Review: Taqueria Maya

I am really getting tired of your average Mexican cuisine in Cincinnati.  So much of it is just an Americanized idea of what Mexican is– Americanized into bland, yet humongous portions that anyone from, say, California or Texas looks at with disgust and contempt.  I’ve found few exceptions to this rule (Rio Grande is one of them)  Thank goodness for our growing immigrant population, particularly in the northern suburbs, for adding some authenticity to the otherwise bland Mexican scene.  I’ve written about Taqueria MayaLa Mexicana before, but on a tip I checked out Taqueria Maya.

Taqueria Maya is owned by the same folks who own Taqueria Mercado and Panaderia Mexicana in Fairfield.  They will soon be opening a location in the old Javier’s space downtown.  It’s located in a strip mall near the Kings Auto Mall in Mason.  I braved Fields Ertel traffic last week for a quick lunch that was just fantastic.

The place is humble– simple decorations on the wall, a TV playing Telemundo, and an office in the back where you can pay bills and buy calling cards.  The clientele was predominantly Hispanic, and the staff knew everyone– obviously, this place attracts a lot of regulars.   Because I wasn’t a regular, it wasn’t clear if I was to seat myself or order at the counter, but once the friendly server registered the confusion on my face, she lead me to a table.  Whew.

The menu is extensive, and everything I saw brought out to tables– which, I might not add, did not include large portions of vaguely orange-ish rice and refried beans– looked really good.  I decided I’d try my standard order at La Mexicana– tacos and guacamole– and see how they compared.

First, the guacamole was fantastic.  Chunky, fresh tasting, not too spicy (La Mexicana’s often has large chunks of fresh jalapenos, which I invariably bite into and make my eyes water), and well-seasoned.  I could easily make a meal of this, salsa and tortilla chips.

Next, tacos– I ordered two.  First, the barbacoa, served on a corn tortilla, which was excellent– not greasy, but rich with chili.  I love the cool, sweet onions and cilantro and their contrast with the rich meat.  I topped it with the tomatillo salsa provided (there was also a very spicy, almost creamy salsa and a yellow salsa).  It’s so simple but so perfect; unlike American-style tacos that are covered with cheese and who knows what else.

Taqueria MayaMy second taco was a tripe taco.  I have to admit something here: I was nervous about tripe. Tripe is the lining of the stomach of either a pig or a cow.  I know it’s super popular in taco carts, but I figured I should try it.  As soon as she brought it by, I regretted it– I forgot about the rather distinctive smell.  Some folks don’t like tripe because of the texture (sort of like the fat on steak, some say, but spongier), but apparently I’m turned off by the smell.  I gave it a good college try– two big bites– and at $2 a taco I wasn’t upset by the fact that I didn’t like it.  I will say it’s markedly better with a lot of lime juice squeezed over it– it cut the inherent fattiness quite a bit.  Will I try it again?  Probably.  Studies show that it can take up to 10 (!) tries before you develop a taste for something.  I guess I’ll keep on trying to like tripe (and Scotch, but that’s another post).

The menu was more extensive than tacos– burritos, quesadillas, sopes, and lots of other fantastic-sounding stuff. My entire meal was $8, including a diet Coke (they also offer Jarritos and bottled Coca-Cola from Mexico), and now with options in Fairfield, Downtown and Newport, I can’t see myself picking one of those Americanized Mexican places again any time soon. Try it– the flavors of Mexican food geared towards a Mexican audience are so much fresher and more flavorful than what you may be used to.  Do you want dessert? They offer posteles from their bakery– including churros!

Taqueria Maya on Urbanspoon

  • http://www.daisymaesmarket.com Barb Cooper

    Great find! I agree…Mexican food should be Mexican!

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Thanks! I know someone who works in food service sales, and she’s pointed me to the ones that do things well, use fresh ingredients, etc. Of the “Americanized” restaurants, there are only a few she’ll go to.

