Try Traditional Corn Mexican Food in Houston

Try Traditional Corn Mexican Food in Houston

Last December, upscale Mexican restaurant But launched in the 55-year-old building that once housed Carmelo’s Cucina Italiana for almost 40 years. Inside, the new restaurant’s design is welcoming with muted pops of orange, blue, green and yellow in the main dining room. An abstract mural splashes color on the wall. The atmosphere is on the border between upscale and relaxed, as is the cuisine.

Flautas de Puerco, served with raw green salsa, reflect Fabian Saldana’s finesse with homemade salsas and cheeses that feature in many of the restaurant’s dishes.

True to its name, But, or corn, is an essential part of restaurant cuisine. Saldana incorporated nixtamalization, a process that combines lime and corn, into Maize ware. He believes that age-old technique contributes to perpetuating culinary traditions.

It is an inviting place with a resolutely trendy atmosphere. A large U-shaped bar anchors the space with retro-style blue upholstered bar stools surrounding it. A mix of banquettes and chairs provide plenty of seating with some cozy nooks for more intimate conversations. There’s also a chic lounge where you can sip items from the drink menu, like the Cintli, a purple-hued cocktail made with a mix of Chihuahua hacienda sotol, purple corn infused syrup, corn liquor nixta and lime juice. With a unique large scoop of ice cream and edible flowers, it was a pretty picture as well as a tasty drink.

Saldana, 35, grew up in Leon Guanajuato, Mexico, and came to the United States when he was 19. He started his restaurant career as a dishwasher, always dreaming of the day he would open his own restaurant. “You know, you work hard for someone else and you always feel like one day you have to be your own boss,” he said. Houstonia. Helping Saldana in this new venture is Mark Cox, a former boss and mentor and now restaurant consultant. The couple previously worked together at Cox’s Mark’s American Cuisine. Carmelo Mauro, the former owner of Carmelo’s, also supports the new restaurant as an advisor.

All this collective experience has helped to create a restaurant steeped in tradition, but avant-garde enough to surprise with its offerings, such as the Ostiones a las Brasas appetizer, grilled Gulf oysters with arbol chili butter, onion and breadcrumbs. The taste is buttery breadcrumbs mixed with lightly grilled oysters for a happy hour price of $12; the dinner version will set you back $18. There are many flavors of traditional dishes on the menu, including barbacoa de res and shrimp empanadas. There is also Pulpo Negro, a dish of octopus with black salsa negra. For the more adventurous, there are the restaurant’s Insectos, which include tacos filled with items like grasshoppers, ant larvae and moths, which are more commonly eaten in Mexico. Saldana admits it’s a big risk, but customer feedback has been positive.

Three dishes we love at Maize:
Flautas de Peuco ($14):
Confit pork carnitas inside fried corn tortilla cylinders are what set this dish apart from standard flautas. The pork inside is creamy and the raw salsa verde served with them is drinkable.
Barbacoa de Res ($29): Good things come in small packages and at first glance the barbacoa, served in an agave skin, was just that. Once opened, however, the tender, slow-roasted beef seemed to just keep coming. The habanero sauce was surprisingly mild, while the pickled red onions were the opposite. They got quite a kick on their own, but packed a punch with the barbacoa when rolled into a fluffy corn tortilla.
Corn Tres Leches ($10): Maize offers several desserts, including an ultra-rich chocolate cake, but it was the corn sponge cake with its delicate texture and corn-infused milk that won us over. The corn creams gave it a bit more lushness, but the humble cake was delicious on its own.