Don't call it corny

Ambitious new Mexican restaurant opens in familiar Memorial-area spot

Ambitious new Mexican restaurant opens in familiar Memorial-area spot

Maize restaurant food spread
A selection of dishes from Maize. Photo by Becca Wright
Maize restaurant entrance
Maize opens December 1. Photo by Mark C. Austin
Maize restaurant bar
Happy hour is offered Monday through Friday. Photo by Mark C. Austin
Maize restaurant dining room
A look inside the dining room. Photo by Mark C. Austin
Maize restaurant cocktails
Find an extensive selection of cocktails. Photo by Becca Wright
Maize restaurant food spread
Maize restaurant entrance
Maize restaurant bar
Maize restaurant dining room
Maize restaurant cocktails

An ambitious new Mexican restaurant debuts in the Energy Corridor this week. Maize will begin a two week soft opening with dinner service this Wednesday, December 1.

Located in the former Carmelo's/B.B. Italia space at 14795 Memorial Dr., Maize will be lead by chef-owner Fabian Saldana, a Mexican native who spent three years at fine dining staple Mark’s American Kitchen and five years as the executive chef of Xochi, James Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega’s Oaxacan restaurant downtown.

Mark’s owner Mark Cox and Carmelo’s owner Carmelo Mauro are consulting on the project to help guide Saldana towards a successful opening. Cox tells CultureMap that consulting has kept him engaged in the food scene since Mark's closed in 2016, but this project is a little more personal. 

“Being his mentor, I’ve followed this process where he wanted an opportunity to branch out on his own,” Cox says. Later, he adds, “I’ve helped with the details on the space and what’s needed and how to get there. I’ve been alongside of him through this journey. We’ve been working on it since early May.”

As the name implies, Maize will focus on serving corn in a variety of ways. That starts with using a traditional nixtamalization process to create the masa used in a number of dishes on the menu.

A section of small plates built around corn (Masa Antojitos) includes carnitas flautas, a huarache topped with chorizo, and a tamal with housemade queso fresco, In addition, diners will find corn throughout the restaurant’s other dishes. For example, Maize will offer a tuna tostada, corn tres leches, and drinks made with corn liqueur. 

Other traditional techniques show up throughout the menu. As examples, Saldana cites Maize’s barbacoa, which features beef steamed in agave leaves, and the catch of the day, which will pair a Gulf fish with a corn-based segueza sauce. Another section of the menu will feature dishes made with different insects such as chapulines (grasshoppers), hormigas (ants), and gusano (worms). Similarly, the extensive cocktail menu uses a variety of Mexican spirits.

“All the family cooks with the grandmother or mother in Mexico,” Saldana said in a statement. “I watched my grandmother and mother cooking on a wood oven, and I learned from the best there, just as I did here. We Mexicans have a beautiful country, a beautiful culture, and a beautiful heritage. Sharing it all with Houstonians in new, exciting ways is such a blessing to me.”

While Saldana’s experiences suggest Maize will lean towards a more elevated experience, Cox describes it as a neighborhood restaurant with affordable prices, a generous happy hour, and a dog-friendly patio. In terms of pricing, only one entree, a 10-ounce prime ribeye, costs more than $30. Similarly, all of the house cocktails are in the $12-15 range.

With a substantial 8,000-square-foot interior and a 1,400-square-foot patio, Maize will seat 250 people inside and 70 outside. Four private dining rooms and one semi-private room are also available.

Maize will operate as dinner only for two weeks. Weekday lunch service begins December with weekend brunch to follow in the coming weeks.

“This is a restaurant that had a long standing reputation with a lot of notoriety,” Cox says, referring to Carmelo’s 37 years in the space. “The opportunity exists to do that again.”