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Blue Corn Cafe

Posted by MEZ 19 Nov 2010 22 Comments

Last week, I tried out the Blue Corn Cafe with a group of 13 others, some who had been before and some who hadn’t. They offer mainly Mexican dishes with some Cuban and Puerto Rican options as well. We generally found the prices too high for the food, even though the food was pretty good.

The restaurant is painted in soft green and bright orange with some wood mixed in. It’s divided into three separate spaces. It’s midsized and mostly filled up during the evening meal. Seating was prompt, and the service was patient with our large party. There were some mix-ups, though, including appetizers that never came, and chips and salsa offered to be brought out without making it very clear that they weren’t complimentary.

My husband and I split a pitcher of sangria, which was delicious and somewhat bubbly.

Good margaritas were had by several diners in various glasses, spurring fights over whether margaritas in a pint glass or Stella Artois glass were better merely due to the container offered.

A few of us did get our appetizers, including a trio of dips for chips and plantanos fritos.

I dug the plantain presentation and the dish. That’s a mango and banana dipping sauce in the back and mango salsa up front. The plantains were dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon and either dry fried or flash fried in the deep fryer. They were thick, solid, and starchy, which some of my companions didn’t like, preferring plantains simmered until sweet. I like plantains both ways, so I was happy. Another Carpe Durham poster has also expressed her love for their tostones, a variety of plantain chip.

Back to the dish at hand, the mango in the salsa was not ripe enough, but it was still sweet with a subtle kick of heat. The mango and banana dip was fantastic: thick and flavorful. The pureed tomato salsa served with the chips was bright and tasty. The guacamole was declared to be wonderful, with the ability to easily pick out the flavors of the jalapenos and cilantro mixed in.

For the main course, I went with papas rellanos, which is similar to chile rellanos except that the fried, stuffed goodness is potatoes instead of chiles.

I thought it was great. The potatoes were garlic mashed, which was unexpected, with a layer of picadillo beef in the middle that gave nice flavor to the dish, but the layer should have been doubled in size. The lumps were coated in a very fine flour or corn meal (I couldn’t tell which, but it was the perfect coating for the dish) and fried. My third variety of salsa for the evening was served on top and included tomatoes, zucchini, and carrot mixed with a more-than-healthy dose of lime. The accompanying saffron rice was nothing to write home about, but it’s rare that restaurant rice is.

A few people got the picadillo beef entree on its own, and they found it okay, but not as flavorful as hoped.

With nothing but the ground beef served over rice and a few plantain chips sprinkled on top, I could see why. They also complained that it got cold pretty quick. Another diner found her breaded and fried bistec milanese with mojo sauce, “kick ass,” and the platanos con pollo was celebrated for its inventiveness–chicken breasts stuffed with plantains and mango. The accompanying rice and beans, again, were not warm enough.

Dessert did not have as many plusses as the entrees. The orange and vanilla flan sounded like a fun combination, but it turned out more sickeningly sweet than tasty, largely because the sauce was not reduced enough. The sopapilla was basically a fried tortilla with sugar and honey, and not at all appealing.

To be fair, sopapillas come in many varieties, and we were expecting something more like the puffed pastries that resemble little pillows than flour tortillas. It was probably closer to Peruvian cachangas, but I’m still not sure it wasn’t just tortilla. There was another dessert ordered that turned out to be the exact same thing except that it was cut into strips and equally unappealing.

As luck would have it, I ended up with the best dessert of the bunch, and that was only because they were out of tres leches cake.

It was the arroz con leche, a warm rice pudding. I thought it was quite delicious, discounting the fact that it was burning hot for the first couple of bites. After it cooled, though, I enjoyed the thick texture of the milk and the puffed up raisins. The rice was cooked just fine and melded well with the other options. Topping it with kiwi was strange, but hey, I love kiwi, so I didn’t mind.

The creativity of Blue Corn’s entrees, not quite your average Mexican restaurant options, was celebrated even if quality control failed in some areas (in addition to our temperature issues, another Carpe Durham poster reported being served a chicken breast once that was raw in the center). I was the only diner in this group completely happy with my choices—the menu was definitely hit and miss in the dessert department, but the food was good to great for the most part.

Blue Corn Cafe
716 9th Street
Entrees $8.95–$17.95
Mon—Thurs 11:30 am to 9 pm
Fri—Sat 11:30 am to 9:30 pm

Reviewed 11.13.10.


  • tsq75 said:

    dear lord, why on earth would they dust maduros fritos with powdered sugar? :| I’ll never understand the impulse to make already sweet thing MORE sweet (Like sweet potatoes and winter squash with more sugar added) sounds like they were def underripe, as a proper platano maduro is usually so ripe that it barley holds its shape when plunged into hot oil and they like to stick to eachother.

    Tostones, the green variety, are thick sliced, fried, squashed, and fried again. savory in bent.

    the chips, would be mariquitas, typically sliced long and thin on a mandolin…and are excellent when served with warm mojo drizzled over them.



  • lbd said:

    I’ve been a few times and have always been underwhelmed. I have had quality control/service issues too. I’d rather go to Tonali or Mez.


