Leonel Rosario's family journeyed from Oaxaca, one of the southernmost Mexican states, to pick fruit in the groves of the Niagara Escarpment.
The Rosarios opened a small grocery in Medina, and named it after Monte Alban, the Oaxacan city built sometime around 500 B.C.
Serving migrant farm workers, the grocery led to a taco trailer, then a nearby restaurant, Mariachi de Oro, in 2011.
This week, Maizal Mexican Kitchen & Mezcaleria opened at 4840 N. French Road, East Amherst, introducing distinctive Oaxacan dishes, in addition to Mexican fare more familiar to local diners.
The former Trattoria Aroma North French has been redone with modern Mexican motifs, with the bar focus switching from wine to mezcal, the smoky cousin of tequila.
Besides the usual slate of tequila-based margaritas and palomas ($8-$12), Maizal offers mezcaleritas, a mezcal mule and a shot of mezcal with worm salt ($8-$10), a mixture of salt, spices and the grubs found on the sort of agave plants used to make the liquor.
Moles are Mexican sauces, usually including chiles and spices, that can range in depth and complexity. The Maizal menu includes the maxim: "No hay fiesta sin mole y no hay mole sin fiesta," translated as: "There is no party without mole, nor mole without party."
Coloradito, negro and amarillo moles can be ordered as entrees, with chicken, pork or steak ($19), or in the molitos appetizer ($9), offering dipping cups of the sauces with chicken-stuffed tortillas (seen in the image at the top of this article).
Sweet corn broth is the base for sopa de milpa ($5/$8), a vegetable soup with zucchini, poblano chiles, vermicelli-like fideos noodles and Oaxacan cheese that pulls into strands with every spoonful.
Another soup, pozole ($5/$8), also depends on corn, in this case big kernels of white hominy. Made with chicken instead of pork, the soup's mild guajillo broth benefited from a squeeze of fresh lime.
[Related: Best Mexican dishes in Western New York]
Tlayudas are crispy corn tortilla based concoctions that draw comparisons to pizza, but since there's no leavening, it's really closer to one big topped tortilla chip. Maizal, like Mariachi de Oro, makes its own corn tortillas.
The Maizal tlayuda ($24) is spread with beans, pork fat and chile sauce, and topped with cheese, steak, chorizo sausage, lettuce and avocado. Having been used to presliced pizza, I was unprepared for grappling, but the flavor made me persist.
Esquites ($3) is roasted corn cut from the cob, then dressed with lime juice, spices, mayonnaise and cheese, for an addictive vegetable side.
Entrees included a half-chicken ($21) marinated in sour orange and ancho chile adobo, roasted and finished on the griddle, served with rice and grilled scallions.
Desserts ($6) include chocoflan, a custard-cake hybrid and tres leches cake. Another unusual corn-based dish came last: pastel de elote, an eggy cake that split the difference between cornbread and cheesecake.
Maizal Mexican Kitchen & Mescaleria, 4840 N. French Road, East Amherst, 428-5683. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday, Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
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