Amazing Grilled Corn at Café Habana – Mexican street food meets Malibu

by Dorothy Reinhold on June 26, 2010

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I had lunch at the newly opened Café Habana at the Malibu Lumber Yard three weeks ago, and ever since then, I have been preoccupied with thoughts of their scary good Grilled Corn Mexican Style ($4). Maybe they should rename it “Crack Corn” for its addictive properties. It’s the kind of thing foodie dreams are made of. This is the “it” dish of summer 2010!

Patio at Cafe Habana at The Malibu Lumber Yard

The patio is lush and tropical

The PTA ladies and I plopped down on their comfortable, temperate patio and promptly said to the charming waitress, “What is your specialty?” Apparently we have been living under a rock, because half the civilized world seems to know that Café Habana’s specialty is “the corn.”

Grilled Corn at Cafe Habana

They serve it simply, with lime

Our waitress informed us that in the New York restaurant, people line up around the block for an ear of corn, and think nothing of ordering several at a time. She whispered conspiratorially that she had customers at the Malibu outpost who come in regularly, order a drink and four ears of the corn, and call it dinner, even though the restaurant considers the corn an appetizer.

Well then, I needed some corn, and pronto! A grilled sweet ear slathered with salty Cotija cheese, spiked with hot chile powder and a tang from lime juice, this cob is a taste revelation. You take a bite, reel from the punchy flavors, and you immediately get to work on it, gnawing each row of kernels like an old-fashioned typewriter. With barely a breath between rows, you finish your cob before the waitress returns to check on how things are. It no longer surprises you that people eat multiple ears for dinner, even in Southern California where it seems that every third person eschews carbs.

Oh, but what carbs these are! If you are going to go down, you might as well do it with a smile on your face.

When pressed, our waitress revealed the secret ingredient that glues the cheese onto the kernels.  It’s way too easy to make at home. But at least once, you need to eat it at the restaurant, because it’s a beautiful spot, with beautiful food, eaten by beautiful people.

Café HabanaCafe Habana at The Malibu Lumber Yard
at the Malibu Lumber Yard
3939 Cross Creek Road
Malibu, CA 90265

Grilled Mexican Street Corn like Café Habana (Elote)

  • 6 ears of corn, husks and silk removed
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (homemade, recipe here; or Best Foods brand — can use light version)
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream (Daisy brand preferred; can use light version)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup freshly grated Cotija cheese (about 4-5 ounces)
  • Ground chili powder (or ground cayenne pepper or ground chipotle)
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving

Fire up the grill and get all ingredients ready.

Microwave 3 ears of corn at a time in a covered container, 5 minutes. When first batch is done, microcook second batch.

While corn is cooking stir mayonnaise, sour cream, cumin and salt together in a small bowl and set aside. Place grated cheese on a large plate and set aside.

When corn is done in the microwave, grill it, turning frequently, until browned in spots, about 10-12 minutes. When corn is done on the grill, attach corn holders to each ear, and, working quickly, smear each ear with the mayonnaise mixture (this is the glue for the cheese), and then roll it in the grated cheese, sprinkle with chili powder and place on a plate. Use whatever chili powder you like, and give it a light sprinkle. You are working quickly because you want the heat of the corn to soften the cheese. Don’t let the corn cool off.

Serve immediately, with lime wedges alongside. Squeeze lime over the corn before eating.

Serves 4-6.  (Some people will eat 1 ear, and some people – you know who you are – will want 2 ears.)

Cafe Habana at The Malibu Lumber Yard

The patio is charming! I love this wall with individual hanging herbs and plants

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh Bornstein December 4, 2013 at 4:17 am

I wonder if you can skip the mayonnaise, for those of us who don’t eat eggs? I can’t think of any reason why sour cream would not act as a glue (albeit, perhaps not quite as “sticky” as with mayonnaise). A friend made a version of this for me last week, on Thanksgiving, although she used kernels and pan-toasted them, and then added the other ingredients, as sort of a casserole. God, it tasted good that day . . . and then the leftovers tasted twice as amazing the following day.


Dorothy Reinhold December 4, 2013 at 7:28 am

Sure, try it with sour cream! That’s funny you say that about the casserole. I have thought of doing it that way, but just haven’t gotten around to it! Glad to know it is just as delish!


Geez Louise! August 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm

I’ve never understood this corn stick adventure… but you make me want to try it again.


Dorothy August 22, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Once you try it, you will see! It is sweet (corn), salty (cheese), spicy (chile) and tangy (lime). Everything in one bite!


Christina Hall November 4, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Just have to say that I have had this at Cafe Habana twice now and I think your recipe is FAR superior! Thanks so much Dorothy.


