Consider Milpa a healthy Mexican restaurant with its hearty roasted vegetable bowls, tetelas, and tacos. Chef DJ Flores opens his first solo project on Monday for takeout and delivery only.
Milpa combines a molino and cafe-style restaurant serving contemporary Mexican food with different grain and roasted vegetables bowls. “Our mission is to bring a better alternative to Mexican cuisine with sourcing better ingredients from farms and using the highest quality heirloom corn for our in house-made, stone-ground masas and tortillas,” Flores says.
Las Vegas native Flores got a head start in the restaurant world when he began working at age 16. He’s worked under chefs such as José Andrés, Aitor Zabala, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, and Lorena Garcia during his career, and then moved to Mexico City to become a stagiere for Jorge Vallejo’s acclaimed restaurant, Quintonil, which helped him come up with the cuisine at Milpa. Flores then opened Vegas’ Meso Tortillas, which supplied nixtamal masa and tortillas to local restaurants, and worked at La Monja at Fergusons Downtown.
Flores was working at Chica at the Venetian as the chef de cuisine when he contracted COVID-19 and missed three weeks of work. While he wasn’t hospitalized, he says he was very sick. After he returned to work, he lost his job, and decided to team up with other unemployed culinary workers to launch his own restaurant. He ended up taking over the former Elia space 4226 S. Durango Drive near Flamingo Avenue.
He plans to serve fast-casual fare highlighting corn from Mexico with a good mix of vegan and vegetarian dishes. He calls it “healthier alternatives to Mexican cuisine.” Flores uses produce from the Intuitive Forager as well as quinoa and chickpeas in his dishes. “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” he says. “It should just be straightforward from the farm.”
The molino side of the restaurant offers heirloom corn from Mexico in tetelas, triangular masa pouches filled with eggs and black beans or mushrooms and squash, and taco kits that feature cauliflower tinga, beef barbacoa, or pollo adobado. “People in Vegas want that healthier option.” Everything on the menu costs less than $13.
The bowls come with avocado, quinoa, and chickpeas; roasted corn, squash, and lentils; cilantro farro with butternut squash and spinach; or roasted squash, beets, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms. Customers can add chicken thighs or cilantro lime shrimp.
Eventually, Flores plans to open the dining room when restrictions are looser for restaurants, now operating at 25 percent occupancy to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and he will launch a coffee program. Some of his chef friends plan to open ghost kitchens in the restaurant in the coming weeks with their own menus for takeout and delivery.
The name of his restaurant, Milpa, comes from the crop-growing system used in Mexico and Central America. He says he was thinking about how he could help the community and grow at the same time. “If I grow with them, they grow with me.”