Fresh Ingredients and Techniques Help Milpa at The Yard Bring New Perspectives to Mexican Cuisine | Restaurant Reviews | San Antonio
If you’re curious about the history of Arabic tacos, chef Jesse Kuykendall’s Milpa specialty at The Yard, the well-trained staff will be happy to answer your questions.
Just as a teaser, they involve the city of Puebla and Lebanese – some say Iraqi – immigrants reinventing traditional Middle Eastern cuisine in a new setting. While we’re at it, we might as well discuss the term “milpa”. It refers to a field of corn in which squash and beans can also be planted in a kind of synergistic mix.
None of this is essential to the enjoyment of food at this modest eating place set in a literal wagon – there’s also a food truck regularly found at Amor Eterno in Southtown – but it helps explain a no-fuss holistic menu featuring both ultra-meaty carnitas and dried hibiscus flowers.
Coming back to the Arabs, I can’t resist adding this comment from the Serious Eats website: “It didn’t take long, in a country already in love with wrapping meats and other flavors in a soft corn tortilla, for the taco and shawarma Lamb quickly became pork, and classic Middle Eastern yogurt sauces were joined (and often replaced by) spicy Mexican chipotle sauce. similar to the Levantine original, heavy with cumin, oregano and onions Hard to tell if the taco was shawarma-fied, or if the shawarma was taco-fied – maybe that’s an existential question without real answer…”
Milpa leans more on the shawarma side of things. The sauce resembles a tzatziki with crispy, chopped cucumber mixed with tangy Mexican cream. The small flour tortillas, custom-made by Adelita’s Tamales and Tortillas, contain no lard, although you would never know that. The pork they rock is in sauce and herbs. A bright burst of the house’s incendiary chile de arbol sauce adds a welcome contrast.
I wasn’t as impressed with the carnitas tacos, presented on puck-sized corn tortillas – also by Adelita and made from Texas corn. The rendered pork had a good flavor, and it was nicely balanced by pickled onions flavored with Mexican oregano, but it was a bit dry after the lush creaminess of the Arabes.
However, carnitas are available at several locations in the city. Tacos de mollejas, not so much. Take Milpa while they are hot out of the fryer. The plump chunks of sweetbread manage to be both crispy and creamy, and they’re irresistible with another shake of this salsa roja. The tomatillo-based salsa verde is also perfectly good, but not quite as bubbly.
Moving away from meats, Oaxacan cheese quesadillas are a logical first step on the way to a vegan finale. Milpa mixes her own masa for these, then frys the half-moon parcels for a crispy bottom that contrasts attractively with the sturdy cheese filling. It is also available with a vegan “mozzarella” made with cashew nuts. If you order the chorizo quesadilla, like we did, the crumbled sausage will top the package in a way that won’t leave a streak of rusty grease in its wake. Sprinkled corn and strips of cream complete the composition.
The corn that accented the quesadilla can and should also be enjoyed with a full side of esquites – lightly toasted to a pleasantly chewy texture, topped with cream and mayonnaise and sprinkled with queso fresco. Vegetarians – and curious carnivores – rejoice.
The accompanying charro beans made no attempt to be anything other than bacon and lacked the conviction of most other menu items. However, no yawn greeted the spicy mushrooms. They’re toasted until almost caramelized, are a good vegan option, and work well in corn and flour tortillas.
But for a total dive into the vegan universe, the jamaica flower taco quartet is a must. Many South Texas diners know Jamaica as an agua fresca. Cocktailists may also know that a syrup made from dried flowers adds both a magenta color and a tangy fruity kick to harder drinks.
But rehydrated, sautéed and served with caramelized onions, a little avocado and slices of radish? Count me among those who don’t know that the flower could be the star of a savory dish. There’s a nice “tooth” to the texture, and the flavors are slightly floral, although the onion adds the required bass notes.
Take these tacos. They will surprise you and might even open the door to new adventures in the cornfield of life.
Milpa at court
5253 McCullough Ave., (210) 990-2349, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., milpasabor.com.
Price scale: $10.99-$12.99
Best bets: Arabic tacos, tacos de mollejas, spicy mushroom tacos, jamaica tacos, quesadilla frita, esquites.
The lean: College-educated street tacos are the stars of chef Jesse Kuykendall’s food truck spin-off, set in The Yard’s culinary incubators. Don’t miss the specialty Arabic tacos with their marinated pork bathed in a creamy cucumber sauce and be bold with the vegan jamaica tacos that make the best use of dried hibiscus flowers.
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