Nixta Taqueria brings a splash of color to East Austin with its freshly ground tortillas and tostadas made from vibrantly hued heirloom corn.
By Jordan Burnham, Photos by Kayla Snell.
Nixtamalization, which dates back to the Aztec era, is the process of soaking corn overnight in lime powder in order to extract natural flavors and colors from variegated heirloom corn. After soaking the corn, a volcanic-stone molino is used to grind the kernels into a masa. For the Aztecs, corn was more than simple sustenance; it was king; it was god. Though cooking styles have evolved, corn remains a foundational tenet of Mexican cuisine.
One needs only walk into the new Nixta Taqueria, named after the nixtamal process, to encounter the Aztec god of corn, Centeotl— in mural form anyway. While Nixta’s inspiration comes partly from Mexican traditions, the simple menu will boast a balance of Mexican, West Coast and Austin flavors, creating a truly Mexican American take on tacos and tostadas. Because Austin prides itself on being a taco town, co-owner Sara Mardanbigi and her partner, Edgar Rico, aim to bring unique tacos and tostadas made with locally sourced heirloom corn to the scene.
Nixta will source its corn from Barton Springs Mill, a local company that planted seeds originally from Mexico in Texas. Heirloom corn differs from the genetically modified yellow corn found in most supermarkets and boasts a rainbow of colors that are quintessential for the vibrant environment of Nixta.
“The thing that makes Nixta different from others is that we will be using heirloom corn and grinding it every day in-house,” Mardanbigi says.
Nixta is set to open this summer at 2512 E. 12th St. and will feature an atmosphere analogous to “Abuelita’s house meets a vibey house party.” Mardanbigi, whose parents moved to the United States during the Iranian Revolution, has long been involved in the restaurant industry, working in human resources for Torchy’s Tacos and managing events for The Peached Tortilla.
At Nixta, Mardanbigi will handle operations, while Rico will employ his experience as a chef on the West Coast and in New York and Austin, allowing the duo to bring Nixta’s food and atmosphere to life.
“It was kind of love at first sight for us, and we’ve continued that on in the restaurant space. And we’re just really excited to kind of give back to our community,” Mardanbigi says. “More than anything, [we’re] excited to share something with our hood, with the East side.”
Nixta’s offerings will remain simple while bringing a fun twist to traditional taqueria menus, and will include such specialties as a smoked crab tostada, a crispy duck carnitas taco, an enchilada Potosina and a beet tartare tostada, along with rotating seasonal tacos and a regular taco of the day.
Mardanbigi says the enchilada Potosina “sounds like it’s going to be an actual enchilada, but it’s from where [Rico’s] hometown is and it’s just the same thing on a taco. … It has a potato-and-chorizo puree that’s on there, a little bit of shredded cabbage, a black-bean puree and queso añejo.”
The duo chose many meatless options because of a journey Rico took through Mexico in which he kept a daily taco diary.
“I think so often, we associate Mexican food with just one type of idea of what it can be,” Mardanbigi says. “But when you’re traveling all throughout…the coast and interior and South, you’re encountering all these things.”
Mardanbigi says Nixta’s homemade aguas frescas and paletas will complement Rico’s original taco and tostada creations. Patrons will see freshly ground heirloom corn when they order, along with a molino and a tortilla maker, bringing an educational experience to the table alongside dinner.
“So, as you’re standing, waiting to order, you’ll get to watch that emotion and kind of see the process unfold in front of you,” Mardanbigi says.
Mardanbigi, who has called Austin home for the past decade, hopes she can give back to the city that continually surprises her.
“And for us, it’s just about spreading the love,” she says. “It’s not a competitive thing.”