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  • http://www.katesrandommusings.com Kate

    That sounds absolutely fabulous. I would dive head first into a pool of guacamole, but seeing as that’s not possible, I am left to only devour it and massage it all over my body. Okay, so that’s a bit extreme, but I think that appropriately conveys my passion for the guac.

    We must go sometime. I won’t take no for an answer :)

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Avocado oil is good for the skin and the hair. Just a suggestion. :)

      Yes, we must! Meet for lunch sometime? :)

  • http://www.lawandfood.blogspot.com ChiefHDB

    Nice post. Next time you go, definitely try their tortas, especially the one with fried steak and a split, griddled hot dog that makes me drool just thinking about it. I think it’s called the House torta, but you may have to specifically request it. They also a have a spicy goat soap on weekends that I really love.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Oh, that sounds really good, if very bad for my diet. It’s on the list!

  • http://cheapwineratings.com Tim

    I was totally with you on the “tired of your average Mexican cuisine in Cincinnati” until you said that Rio Grande is an exception to the rule. That place is as bland as any. In the Cincinnati area I haven’t found anything that tops La Mexicana yet.

    That said, Taqueria Maya sounds like it’s worth a try. Cheers!
    .-= Tim´s last blog ..Dancing Bull Cabernet Sauvignon =-.

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

    For some great Mexican food you should check out Taqueria Paisanos (sp?) in Hamilton. It is located along the south side of High Street just east of downtown. Good stuff and owned/operated by a terrific Mexican family. I would go there all the time when I worked for the City of Hamilton.
    .-= Randy A. Simes´s last blog ..Cincinnati’s Clark Montessori High School seen as national model of success =-.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Cool! I’ll try it out.

  • Julie

    Tim– I don’t think Rio Grande is on par with La Mexicana or Taqueria Maya, but I find it quite a bit fresher and flavorful than any other “Americanized” place I’ve tried. Like you, I’d pick La Mexicana over them in a heartbeat.

    • http://www.foodstuffsnati.blogspot.com/ Sara Ryan

      Agree – Rio Grande is not on par with La Mexicana, but like you point out, it’s a bit apples-oranges. I find Rio Grande gets more authentically Mexican when you steer clear of anything resembling a taco, burrito, or the things that tend to go too American at most places. I always go for seafood (Camarones a la Mexicana is my go-to dish every.single.visit) or, in the old days, I’d get a meat dish (their mixed meat grill platter is a pretty tasty meat preparation all around — and the portion! — you’ll be eating it for days).

      The original Taqueria Mercado (pre-Fairfield) was in Erlanger. I am quite sure I’ve read it’s the same owners who just moved up to Fairfield. When I used to go the Erlanger location, that was most definitely the most authentic Mexican I’d had in this area, anywhere. I’m interested to see there’s a new Taqueria Mercado that’s just opened in the old Acapulco location in the Ramada on KY 42. (Acapulco moved to the former location of Rio Grande in Florence, so it’s a bit of musical chairs in the restaurant scene there at the moment.) I’m interested to check it out to see if it’s the same owners or if someone is just trying to capitalize on the success of the other restaurant with the same name.
      .-= Sara Ryan´s last blog ..Friday Night at Local 127 =-.

      • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

        Right. I’ll often do something like their fajitas or camarones mojo de ajo and they’re both quite good– and I ignore the rice and beans.

      • dc

        “The original Taqueria Mercado (pre-Fairfield) was in Erlanger. I am quite sure I’ve read it’s the same owners who just moved up to Fairfield.”

        It’s the other way around. The original Taqueria Mercado is the Fairfield location. It’s been open since March of 1999, the panaderia (bakery) shortly thereafter. The Erlanger location of Taqueria Mercado opened in 2003 and closed in 2007.

  • Chris Valentine

    It took me a couple times, but now I love the tripe tacos. Milanesa (the fried steak ChiefHDB referred to) is another one that really stands out from the crowd. Lomo de Puerco is good too, sort of like carnitas but in a sauce (they have carnitas too). Beef tongue is better than I’d have thought, like a mushy pot roast. Steamed beef tastes a lot like..um… beef. And those are just some of the meats you can get on a taco there! I’ve never had ground beef, chicken, or steak… seems too boring with the other choices.

