When I was a young kid growing up in deep south Texas, elotes were a staple of my diet. Many of my friends’ parents worked at the maquiladoras – American factories that are run just across the border in Mexico to get around things like environmental and labor regulations – so we’d spend a lot of time running around the streets of Reynosa with ears of sweet, white corn in our hands.
Those weren’t just any ears of corn, mind you. They were elotes, or Mexican street corn, which is most often covered in a hefty slathering of mayonesa – not mayonnaise; mayonesa, mayonnaise’s lime-infused cousin – butter, powdered chile, lime juice, and every once in a while, cotija cheese. I know it sounds like a lot, but it isn’t. It’s delicious.
I haven’t seen a street cart filled with elote in so long, though. The streets of Reynosa are long past being safe for middle school children to run down, and I haven’t been back to the Rio Grande Valley in over a decade anyway. I’ve become a kitchen expert at making elotes at home, but they just aren’t the same. There’s something about having that steaming hot corn prepared at the hands of someone else that makes it special.
Given that elotes aren’t exactly a staple of Colorado menus, I was surprised to find them on the menu at Switchback, the new taco spot on Main Avenue in Durango that sits where Mountain Taco once stood. We’d popped over to Switchback for a quick work lunch, and I was impressed to find that they had not one, but three versions of my favorite childhood snack up for grabs – one covered in chipotle mayo, cilantro crema, and cotija cheese, one with Flaming Hot Cheetos, and one with regular Cheetos. I opted for the one that was closest to the corn I grew up with, but was quickly informed that the kitchen was out of one of the main ingredients and didn’t want to serve it without all three components. So, I opted for the Flaming Hot Cheetos version instead, as my hope for this corn crashed and burned in a pile of rubble.
My bright red corn emerged from the kitchen quickly, and I when I lifted it to my mouth, I was surprised to find that it was steaming hot. One bite and I was pleased with this new take on my old favorite. Between the crisp crunch of the corn, the bite of the heat from the chips, and the hefty dose of cilantro crema on top, this corn was a close runner up to my beloved childhood elotes. I shoveled the rest of it down with the quickness and had to talk myself out of ordering a second round.
I won’t tell you that Switchback’s elotes are traditional or remind me of Mexico, but I will tell you that they’re good. I still miss those mayonesa, butter, and chile monstrosities I grew up with, and I probably always will, but these new elotes are proof that change isn’t always bad, especially when it involves corn and Flaming Hot Cheetos.