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 La 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.
My 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!