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Restaurant Mon Jun 11 2007

Maiz Emphasizes Mexican Street Food

corundas (triangular tamales) with mole at Maiz-2.jpg
Corundas (triangular tamales) with mole at Maiz

Maiz is tucked into a storefront just south of Humboldt Park (south of the park itself, but in the neighborhood by the same name), a block south of the BYOB tofu-serving diner Flying Saucer and a door down from bakery TipsyCake. The menu's introductory text reminds us that today's Mexican food developed from the combination of two highly developed cuisines, that of the Mesoamericans, and that of the Europeans. Maiz emphasizes the delicious kinds of food you'd find on a street or in a market. And in that style, they make their tortillas by hand.

My first time here, my dining companion and I started with two corundas (triangular tamales) - one topped with cheese and sour cream for her and one topped with just their mole sauce and sesame seeds for me. They were dense and hearty, with the cornmeal texture you'd expect from tamales, and served on a banana leaf. The mole was light with a bit of a bite. According to the menu, corundas are "one of the most popular street foods in parts of [the Mexican states] Michoacán and Guerrero." Meanwhile, she sipped her Jamaica, cold hibiscus flower water. The drink came topped with the kind of foam you get from fresh juicing, pink presumably from the hibiscus. They served it in a large goblet, like they do the mango juice that's also a bit frothy.

My chilaquiles, tortilla chips sautéd in sauce, came veg, with no egg by default. The tortillas were about half-inch cut squares and universally soft. My choice of red sauce (mole, green and bean sauces also available) was quite spicy, and rightly so with seeds of a chili widely visible. My friend's cactus-filled empañada looked light and flaky, fried crispy and covered with plenty of green sauce. The cactus reminded me of green beans - a firm outside giving way to a moist interior.

On my second trip, I went for the fresh corn vegetable tamales. "They are a fiesta food, and early morning market food," the menu tells. They're cooked in an acorn husk leaf and filled with deeply flavored mushrooms.

Maiz's atmosphere is refreshingly simple and humble, and just like their homemade cooking, reflects the "humble street food or market places" that celebrate the type of food they make. Painted tables and long padded booth benches are throughout. Wait and bus service are fabulously frequent and attentive. Sometimes you'll find live guitarists, although I could have done without the amplification one of them used. Mojitos, margarita, sangria, Mexican beer, and a combination of fresh lime juice, rum and beer called Bull ("one of the best drinks all over Mexico"), are on the menu.

Cash only
1041 N. California (a short bicycle ride from Wicker Park), (773) 276-3149. Closed Mondays.

Chilaquiles at Maiz.jpg
Chilaquiles
corundas (triangular tamales) with mole at Maiz.jpg
Corundas (triangular tamales) with mole
fresh corn vegetable tamales at Maiz
Fresh corn vegetable tamales
Plato de Antojitos Vegetariano at Maiz
Plato de Antojitos Vegetariano (mini-quesadillas, mushroom mini-empañadas, potato mini-taquitos, zucchini molotes picaditas with guacamole)

 

peanut / June 11, 2007 1:10 PM

Veg chilaquiles are on my mind lately...Maiz looks like a nice ride from Lincoln Square, too. Thanks for the review!

Bob S. / June 12, 2007 9:52 AM

This is seriously one of Chicago's most underrated restaurants. I can't wait to go back.

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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