Maya, a new Downtown café 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.
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 chicharrón 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.