Every time I’ve walked past MAYA Cuisine on the way to Silver Street Market, it appeared empty and rather dark. When I finally stepped inside last week, I realized how wrong I’d been. The joint was packed with business-casual types (Downtown worker bees), and the space was airy and bright. There was color everywhere, from the rainbow-hued paintings and glass light fixtures to the cloth napkins and high walls. It was refreshing to get away from the taupe and white our society seems to love. My sister and I sat down at a big wooden table before realizing we actually had to get up and order at the register. We groused about the system but took the time to read the large menu on the back wall. When it was our turn to order, we chose an array of dishes: three tacos ($3 ea.), fried calamari ($7), a duck cubano ($10), iced teas ($2 ea.) and coconut pana cotta ($5).Then we traipsed back to our table, drinks in hand, to continue marveling at the abundance of color and the pleasant atmosphere. The basket of calamari and cubano plate arrived quickly. Wielding our forks with gustatory excitement, we tasted the squid. It was lightly breaded, which meant there wasn’t too much grease, and topped with a confetti of radish, green onion, Cotija cheese crumbles and black chile oil. As a desert dweller plagued with a love of seafood, I was delighted to find it was perfectly cooked (read: not rubbery) and expertly seasoned. Yum! There were even a few corn tortillas served on the side to hold the larger tentacle bits. The duck cubano was tasty and filling with zesty pickled onions, hefty pieces of bacon and a creamy tomatillo salsa served on the side that happened to jazz up anything and everything we put it on (chips, tacos, the sandwich). I also appreciated that the size of the entrée was surprisingly normal. Instead of the gluttonous portions most restaurants serve, my plate held an amount of food that I would actually serve myself.The tacos were more hit-and-miss. We’d ordered fish, carne asada and mushroom à la carte. The fish was cooked right but tasted rather bland. It could’ve used a nice marinade or bright salsa or even a slice of lime. The carne asada was good, but the surprise winner was the mushroom taco. Mixed with bits of zucchini, the fungus was flavorful and cooked to a pleasant texture. We finished with a cool dish of creamy coconut pana cotta topped with raspberries and a light dusting of powdered sugar. It was a tad sweet for my taste, but the tart, juicy raspberries balanced the sugar. It was delicious and perfect for a hot, summer afternoon. I left feeling refreshed and satiated.My next visit was in the evening hours, and the experience was a bit different. This time I ordered the short rib taco special ($14) and Mexican chocolate terrine ($5), as well as the calamari again. My dinner companions ordered duck enchiladas ($12) and the scallop tacos special with mango salsa ($15). We also wanted the red wine sangria that was on the table menu and were told we actually had to go to Monk’s Corner Taproom next door to get it. This struck me as really bizarre and a complete reason in and of itself why MAYA should have servers. Granted, it’s not that hard to walk 20 feet to purchase my drink and perhaps they don’t want to bother getting a beer and wine license … but still. Anyway, the sangria ($7 ea.) was sweet and berry-licious.The service seemed a bit discombobulated with one entrée coming out, then the appetizer, then the rest. The plates were again colorful and bright, but more dinner-oriented with sides of salad and beans. The calamari was unfortunately not quite the same. It was barely dusted with the toppings of its previous iteration, so while it was still perfectly cooked, it didn’t have that delightful complexity of flavors.The short rib tacos were the fan favorite around the table. The meat had a robust combination of spices and really popped with the addition of chunky, freshly made salsa. As for the scallop special, there was a hint of a fish smell, but it had a pleasantly buttery texture and went well with the tropical mango salsa. The small detail that really elevated the tacos was the thin layer of grilled cheese on the inside of the corn tortillas. It added an extra dimension of texture and flavor, as well as a perfect bit of salt to round everything out. Finally, the duck enchiladas were notable for their uniqueness. Everyone has had enchiladas, but have you ever had them with rich duck meat, chopped green chile and remarkably sweet red chile? My favorite part of the meal was the dessert. If you’ve ever bought Abuelita chocolate (made by Nestlé) from the grocery store, you’ll remember it for the crunch of the sugar crystals in it and the hint of cinnamon. Well, that Mexican chocolate terrine—topped with whipped cream and strawberries—tasted just like Abuelita chocolate. It even had the sugar crystals! It was warming and absolutely lovely. We devoured it and fought a small (but fierce) spoon battle for the last bite. My ending reflection on MAYA was that there is a vast amount of skill harbored in the kitchen, but consistency is everything. It’s what keeps people coming back. So would I go back? Definitely—I must have that calamari again!
MAYA Cuisine205 Silver SW Ste. F(505) 938-6292Hours: Sun-Sat 11am-10pmVibe: Bright and lightAlibi Recommends: Fried calamari, mushroom tacos, short rib tacos, Mexican chocolate terrine