Dorothy November 5, 2011 at 7:01 am

Thank you! Blushing (but I agree).


Diana August 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Making this tonight!


Diana August 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm

It was fantastic! You know, I tried a version of this at Mijita, at the Ferry Building (yes, Traci Des Jardins) a few years ago and I really hated it. There was something so off-putting about it, I can’t really say why. But this… this was wonderful. Vicki really enjoyed it. I think I didn’t like her mayonnaise so I kept that down to a minimum, equal parts mayo and sour cream, and I think that helped. Everything else was the same as your recipe and it was delicious! I’ll be making this again and again. Thanks!


Dorothy August 4, 2011 at 7:01 am

So glad you liked it!
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of mayo either, but somehow, a little bit of it works in here.
You have me craving this now.


Barbara | Creative Culinary June 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm

When I was young, we would have a couple of summer dinners that were corn and tomatoes, nothing else. My dad would stop at a local farm on the way home and we knew it would be so good, why bother filling up with meat?

This really is a must try…I’m sure I would eat less than those long ago summer nights but I guarantee I could not eat just one!


Dorothy June 6, 2011 at 8:57 am

Those summer dinners sound PERFECT to me!


Barbara February 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm

AMAZING, indeed! Talk about truly tasty…shockingly delicious, even!!
Wow, wow, wow. Thanks, Dorothy!


Kay C October 9, 2010 at 9:00 am

Wow, Dorothy, I’m LOVING this website! Awesome recipes.
I just learned about this awesome way of enjoying corn on the cob this past summer. My nephew is married to a great young gal from Mexico and this is absolutely her favorite food. When they were here for a short visit, she introduced us to this delicious treat! As much as I enjoy my sweet corn, THIS way is absolutely the BEST EVER!!! Adai brought the seasoning they use with her. It took some doing, but I finally tracked some down! She uses a seasoning called Tajin salsa en polvo. Don’t know what that means or what is actually in this seasoning. But I suspect it’s definitely several of the ground peppers combined!:o)


Maty August 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I LOVE native NH corn, made in the Mexican style!


Elizabeth August 1, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I have not tried this at Cafe Habana- but I grew up on this and it is very common staple in the streets of LA. I will have to try it here in Malibu. Thanks.


Christina July 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Oh. My. G-d. I have just snarfed down 2.5 of these beauties in less than 6 minutes. These tickle every taste bud’s property in the real estate of the tongue…sweet, creamy, crunchy, spicy, sour(cream) . Seriously, if I had to choose a final meal you can bet your bottom dollar that this corn would be included! Thanks Dorothy, again you rule!


Nena July 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I tried this corn from your website last week and served it 3 days in a row…not to the same guests mind you. We took a batch to the Hollywood Bowl wrapped individually in foil; they were a big hit even though they were only mildly warm, the corn was amazing!! ….thank you for this gem.


Cassy Muronaka July 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I love this kind of corn. If we didn’t live in California, we’d never know about it! It’s my favorite LA County Fair food. Thanks for the recipe. Great blog, Dorothy!


Holly June 29, 2010 at 10:41 am

This recipe gives me a reason to go out and buy a fancy new grill since the old one died from the tragic hole-in-the-bottom. So keep those summer grillin’ recipes coming!


Kathie June 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm

As one of the ladies who lunched, I can attest to the divineness (is that a word??) of this corn!!!


Susie June 28, 2010 at 10:22 am

This sounds yummy. Is it supposed to be served warm? My husband and a friend of his finally made it in to Cafe Habana when I was out of town with the kids. His friend ordered the corn, and he said it was cold. He wasn’t impressed, at $4 an ear, to be served something cold when he thought it should be hot!


Dorothy June 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

It is served hot or warm (depending on how fast your server brings it from the kitchen)! We snarfed ours up at the restaurant, so it didn’t have time to get cold. When I made it at home, we ate it warm, but my daughter ate it lukewarm the next day (leftovers) and thought it was delish that way too. Your mileage may vary.


Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro June 26, 2010 at 8:27 am

You’ve sold me on the corn. Not sure when I’ll make it to Malibu… but I can try my own version at home.

Wonder if the corn I’m growing is ready for eating…?

Thanks for the corn recipe! [K]


Dorothy June 26, 2010 at 8:31 am

Oh yes, Kim, please try this! It was a pretty easy recipe to do at home after the waitress explained how it is made (what “glues” the cheese onto the corn). I can’t believe you have corn in your yard! You must have 40 acres….


jaden June 26, 2010 at 8:16 am

oh YUM. must try!


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