Austin’s highly anticipated casual taco restaurant Nixta Taqueria is opening oh so soon at 2512 East 12th Street in the Chestnut neighborhood, starting on Saturday, October 5. The main focus of the East Austin restaurant from co-owners chef Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi is corn — no flour here — in the form of tortillas and tostadas.
Nixta is “essentially a blend of this Michelin-starred mixed mash of tacos, but in a comfortable setting that’s casual and accessible to everyone,” Rico explained. The latter factor is especially important to him, especially coming off his finer-dining background (Los Angeles’s Son of a Gun and Trois Mec, a stage at Mexico City’s Pujol). “I wanted a price point that’s approachable,” he said, “but still, you’re going to get things that are just really outside the box.”
It’s “truly Mexican-American,” Mardanbigi said of Nixta, “because it’s taking the foundation, which is the really important heritage part where corn tortillas are done in traditional techniques,” with refreshed applications. Or, as she further explained: “‘Oh, those flavors are Mexican, but this presentation is just like, what, wait a minute.’”
Rico’s Mexican heritage (his family is from the north-central Mexican state of San Luis Potosí), French cooking training, and West Coast and Texas sensibilities combine to create that unique culinary perspective for Mexican food in Austin seen through Nixta’s menu. Before really settling on this idea, he spent a lot of time traveling and hanging out with family and friends in Mexico.
It was in Morelia, Mexico, where his uncle (who has a PhD in corn science) took him to the home of an acquaintance, Guillermo, who lived outside of the city. He grew all sorts of wild corn in his backyard, and it was “like this crazy jungle,” Rico said. “I just remember peeling stalks back, ‘Whoa, this is purple corn! Whoa, this is pink corn!’ I just kept peeling them back, and just: color, color, color.”
There was something about the terroir in Guillermo’s property that yielded abundant corn without much human involvement. That night, his wife cooked dinner using tortillas made with that corn: “Aha, holy shit, this is the best tortilla I’ve ever had,” Rico remembered thinking. “‘This is what I want to do.” Thus, the idea of Nixta Taqueria was born.
Nixta’s menu is a simple one: five main and three rotating tacos and tostadas, made with two different main types of tortillas: white and blue Hopi, sourced from Barton Springs Mill. (There will be experiments mixing blue and white masa too.)
Staple fillings and toppings include duck carnitas, roasted sweet potatoes, and vegan options like the beet tartare. “If you can make vegetables taste better than proteins, you’re doing a really good job” is Rico’s philosophy. There’s also the enchilada potosina, where a tostada is topped with topped with duck fat-refried beans, chorizo-potato puree, shredded cabbage, oregano-tomato salsa, and queso anejo (a kind of Mexican parmesan cheese that’s rubbed in chile and aged for a while).
Potential dishes Rico has been thinking about featuring include a “bougie” foie gras taco and a raw crudites tostada. For the fall, expect something involving squash. Also look out for lacto-fermented hot sauce made using a “huge batch” of peppers from local product delivery company Farm to Table. Prices will range between four to six dollars per item, with higher price points for speciality tacos and tostadas.
As for sweets, there will be paletas with staple flavors like avocado made with tahini and dehydrated mango (“sweet and really creamy”); and coconut with coconut milk, cream, and chunks.
Drinks-wise, there are aguas frescas like horchata with rice and Mexican cinnamon, prickly pear, and seasonal fruit ones. Plus, there will be coffee, both hot and cold-brew. For alcohol, there’s beer and wine. Of the former, there’ll be a local option and then “one shitty Mexican beer,” according to Mardanbigi, like Dos Equis. For the latter, expect an emphasis on natural wines.
Nixta’s small, colorful counter-service space is meant to “make you feel like you’re walking into your abuelita’s house,” Mardanbigi explained. Throughout the dining room are shelves full of various knick-knacks, a miniature disco ball, framed art, and hanging plants. The dominant color is coyoacan blue, stemming from the main blue of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s home in Mexico City.
The vibrant murals were done by local artist Margaret Heidrick. The main subject is — you’ve guessed it — corn. The exterior wall features the Aztec deity of corn Chicomecóatl. Inside, there are tables with chairs and bench seating to the left and counter-seating to the right. Outside, there are a few picnic tables for those who want to eat alfresco. (Eventually, Nixta will expand into the next-door building, which is currently used for storage.)
When Nixta opens in early October, its hours will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.