City Cast

It's Back to the Future at Milpa

Sonja Cho Swanson
Sonja Cho Swanson
Photo of dishes at Milpa restaurant.

Clockwise, from far left: Huevos rancheros, blue corn pinole pancakes, chilaquiles, cafe de olla, short rib barbacoa bowl with yellow bolita tortillas, and black bean tetelas. (Brett Boyer)

This was written by lead producer Sonja Cho Swanson.

Chef DJ Flores is doing something exciting at Milpa. Like many of the chefs off-Strip opening up new concepts, Flores is a graduate of high-end casino restaurants, and marries his fine-dining expertise with a deep dive into his Mexican culinary heritage. “Milpa” refers to a traditional agricultural system — at its base, it’s a plot of land that every home once had, which grew maize, beans, and squash in a regenerative cycle that nourished both the soil and the families that tended it. More philosophically, it represents the wisdom of ancient farmers who worked with the land instead of against it.

Flores is taking a similar approach to corn: He sources heritage varietals and employs nixtamalization, an ancient technique that extracts more nutrients and flavor from the kernels. His tortillas are fragrant and pliable. On the day I went, they were serving tortillas made with yellow bolita corn, a deep gold colored grain with notes of butternut squash. We feasted on dense blue corn pinole pancakes, and chilaquiles redolent with heaps of fresh cilantro. My favorites, though, were the huevos rancheros, two perfectly jiggly eggs doused in a warm, tomato-y broth that I unrepentantly slurped up after finishing the eggs; and the black bean tetelas — tender pockets of corn wrapped around black beans like a Christmas present. Flores is part of a growing movement of chefs who are looking to the past and the future, holding both in perfect balance, with gems like Milpa as the result.

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