The moment I bit into the blue-corn tortilla I knew it was homemade. I don’t mean just patting out the tortilla by hand or in a press. I mean the tedious nixtamalization of the raw corn: soaking it in lye before pounding it into fresh masa dough. It is an ancient cooking process that releases deep flavors from the grain.
I grew up eating fresh masa tortillas on regular visits to Mexico, and I’ve been searching for them in Richmond. At every Mexican restaurant, bodega and tortilleria I ask, usually in Spanish, and am told that they use Maseca corn flour. But at Pink Flamingo, chef and co-owner Maria Oseguera makes fresh masa daily.
If you want to know why ancient people in central Mexico fell madly in love with maize and started cultivating it for the rest of the world to adopt, get over to Pink Flamingo for a tortilla made with fresh masa.
Pink Flamingo is the second concept from Maya owners Maria and Michael Oseguera. It’s a casual Baja California taqueria that pulls deeply from the sea. Fish, shrimp, octopus and calamari dance with pineapple, mango, lime and picante salsas, washed down with crisp beer and tequila.
I settled in with a Pink Flamingo ($10), a tasty tequila-based riff on a Paloma. My date ordered an Allagash White ($7) from the extensive draft beer menu.
A trio of ceviches ($13 each) was a spectacular start. The salsas and flavors change, but each of our three was a perfectly balanced blend of fish, fruity acid, a pinch of heat and salt. My favorite had calamari, red snapper and salmon, braced by crisp red onion and soothed by avocado.
The sampler chips-and-dip platter offered a velvety queso fundido and a low-heat, smooth and smoky red salsa. Oddly the guacamole was a miss, overly salted and almost bitter from excess lime.
The homemade chips, however, were addictive. Light and brittle, perfectly salted, they were a joy to eat even without dip. We quickly made it to the sad broken chip bits at the bottom of the bowl. Our server urged a free refill but we decided to save room for tacos.
It was the right move. The generously stuffed street-size tacos come two to an order, and after tasting the first tortilla, we wanted them all.
The coconut shrimp tacos ($9) were standouts. They’re served on tortillas colored scarlet with roasted beets or guajillo paste. The lightly battered shrimp are bathed in spicy mayo and kimchi, sitting on a bed of seasoned rice. You may have had rice in a burrito, but this is next-level.
Pink Flamingo offers fish tacos with either fried or fresh fish. The grilled mahi-mahi ($9) had an excellent balance of heat from the jalapeño crema, crunch from the slaw and acid from the mango salsa, atop a blue corn tortilla.
The farmer taco ($7) surprised us with its depth of flavor. Butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and hen-of-the-woods mushroom gave this vegetarian taco an unexpected warm earthiness, although the too-large sprout halves were clumsy. The skirt steak carnitas with pineapple salsa ($8) had the most tender beef bits I’ve ever had in a taco.
Food this good deserves more attention to its surroundings. Pink Flamingo did little to revamp the former Pasture space, and it could use some more charm.
Also, the minimal menu is difficult to read. We struggled to figure out if the charred octopus and papas bravas listed together were a combined dish or two different things. The two ceviches under “Ceviche” are actually three ceviches. Random capitalization (including “Fried COD”) set my editor’s teeth on edge.
The service was earnest, but uneven, something I’m seeing more often in restaurants increasingly faced with staffing challenges. Our empty appetizer dishes and glasses remained on our table until we shifted them to a neighboring empty table.
One night, a staffer accidentally dropped a glass near us, and then Maria Oseguera herself came out from the kitchen. In less than three minutes she efficiently and graciously checked on our table, brought extra napkins, asked how we enjoyed the meal and cleaned up the broken glass, without introducing herself. Hopefully the staff is paying attention.
There are half dozen taquerias in Richmond now, with more to come, but fresh masa has a deeply satisfying flavor that will change how you think about Mexican food. Once you’ve had it, no other tortilla will do.
416 E. Grace St.
Mondays 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Tuesdays - Thursdays 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
No website, but it is on Instagram as @pinkflamingobar