    Their quesadillas are also quite different than the’ Americanized’ versions.

    A couple of us coworkers go about once a week, if that isn’t obvious! ;-)

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I can tell! I love tongue, and I’ll have to try your suggestions. :)

  • holly

    tongue tacos are the way to go

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I really LOVE tongue, actually. I’ll try them next time.

  • http://www.vintagescout.com Debbie

    Can they all just keep moving north until they get to Dayton? Will be in Cinci this weekend though and will definitely be trying one of your suggestions.
    PS: I laugh about your scotch comment- I want to like it so bad, but I just can’t.

  • Marie

    In Dayton the place to go for real Mexican is Taqueria Mixteca on E. Third St just east of downtown. Sounds similar to Taqueria Maya.

  • Dave

    Real Mexican food is so much better than the Americanized Mexican I grew up on. Fresh, clean flavors, not buried under a layer of cheese sauce and dry, refried beans. I can’t quite figure out why it is not more popular.

    If the menu is the same as Taqueria Mercado, then may I suggest trying the Ceviche Tostatas. Raw shrimp pickled in fresh lime juice, augmented with diced tomato, cilantro and onion, served on a crispy tostada with slices of fresh avocado. Add some of the fresh, green tomatilo sauce that they bring to the table with the food. An overwhelming explosion of flavor, for a measly $3.

    After hearing good things, I stopped by El Valle Verde, on Vine street in St. Bernard, and had both a fish and a shrimp ceviche tostada, plus a taco al pastor, for good measure. Thought they were right up there with the Taqueria Mercado versions. Just another option, if you are in the area, and need a real Mexican food fix.

    • holly

      there is an “el valle verde” in hamilton too, I wonder if it is the same owner? i haven’t tried it out yet but i noticed on their menu that they have an even wider array of meats than taqueria mercado. definitely need to check it out.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I LOVE ceviche. I’ll definitely try it.

    • SMS

      Dave,
      El Valle Verde is in Carthage and I believe it is the same owner as the Hamilton one.
      Sara

  • http://www.chipcast.com Chip Mahaney

    Can’t wait for their new store downtown, and I’ll be first in line when they open. I’ve lived 30+ years in Texas and I have a definite preference for a certain style of Tex-Mex cuisine. Like most of you, I’ve found the local Mexican restaurants here very lacking, particularly the local chains.

    The only respite my family has found here in Cincinnati, when we MUST have Tex- Mex, is Abuelos in northern Kentucky and in Mason. It’s expensive, but it’s fresh, and we like it.
    .-= Chip Mahaney´s last blog ..Twitter Updates for 2010-04-27 =-.

  • dc

    All: Taqueria Mercado’s downtown location is officially open for business.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Fabulous news– I haven’t walked or driven by there recently.

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  • AnnaGoBlue

    Where is the Newport location??? I can’t believe I had no idea. I absolutely love good, fresh, authentic Mexican food!!

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      It’s not owned by the same folks (as far as I know), but La Mexicana is on Monmouth Street, near Costume Gallery and a certain “gentleman’s club”.

  • vudutu

    OK Dave sold me on the Ceviche Tostatas, I am so there for either lunch or dinner today.

  • http://californiatraveler.blogspot.com/ Suz

    I ate here over the weekend and was disappointed with their selection of vegetarian options. Unlike La Mexicana, Taqueria Maya doesn’t offer vegetarian tacos. Although, I guess it’s a good thing, because with Taqueria Maya being so close to work and home I would eat there all the time if they did. Each time I go to La Mexicana, I can’t wait to go back. On the other hand, the BF had carne asada tacos and said they were good, although they were more generously portioned than typical making them difficult to eat properly. I ordered a veggie quesadilla and was disappointed as I’m not a huge fan of flour tortillas or queso to begin with; I also found it lacking with only grilled green peppers, onion and a few mushrooms.
    .-= Suz´s last blog ..Artichokes Are In Season! =-.

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