Italiano Special Tamale at Nixtamal Tortilleria


It looks so innocent and bland before you unwrap it.

In the course of doing my due diligence in connection with assembling Our 10 Best Mexican Restaurants, I spent a week revisiting places I though might belong in the top 10, and checked out a few new taquerias that had been recommended to me for the first time.

One of them was Tortilleria Nixtamal (104-05 47th Avenue, Queens, 718-699-2434), a well-publicized place on an obscure block in Corona. The nearest culinary landmarks are the Lemon Ice King of Corona and Leo’s Latticini, which ought to tip you off that the whole area was once an Italian neighborhood.

As I ran my eye over the brief menu, it fell upon the last tamale on the list, “Italiano Special” ($2.50). Naturally, I had to check it out. What arrived, shrouded in several corn husks in the usual manner, was an astonishing creation — masses of masa interleaved with crumbled fennel Italian sausage, homemade mozzarella, and a dab of tomato sauce. O, blessed fusion!

The thing tasted great, and of all the splendid things my companion and I tried there that day, the Italiano Special was the thing we enjoyed the most. And we couldn’t stop talking about it as we hopped in the old Volvo, gunned the engine, and headed to the Lemon Ice King for dessert.

The thing is so gooey and cheesy, it’s hard to tell what’s in there till you taste it.