What do you prefer—good food in a hole-in-the-wall resto, or a swanky place that forces you to eat again when you get home?
At Cebu’s dining and evening hotspot, Maya Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Lounge, you shouldn’t have to choose between the food and the ambiance.
Maya serves authentic Mexican cuisine in a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere. No hard taco shells, super-sized burritos, sombreros hung on the wall, or any of the typical tacky décor of a so-called authentic neighborhood Mexican restaurant—ay, chihuahua!
What they do have is great food that is deliberately simple yet bursting with flavor. “Maya combines the simplicity of authentic Mexican recipes with fresh, high quality local ingredients,” explains American owner-chef Jason Hyatt of Abaca Resort and Restaurant prominence.
“Maya doesn’t attempt to create a trendy, new style. It simply introduces the Cebuano palate to the complexity and richness of authentic Mexican cuisine.” In other words, it’s nothing fancy at all, which is exactly the point.
To prove his point, Jason recommends the queso fundido as one of the starters, a dip of melted Mexican cheeses with jalapeños, served with fresh tortilla chips.
You start by maneuvering the gooey cheese on to your tortilla chip, carefully turning the chip around and around with your hand so you get maximum dip on your chip. When you do bite into it though, the jalapeños jolt you into instantly reaching for one tortilla chip after another while you’re still chomping on the piece that you have in your mouth.
If you’re not up for a delicious cardiac arrest, a lighter and healthier alternative that is still tasty is the ensalada de jicama, a refreshing jicama salad with local citrus, cucumbers, and carrots with light coriander-lime vinaigrette. The homemade guacamole is also a must-try, although it is only available seasonally.
Among Maya’s specialties, and at the heart of their menu, are their tacos. The tortillas are handmade with 100 percent imported white corn masa or flour, and are filled with your choice of carnitas or six-hour roasted organic pork shoulder, lime, and coriander grilled fish, or chicken with tomato-chipotle sauce.
The carne asade or grilled angus flank steak with charred chilies and roasted onions is a meat lover’s darling, as is the cabrito en salsa, slow-roasted suckling goat with chilies and tomatoes.
Ask Jason why he opened a Mexican restaurant, and he’ll tell you quite simply that he misses Mexican food.
“I worked as a chef in Mexico City and Los Angeles, and the Mexican food there was killer. When I moved here, I’d crave for it but I just couldn’t find anything that came close to the rich flavors and textures that are part of the Mexican tradition.”
Definitely one of the highlights of the Maya menu is their drink list. Their signature beverage is their tantalizing margarita, which has three ingredients—100 percent blue agave tequila, organic agave syrup, and fresh local calamansi.
Tequila is held at the highest esteem at Maya, but it is absolutely not the place to get bombed with tequila shots—no lick, shoot, and suck here.
Their comprehensive selection of 110 kinds of 100 percent blue agave tequilas, the largest in the country, is meant to be sipped slowly and savored. Sipping shots are offered, and each shot is served with a side of sangrita, a nectar of organic tomatoes, orange juice, fresh calamansi juice, onions, salt and hot chili peppers. Sangritas were first made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where the blue agave plant can be found, to quench the fire of homemade tequila.
Their tequila list includes tequilas in different categories of ageing, including the un-aged or aged for less than two months in oak barrels, blanco tequilas, which have the purest agave taste; the reposado or rested tequilas, which are aged anywhere between two months to less than a year; the añejo or aged tequilas, which stay in oak barrels for a minimum of one year but less than three years; and the extra añejo tequilas, which are aged for over three years, and acquire a subtle cognac-like character.
Maya succeeds in making good food and fantastic drinks taste even better with its ambiance. Jason’s wife, Anna—who handles the marketing for Maya and Abaca—and their HK-based partners were very much involved in designing its interiors, which evoke the look and feel of a modern yet masculine space.
They scoured the small towns of Mexico for antiques and masks, which add a distinctive Spanish-Mexican touch to the place, and they also commissioned a Mexican glass artist to make hand-blown glass lighting fixtures and tequila glasses for Maya.
Adobe stone walls and hand-carved oversized doors add texture to the restaurant’s entrance, while wrought-iron chandeliers add drama to its high ceiling. The restaurant’s second floor has more of a lounge feel, with a wrought-iron carving holding lit candles on the far end. It is accented with a massive bull’s horn on one wall, and a bar filled with colorful tequila bottles on the other.
Indeed, Maya is the place to go to for great food in a gorgeous place.
Maya is located at Crossroads, Banilad, Cebu City. For more information on Maya, call (32) 238-9552 or (32) 238-9618, or visit their website at www.mayacebu.com.