Smile Politely

Maize Mexican Grill simply perfect

On a whim, my man-date, editor John Steinbacher and I, left Carmon’s after a sensational meal to try out Maize Mexican Grill, the newest offering on the corner of First and Green, on the cusp of Midtown Champaign. What was once Ye Olde Donut Shoppe, and then Derald’s failed Brick and Mortar restaurant, is now, without question — yes, even after one visit — the best Mexican food you will find anywhere even close to Champaign.

Leave me to my hyperbole; I am still buzzed.

This location has been marred by failure. Poor attempts to utilize the super small space with great location have made this particular building into a running joke locally — a place where restaurants go to die.

But this time, it’s different. And in no uncertain terms, the reasons are simple: they make everything — and I mean everything — in house.

The salsa, sure. But the corn tortillas? Affirmative. What about all the sauces? Yes. Every cut of meat, is broken down, spiced, and cooked in the kitchen. Even the goddamned tortilla chips are, despite being bought in a bag, deep fried in house. Award for best in town still goes to Mas Amigos, but the salsa, which is made with roasted jalapenos, is good enough to eat like a gazpacho.

We were greeted with such warmth, and everything we asked about the menu was answered with great detail. The owner, Armando, was finishing up a long day, sweeping the parking lot, and eyes half closed from getting his ass kicked from another day of service. That’s a good thing, because people need to eat this food, and eat it now.

We didn’t even get to try the al pastor or the house made tomatillo salsa because they had simply run out.

When I asked Armando how he planned to keep up with demand, he simply said that he wasn’t sure yet. He was clear: he won’t compromise his product, so he’s in the process of working out the kinks and hiring more staff to handle demand.

From the basic taste of the menu that we had this evening, my guess is that they won’t have any trouble keeping their 8 seats and standing room only counters filled throughout the day.

I leave for NYC tomorrow, and won’t be back for two weeks, so for now, I only have a few phone pics and the sweet taste of perfectly homemade Mexican food rumbling in my belly. But you can be sure that when I come back, I will get the whole story of why Armando came down from Chicago to bless us with this gift. It’s something that Champaign has needed for a very, very long time.

And, oh yeah — they serve huitlacoche. Don’t know what that is? You should. Click the link and try to realize: what might seem disgusting is actually unbelievably full of flavor, natural, and a wonderful vehicle for all things taste. I am currently in heaven.

Leave me to my hyperbole; I am still buzzed.

Author’s note: I tend to leave off basic info such as open hours, prices, phone numbers, etc etc in my reviews, simply because I don’t find it to be all that relevant to what I am trying to impart to our readers: pics of the food, how I felt about it, and how it tastes. The website is linked, and if you are curious, go out there and have a bite. In 2011, and what with the Google and all, I am feeling confident that you can figure all that out on your own. — S.F.

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