Written and photography by Isabel A. Rodriguez
If you grew up in Las Cruces, El Paso, or anywhere in Mexico, then you know that elote en vaso, or corn in a cup, is a staple of Mexican culture. If you’re not familiar with the dish, I’ll summarize its importance this way: What pizza is to New Yorkers, that’s what elote is to us.
Though it’s often a side for meals prepared at home, elote is perhaps best enjoyed as a main dish, with just a few ingredients added to complement and highlight its subtle yet savory flavor. My husband, Josh, and I spent one adventurous Saturday venturing to three local eateries to sample their versions of elote en vaso. Intent on selecting the best of the best, we quickly learned that while we definitely found a personal favorite, each food stop offered up merits we never anticipated, and appealed to us for various reasons. Final verdict: They’re all worth a try. After all, you don’t just frequent one pizza joint, right?
Tradition Meets Creativity
Pepper’s Café at Double Eagle
Luke Roberts’s passion for food and cooking was instilled in him at an early age. “I grew up in Canutillo,” he explains. “Food trucks are very prevalent out there. My earliest childhood memory is saving up money for a food truck.”
Now the executive chef at Double Eagle Restaurant, Luke drew inspiration from food truck cuisine to take traditional corn in a cup to a whole new level. His elote en vaso dish, listed under the tapas section of the Pepper’s Café menu, is described as “butter roasted corn with chile sauce, lime, sour cream, and cotija cheese, served with tostada chips.” The description is enough to get your mouth watering, but words don’t do it justice.
Served in a glass somewhat resembling an ice cream sundae goblet, the corn is topped with a scoop of cream and a slice of lime, with a handful of tostada chips surrounding the goblet base. A near-perfect combination, the flavors range from salty, sweet, sour, and creamy, with a hint of spice thrown in for good measure. We agreed that the tostada chips were unnecessary; Luke’s creativity and precision are enough to make this a memorable treat.
Luke told us he starts out by roasting the corn with cayenne pepper, then mixing in sour cream and lime vinaigrette. “Elote en vaso is something that’s been very dear to my heart,” he says. “My inspiration was to bring what I love to eat into the restaurant. I wanted to elevate it, but keep it what it was. I’m very happy with it.”
So were we.
Double Eagle Restaurant
2355 Calle de Guadalupe, Mesilla
Not Your Grandmother’s Elote en Vaso
Not Your Grandmother’s Elote en Vaso
Google “corn in a cup” and your computer will tell you that the basic ingredients are corn, butter, chili powder, lime, and cream or mayonnaise. But sometimes a little risk pays off. Such is the case with Deleite’s interpretation of corn in a cup.
Situated on the corner of Solano and Foster Road, Deleite (which translates to “delight”) is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it casual little eatery that serves up tasty treats of all kinds. The menu includes plain elote, but we opted instead for the Elote Chorreado, a novel, unconventional dish that seems to combine corn in a cup and loaded nachos.
This beautifully messy, two-tiered dish includes white corn in a Styrofoam cup, placed in the center of a square paper bowl and surrounded by Tostitos chips. Chorreado means drizzled, and true to form, the corn and tostadas are covered in a thick layer of nacho cheese, shredded Muenster cheese, and sour cream, plus a helping of Valentina sauce. The nachos portion is also heavily sprinkled with more white corn.
You might be momentarily taken aback when you first lay eyes on this imaginative spin, not quite knowing where to start. The answer is: anywhere you want. The best part, I thought, is the corn/cheese/Tostitos combination, which melds tons of flavor with that satisfying crunch. It doesn’t take a nachos fanatic to appreciate the ingenuity.
“We try to maintain the natural flavor of the corn in our dish,” notes owner Daniella Sanchez who credits her sister and co-owner, Naoemi, for the recipe. She also notes that the popularity of corn can partially be attributed to its versatility in numerous dishes. It’s fitting that Deleite’s take on it is so outside the box, and it’s a must-try choice for anyone who thinks they’ve tasted every possible corn recipe.
1400 S. Solano Dr.
An Old-School Favorite With Surprising Depth
Emilio’s Fresh Snacks
To round out our tour, we stopped at Emilio’s Fresh Snacks, a food truck that takes elote en vaso back to its roots. Here, you select your choice of yellow or white corn and pick from an assortment of sizes. Food truck owner Emilio Gutierrez prides himself on working with the freshest ingredients possible. He explains that he has a different method of preparation, depending on either yellow or white corn. Sometimes he’ll even get requests to combine the two types.
The sweeter yellow variety is combined with Monterey Jack cheese, which melts into the corn, and lime juice, creating a thick, stew-like texture that begs to be slurped. The white corn recipe contains mozzarella cheese, giving it a somewhat saltier flavor.
Emilio’s no-fuss recipes are simple, yet satisfying and, on a personal level, reminded me of the humble Mexican delicacy I grew up eating. What makes the dining experience even more fascinating is watching him quickly whip up his food creations inside the compact space.
Once a journalist in Juarez, Emilio has no formal training in the culinary arts, but says he has spent much of his life in the kitchen cooking for family and friends. “I started cooking out of necessity,” he says. “I’ve had my food truck for three years. I think people like that I put my heart into it. I enjoy cooking. I think they also appreciate that I value quality ingredients.”
When I asked Emilio why he thinks corn is such an integral food in our area, he replied that it’s a fundamental part of our background. “It’s a basic, essential part of our Mexican culture,” he answers. “I prepare my dishes as if I was going to eat them myself. To be honest, I keep it simple and try to stick to the basics. If people like it, they’ll ask for more.”
Emilio’s Fresh Snacks
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