Instead of chips and salsa to start the meal at Ana Liz Taqueria in Mission, customers are offered whole tostadas of blue and yellow corn. The air around the table is blasted with the aroma, the kind of scent that can only be conjured from nixtamalization. Accompanying the tostadas is a tray of six sauces. The silky salsa verde scorches the throat; the salsa macha prickles like needles on the inside of the mouth; the orange-colored salsa de chile de árbol is fruity and slightly sweet at first, but is followed by a wallop of spice; and the crema adds cooling tartness. This appetizer isn’t merely to hold you over until your main course arrives—it’s a culinary adventure unto itself. From there, the menu is one wonder after another.
Owner Ana Liz Pulido has spent her life working toward her own taqueria. As a teenager living in the Rio Grande Valley, she got in trouble for selling homemade Nutella pies to her classmates. The high school’s administrators prohibited her from further business on campus. They thought that was the end of Pulido’s entrepreneurship, but they were wrong—she simply moved her operations off campus. Pulido also peddled snacks she purchased from Reynosa, Mexico, where her father lived and owned two taquerias and a hotel. She visited her father in Reynosa every weekend and followed him from business to business, pitching in now and then and soaking up knowledge.
In 2016, at age eighteen, Pulido acquired a walk-up space on the side of one of her father’s taquerias. She named her new snack shop Aliz, and there she sold chamoyadas, chorreados (Tostilocos loaded with elotes, french fries, cheese, and cream), similarly chaotic marranadas, and crepes filled with cajeta and cream cheese with pecans. She ran the store for about six months before returning to the Valley to open an elote cart. Although her businesses were successful, Pulido’s appetite for all things gastronomical had her wanting more. She believed there was more to learn.
Pulido relocated to San Antonio to attend the Culinary Institute of America. She graduated in 2019 and returned to the Rio Grande Valley in 2021 after her three-month externship at Pappasito’s Cantina and a stint at the Tower of the Americas’ restaurants. Within a couple months, she secured a storefront in a shopping center and began to renovate the space into a restaurant.
Being a young female restauranteur in the Rio Grande Valley put Pulido at a disadvantage, she says. She knew the tradesmen would see her as a chica, a nena—a little girl—and be dismissive. When she made an appointment with a plumber and they were late, Pulido followed up, asking if a plumber was indeed coming. “ ‘Oh, yeah, sure,’ they’d tell me over the phone, but then nothing,” she says. The plumber wouldn’t show up. This occurred several times, yet Pulido was undeterred.
As renovations continued, the taquera began to think about her approach to tortillas. “I knew I wanted food to be of high quality and fresh,” she says. “There are so many restaurants that don’t care about that. They just want the money.” For Pulido, that meant having a scratch kitchen. She enlisted her mother to make the flour tortillas, which she had grown up eating in the Texas borderlands. “To be honest, most of the time when I order tacos, I order them with flour tortillas,” she admits.
Corn was tricky, though. She had to choose between tortillas made from Maseca, industrial dehydrated corn flour, or nixtamal. Pulido preferred the latter, which is made with corn that is cooked and soaked in an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide (cal) and water. The technique loosens the outer pericarp of the corn kernel from the interior, releasing nutrients that are otherwise inaccessible. The corn is then run through a molino (mill) made of two carved volcanic stones that grind the kernels into masa. Pulido couldn’t find a nixtamal tortilleria she liked, so when she opened in May 2021, the 23-year-old made Maseca tortillas. But they required too much labor for her platters of five to six small tacos each, so she returned to searching for a nixtamal supplier.
Pulido found what she was looking for at Neighborhood Molino, the McAllen tortilleria and masa shop co-owned by Andrés M. Garza. She was ecstatic to finally be able to provide customers food that met her standards.
Late last year, Garza announced they were moving (Garza identifies as nonbinary) from McAllen to Austin to work as director of masa development at Nixta Taqueria. The news of Garza’s departure put restaurant clients, including Pulido, in a difficult position. So Garza found Pulido a used molino and taught her how to make her own nixtamalized tortillas.
“Andrés showed me how much cal to use for the types of corn and how to care for the molino,” Pulido says. “It was invaluable.”
Her mother’s flour tortillas remain on the menu, and they give a jolt of buttery richness to the costra taco, its griddled white cheese cradling chopped carne asada. The flour tortillas also give extra texture to the mixed-meat discada taco, loaded with fajita, Polish sausage, pimiento verde, and onions. Its flavors alternate between salty, fatty, and sweet, each of which demands its own spotlight.
As for the corn-tortilla tacos, try the vampiro, in which a smear of guacamole grips griddled cheese, your choice of meat, and pico de gallo. Sautéed onions and lime are served on the side for touches of sweetness and citrus. My favorite taco, though, is the deconstructed chile relleno. An aromatic, impossibly thin corn tortilla bears a large, blistered jalapeño that’s been cut open, with fajita as the protein of choice. It’s no secret that chile relleno tacos are among my top choices—I order them whenever I see them on a menu. Most of the time, I walk away underwhelmed. But at Ana Liz Taqueria, the chile relleno taco, like every other dish I sampled, showed Pulido’s skill and expertise. Her spot is worth the pilgrimage for taco lovers.