Time Out says
A proper crack at Mexican fare that doubles as a jewel in Sydney’s already highly decorated daytime dining crown? Win-win
When Rosa Cienfuegos opened Dulwich Hill’s Tamaleria and Mexican Deli in 2018, she offered us a much welcome glimpse of everyday Mexican food beyond pick‘n’mix burrito chains, uninspired Taco Tuesday pub specials and Margarita slushies in some cartoonishly appropriated vision of the Day of the Dead. Now, with the arrival of Maíz Mexican Street Food on south King Street in Newtown, it appears that we have ourselves another.
Maíz is the brainchild of co-owner Juan Carlos Negrete Lopez, a former Three Blue Ducks sous-chef and permaculture designer who hails from Baja California. And unless you have shelled out more than a few pesos at Oaxacan market stalls or on the side of the road in Puebla, quesadillas are the only item you might recognise on his expansive and exciting menu – a menu which is essentially a celebration of corn in its various incarnations.
Sopes – thick, saucer-like masa tarts with pinched edges – act as vehicles for juicy shreds of beef barbacoa, plump mushrooms sheathed in umber-hued mole or a sweet-sour symphony of hibiscus flowers and pineapple jam. Tlacoyos are even thicker, purple corn patties shaped like flattened footballs and stuffed with black beans and topped with a simple avocado and corn spread, or fried eggs soused in tomatillo and pasilla chilli salsas. There’s also a section devoted to the breakfast favourite, chilaquiles – crisp-fried tortilla chips smothered in crema, queso fresco and poached chicken or stringy lengths of braised nopale cactus.
Not all of the cooking is orthodox, but a solid understanding of flavour and respect for produce always underscores the twists. The aforementioned mole, for instance, finds extra creaminess due to the addition of macadamia nuts. Slice into the tlacoyo topped with shimmering sardine fillets, cucumber crescents and very fresh herbs and you’ll find it filled with sweet pea purée, which turns out to be a cohesive counterpart to the tangy yoghurt and smoky ancho chilli oil on the plate. You can even order the chilaquiles with a knot of Vannella’s burrata on top. Cream and cheese in one fell swoop.
A vast majority of Maíz’s dishes are gluten-free, nearly three-quarters are vegetarian or vegan and it would take the constitution of more than just an ox to work through all of them. Going all-in with a small, hungry squad is a wise plan of attack. Those flying solo or grabbing takeaway might prefer one of the sandwiches known as tortas, on fluffy, crusty and almost weightless bolillo rolls that practically shatter the moment you press them between your fingers. Attempt the one with housemade green chorizo in the presence of company, and it is highly likely you will find yourself distracted by the way soft and saucy scrambled eggs, fermented cabbage and chipotle mustard-mayo all seep into the bread’s spongy centre and bind both sides together.
There is very fine coffee, roasted by Madding Crowd, but consider the drink list another invitation to experience something you don’t come across every day, and order a cacao. Imported from Mexico and prepared the traditional way with water rather than milk, cups of it are available in four different percentages (35%, 50%, 70% and 100%) and offer quick, thoughtful lessons in varying degrees of bittersweetness. You can still make out the cane sugar at 50, but once you graduate to 70, things get raw, earthy and a whole lot more intense
Taken as a whole, this is Mexican cuisine like we’ve never seen before – largely because many of us here in Sydney probably have never seen it at all. And thanks to a freshly minted liquor licence and plans for dinner service in the works, we can expect to see a whole lot more of it at Maíz very soon.