There is much debate over who is the taco capital of the United States, both intrastate (see Austin v. San Antonio) and interstate (see Texas v. California), but when Edgar Ulysses Rico, a native of California’s Central Valley, decided to move to a place that appreciated tacos, he voyaged to Austin. As fate would have it, he also found his business partner (and partner partner), Sara Mardanbigi, here as well when their ships crossed in the daylight of Peached Social House.
As a chef, Rico has quite the pedigree, having trained at the Culinary Institute of American in New York, worked for James Beard award winners, and labored for a time at Pujol in Mexico City. While visiting extended family in Mexico, he saw a jungle of heirloom corn and worked with abuelitas to prepare kernels of maize through soaking and cooking in limewater, a process known as nixtamalization.
Nixta is a lo-fi/hi-fi experience but of a different bent. The space in east Austin is cozy but not particularly special (lo-fi) as is the service model (fast casual). The food, however, is hi-fi, both in preparation and price. Nixta describes their tortillas as Bomb. Ass. and they are, inheriting the color of the heirloom corn ground and prepared on-site. Take the golden brown hue of the corn halo for the Smoked Cabbage Taco (post-oak smoked red cabbage, salsa macha, pickled red onions, maizenaise, chives, and cilantro; $8), a taco the bride called “Amazing.” (and amazing to see). The rest of the tacos we ordered came on blue corn, such as the seethingly savory Duck Carnitas Taco (duck confit, salsa cruda, radish, shaved white onions, and cilantro; $8.50) and the Brutalist minimalism of the Bean + Cheese Taco (panela cheese and duck fat refried beans; $4.50).
The Chips + Dips (heirloom tortilla chips, salsa cruda, duck fat refried beans; $6 + avo crema for $4 more) and a house sangria were a great way to start the meal and the Sholeh Zard (Persian rice pudding: rice custard, saffron, cardamom, turmeric, pistachios, cinnamon, and strawberry powder; $8), recently adored in the New York Times, was an amazing way to end the meal.
Nixta is run by good people paying their people living wages. I do wish that, instead of fast casual service, they had table service. This would allow patrons to give the menu the consideration, calibration, and exploration it deserves, not to mention that a full meal with drinks and dessert leaves you some $75 lighter. But this is a minor quibble (hope?) for what is a majorly good place.
web&where: interwebs; 2512 east 12th street; (512)551-3855
what’s the deal? heirloom tortillas topped with inventive fills; fast casual
overall: *** (food***; drink***; atmosphere**; service**; instagrammability****)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)