Restaurant News & Reviews

You Gotta Try This: Crackling pork bellies bring a taste of Mexico to the suburbs

‘You Gotta Try This’ Chicharron taco at Nixtaco

Watch how Nixtaco in Roseville prepare their Chicharron tacos, Tuesday, July 2, 2019, using house-made tortillas, braised pork belly with lime-pickled onions on top.
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Watch how Nixtaco in Roseville prepare their Chicharron tacos, Tuesday, July 2, 2019, using house-made tortillas, braised pork belly with lime-pickled onions on top.

This is “You Gotta Try This,” The Bee’s series featuring one particular must-have dish at a local restaurant. Each featured dish is nominated by a reader. Got a menu item you want to shine some light on? Comment below or email reporter Benjy Egel at begel@sacbee.com.

Patricio Wise knows Nixtaco’s reputation, illustrated in his signature dish. In a sea of dollar deals from no-frills taquerias, charging $4 for a single chicharrón taco on a 4.5-inch tortilla will turn some people off — and keep others coming back for more.

“If you browse through our Yelp reviews, usually it’s five stars, it’s well worth it, or one star, it’s way too expensive,” Wise said. “The reality is that our costs are at the industry standards. We’re not gouging anyone. It’s just (that) the ingredients we use are way more expensive what your other taquerias would be using.”

As the chef/proprietor sells taco after taco — and he sells more of those with chicharrón than anything else on the menu — Nixtaco further cements itself as one of Roseville’s most intriguing culinary options.

Each taco starts with a tray of Del Monte Meat Co. pork bellies sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper, a substitute for the traditional jowl. The bellies roast for an hour at 500 degrees Fahrenheit until their fatty edges resemble pork rinds, the chip-like version of chicharonnes with which customers may be more familiar.

Cooks then dice the bellies and braise them for four hours in a salsa verde of Produce Express tomatillos, limes, cilantro and serrano peppers, also available at Nixtaco’s salsa bar. When done and nestled in a tortilla, another salsa bar ingredient goes on top: red onions pickled for 24 hours in salt and lime juice, a concession to Wise’s vinegar aversion.

“(In Monterrey,) you buy the chicharrón at the butcher shop and you buy one bag for the house and one bag for the car, because you’re going to eat it on the way home,” Wise said. “I take a bite of that and it brings me back to Monterrey.”

Nixtaco goes through 50 pounds of Oaxacan heirloom blue bolita corn per day making tortillas through nixtamalization, hence the restaurant’s name. The process requires soaking the corn in lye water and grinding the softened kernals into masa, moisturized with a spray bottle throughout the day.

About 600 tortillas come out of Nixtaco’s press per hour, Wise said, before being slapped on a grill for two minutes to create the base for one of 19 different taco combinations. Housemade flour tortillas are also available upon request for a $1 surcharge.

Wise wanted to be a chef from a young age, he said, but his father told him to attend a university first. A job in the financial sector followed and his culinary plans took a backseat until he met Cinthia Martinez, now his wife and Nixtaco co-owner.

Using The French Laundry Cookbook as a guide, Wise and Martinez started organizing monthly supper clubs in Monterrey that slowly developed into weekly affairs with three-month wait lists. They eventually opened a steak and seafood restaurant, where Wise worked after his finance job ended at 3 p.m. until he and Martinez moved to Roseville in 2010.

For all the glistening carnitas and tender birria in the Sacramento area, Wise said he missed Mexican dishes from outside Jalisco and Michoacan, especially those from his home state of Nuevo Leon. Meanwhile, Monterrey expats who had gone on to the culinary world’s largest stages at Alinea, El Bulli and Noma were returning home to open restaurants with modern takes on traditional regional cuisine, turning the city into a rising foodie destination.

Why not channel the same idea in Roseville, Wise wondered? He started selling tacos de chicharrón at breweries and farmers’ markets before leasing a Cirby Way shopping center unit to sell items like short rib barbacoa tacos and Mazatlán-style shrimp with bacon, garlic and melted Quesillo cheese in 2016.

An 1,100-square foot neighboring unit will house Wise’s second project: a to-be-named distillery that’ll eventually produce gin, moonshine, whiskey, rum and possibly agave spirits.

Shots, mixed drinks and sealed 750-milliliter bottles will hopefully be available for purchase at Nixtaco’s bar by the end of this year, Wise said, though distilleries are notoriously difficult and slow to get off the ground.

Nixtaco

1805 Cirby Way #12, Roseville, (916) 771-4165

Info: https://www.nixta.co/

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
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