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Man of La Masa

11/11/14 | Miami Dining

By Paula Echevarria 
Miami Editor

Steve Santana's Tequiza

The house-made tortillas have the signature hue of the blue bolita maíz corn kernels from Uruapan, Michoacan sourced by Masienda.
Photos: Paula Echevarria/Tasting Table

Walking west on 15th toward Collins, you might miss the tiny, string-lit bunker-like space, but it's practically whispering your name. This legitimate taqueria is in the hands of one of the town's relatively unknown talents, Steven Santana.

Miami food lovers have been keeping a close eye on Santana's growing culinary skills, waiting for a project he could call his own. But before he was given the opportunity to open this cool, casual and quick taco counter, his story was the stuff of restaurant fairy tales. Santana left his web-developer career behind when he met Jeremiah Bullfrog at a dinner at Cobaya. He began helping Bullfrog out in gastroPod, which got him a foot in the door of the Broken Shaker's kitchen. From there, he went straight to the kitchen of local rebel Giorgio Rapicavoli's Eating House, where he helmed the lunch shift solo.

"They're my mentors: I learned everything I know about meat-cooking techniques from Jeremiah, and ingenuity from Giorgio," he says. "But I'm more of the quiet nerd. We're doing tacos? Then let's get into what tortillas are made of."

 

Santana blow-torches corn for the elote ($4) side served with cilantro-jalapeño crema and cotija cheese.

At Taquiza he gets to explore the best of both worlds. This brainy dedication and appreciation for food traditions is measured down to the last kernel of the corn used in the masa for the house-made tortillas.

The menu is highly taco-focused, with some sides to "do cool stuff with," like carne seca ($7), his version of mole-rubbed beef jerky, which he dusts generously with Tajin. Of the current five taco selections ($3 each)— including al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa, lengua (tongue)—with two more in the works, it was his huitlacoche version that caught our eye.

Santana was not satisfied with using the usual canned huitlacoche found in specialty stores, and went as far as to find a source that would ship the fungus fresh. Traditionally, corn smut is used in quesadillas and soups because of its earthy, mushroom-like taste and texture, but Santana keeps things straightforward, sautéing the huitlacoche and tossing it with raw fresno pepper, charred green onions and corn.

Take your tacos to the beach with a couple of Tecates ($5) or Negra Modelos ($5), or enjoy them on the metal benches guarded by a row of palm trees.

And if you need a bit of a pick-me-up, ask for the house-made horchata($5) "dirty," with a shot of Panther Coffees cold brew. It's just as simple and refreshing as Taquiza itself.

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1506 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

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