evidence.
I also tried one of each of the four tamales types ($2-$2.50 each)–verde with pork, chipotle pork-chicken, rojo with chicken, and the “Italian Special.” (Usually, there’s five, but the rajas version wasn’t available today.) The tamale masa is also made on the premises out of the nixtamal, and the resulting steamy treat is full of mild corn flavor. The fillings are generous. I especially liked the chipotle variety, and the Italian one (a first?), which features juicy Italian sausage, mozzarella, peppers and onions, like a ballpark sub in tamale form. The tortilleria is in a historically Italian section of Corona, so the fusion is especially appropriate.
Tortilleria Nixtamal has only three employees–Ruiz, his girlfriend Shauna, and a woman named Cecilia, who fashions the tortillas and makes pozole (the hominy is also made in house). Ruiz’s uncle stops in to make homemade mole Poblano for the chicken enchiladas. For all three of them, the tortilleria isn’t their only job. Ruiz is also a firefighter in Manhattan.
This place is worth a trip–really good food, incredibly friendly owners. Ruiz didn’t know I was a food writer, but he chatted me up anyway, and showed me around the place.
Make sure you also get a bag of fresh tortillas to go–but err on the early side. On Sunday, Ruiz said, they sold out of all 250 pounds of tortillas.
104-05 47th Avenue
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-8pm