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Maya delivers a unique take on common Latin flavors

Maya, a new Downtown caf├ę in the Imperial Building, is the latest showcase for chef Dennis Apodaca.

With impressive West Coast credentials, he made his Albuquerque mark at Sophia’s Place, where he built a fiercely loyal local following for simply prepared food served without fanfare. The retro, renovated garage qualified as a dive in the best sense.

And the sizzle he created on his smoking grill resounded all the way to the Food Network’s Guy Fieri, who made a pilgrimage to the North Fourth Street establishment and put it squarely on the foodie map. Apodaca went on to “Chopped” notoriety. Alas, Sophia’s renamed itself Eli’s Place, then closed.

At Maya, Apodaca’s handiwork has found a new home in an understated hip eatery that embodies Albuquerque’s reawakening urban energy, as much of a statement of the city’s sensibility in the here-and-now as Sophia’s was back in the day.

The chipotle chicken taco plate at Maya: Latin Fusion Cuisine. (Adolphe Pierre Louis/Journal)

The chipotle chicken taco plate at Maya: Latin Fusion Cuisine. (Adolphe Pierre Louis/Journal)

In defining itself as Latin Infusion Cuisine, a term that needs a bit too much explanation, Maya is striving to separate itself from the pack. It is neither recognizably New Mexican, nor is it clearly Mexican. Rather, the food, particularly the chile flavors, appears to be the chef’s unique expression, gathered from his own method of picking and choosing. He tweaks up a searing-hot red chile emboldened with spicing I could not identify beyond cumin and garlic, and its bold flavor is distinct from any other chile I have ever tasted.

The dishes themselves are recognizable, however. Enchiladas, tortas, street tacos, tamales and an exceptional chile relleno made of a tender poblano stuffed with a cheesy calabacitas mixture, a vegetarian’s dream dish, and, for the omnivores, a juicy Kobe burger.

There’s plenty of duck and chicharr├│n on the menu, a variety of tamales, and it’s all made to order. We ordered the soup of the day, a bland potato kale chowder with sausage; however, there are enough daily specials to keep it interesting. Prices are in the $8-$12 range.

A word of warning: Maya’s is adjacent to and open to the more elegant Monk’s Corner Taproom, a situation that takes some orienting for the first-time visitor. The confusion could be eliminated with signs, but it goes like this, more or less: You can dine either in Maya’s or Monk’s Taproom, but you order food at Maya’s counter and place your beer order in the Taproom. If you want another beer, you have to return to the Taproom to reorder. To tell the truth, I am still a little confused by the awkwardness, though the wait staff is more than kind and helpful and got us together with both our food and drink in the same place at the same time. As it is wonderful to see this corner of Downtown blooming right alongside the new grocery store, perhaps I am being too critical wishing service could be streamlined and simplified, but maybe that’s just me being picky.

Other outstanding features are a pet-friendly patio and a Sunday brunch that features a sweet, airy Dutch baby pancake.

3 stars

LOCATION: 205 Silver SW, Unit F, 938-6292
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
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