  • th said:

    Thanks for the review. I so want to like this place due to location & the appeal of upmarket pan-latin. Unfortunately this review is in line with my experiences – in fact it may be a bit too kind. This has been a middling restaurant for years – I am surprised that they continue to remain open given the competition.

    For upscale Mex lbd is right – head to Tonali or Mez.


    lbd replies on November 20th, 2010 at 10:53 am:

    I’m also puzzled by the claim on their website of “oldest independently owned restaurant on Ninth Street”, doesn’t Magnolia Grill hold that title?


    th replies on November 20th, 2010 at 1:50 pm:

    Perhaps they don’t consider the Barkers as “independent” since they own the place and also cook the food?

    But yeah, IIRC both Magnolia & Elmos have been there longer than Blue Corn. Even Francescas.. but that technically is not a restaurant.


    lbd replies on November 20th, 2010 at 11:06 pm:

    I would think it doesn’t get any more independent than that? MG opened in 1986.

  • jessica trunk said:

    I think Blue Corn Rocks! What restaurant is ever perfect. Stick to what is good for you. Service is always friendly and I love their sweet plantains. Oh FYI Blue Corn opened before Elmos:)


  • Elle said:

    Blue Corn is one of the most disappointing restaurants ever. Each of the three times I have been there, it has been bad. I swear this is frozen food warmed in a microwave.


  • Natalie said:

    When I lived in Colorado we would get the sopapillas that were more of a warm puffed pastry that we drizzles honey inside. When I lived in NH, Mexican was limited. When I came to NC I was excited to see sopapillas on the menu at Mexican places but what you had is all that I ever get. What place around here has the puffed pastry kind? I’m not keen on this fried tortilla variation.


    The Gourmez replies on November 21st, 2010 at 4:32 pm:

    Great question! I thought that Bandidos served up the puffed type but their menu (and Chubby’s) just says fried tortilla dough, so I might have been imagining I had them there. I will keep trying to remember!


  • Joe said:

    It’d be nice if they would soften those ceiling lights that they beam straight into your eye as you sit and eat.

    Interrogation eating.

    cmon blue corn owners, notice the ambiance and improve it.

    and the food should be much less bland.


  • megan said:

    I think Blue Corn is great. The service has always been excellent when I’ve been there and the food is also great. I love how each item is individually spiced and flavored. The homemade salsas are yummy.


  • jessica trunk said:

    Blue Corn has been renovated! Try it out again. The ceiling lights are different. It was soft lighting. I guess the owners did notice the ambiance needed sprucing up. Seriously, stop bashing local business owners and try it again. The first feedback was not negative at all. All places go through growing pains. In this economy, we should all be helping our local economy.


    Marc replies on November 22nd, 2010 at 4:30 pm:

    I gladly support the local restaurants actually producing good food/service at a price appropriate to the food/ambiance. In my opinion we are blessed to have many restaurants fitting this description unfortunately Blue Corn isn’t one of them. If you disagree you’re more than welcome to frequent Blue Corn (evidently enough people agree with you to keep them open) but don’t bash those of us who hold a different opinion on Blue Corn (based on the comments also a sizable population).


  • sheila said:

    We go to Blue Corn regularly. While it may not be the best Mexican restaurant around it is very child friendly and has lots of inventive vegetarian choices. We’ve always had good service and the child play area makes it so much easier to dine with kids.


  • DGM said:

    There are so many things wrong with this place….Starting with the claim of being the “oldest independently owned restaurant on Ninth Street”…..Ive always been underwhelmed by the food..I can say I do like the variety of different salsas.


  • Harry said:

    “In this economy, we should all be helping our local economy.”

    If they deserve it. I’m a huge locavore but I’m not eating somewhere only because they are local.

    too many joints on ninth street are full of potential, but lacking in execution. They need to step it up if they want continued repeat customers. Blue Corn being the perfect example, blandish food and atmosphere.


  • Jenn said:

    I really like going to Blue Corn! It is super Kid friendly + gay friendly. I hate that the staff turns all the time but I love that Jennifer is still there. I keep hoping she will own the restaurant one day and she surely takes ownership of anything that happens while she is around. Granted the food is Ok but its the experience thats keeps us coming back for more.


    jessica trunk replies on April 29th, 2011 at 12:23 pm:

    Ironic that jenn loves jenn!


  • Jeb said:

    drooling. so good. wish they had stuff like that here. reminds me of la bamba el salvadorian restaurant in the bay area.


  • Christine said:

    I agree that the prices are a bit high for the quality and that the menu is pretty hit or miss. I also agree with another commenter that it’s pretty child friendly. So I go back and hope that I don’t miss.

    Thanks for the post. Dead on.


  • Caroline said:

    Blue Corn serves the blandest fish tacos EVER. It was a poached tilapia filet topped with a large piece of avocado, some shredded iceberg and lame chopped tomatoes. No sauce or spices to speak of. I didn’t know you could ruin fish tacos, but they’re extra talented at Blue Corn.


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