Saturday, April 07, 2007

Casa Maya

After touching down in Ontario yesterday I battled about 90 minutes worth of traffic to drive 30 miles to my friend's house in the tiny city of Yucaipa (33 thou in population and it's still a real city). I used to live not too far from here in the larger, more cosmopolitan city of Redlands - okay, not that much more cosmopolitan (I mean, Yucaipa now has its own Staples and everything)! My friend Jim is putting me up for the next week, and after he left work we settled on a place to grab some dinner. He was angling for Mediterranean, but I had been hanerking for Mexican food for a while now.

As y'all may know, at least my Baltimore readers, there aren't many choices for good Mexican food around the Mason-Dixon line. To find the best, you have to relocate yourself to that much bigger border to the south. And there is a lot of wonderful Mexican - lots of wonderful everything to be honest - around here. I even saw an Uzbek restaurant in West Hollywood (about 80 miles west of where I am now). So I made up my mind and we went for Mexican. This is my vacation, after all, dammit!

We headed for an old favorite of mine in the smallish, dusty desert community of Mentone (it really makes Yucaipa look large in comparison). The Casa Maya is the only Maya restaurant that I know of in the United States (I know there are others, it's just the only one I know of). This Maya cuisine comes from the Yucatán region of Mexico (actually, the Maya are spread all over eastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and western parts of El Salvador and Honduras). The closest most Americans come to that is Cancún (on the Yucatán peninsula, in Quintana Roo state).

We waited about 5 or 10 minutes for a seat. I would normally be annoyed, but there seemed to be two waitresses manning the entire restaurant - two rooms of about 25 patrons, not counting us. When we did get seated our waitress rushed out some tortilla chips and salsa and quickly ran off. Maybe she was flustered or something. So we munched on the crispy, freshly made tortilla chips and smooth, somewhat spicy, chipotle-ish salsa. Our waitress came back about 10 minutes later to take our drink orders (an iced tea for him, a Diet Coke for me), and then went off again. We got our drinks in about 5, and then 10 more minutes passed by (visions of Golden West in Hampden?)

When our waitress finally came back, she took the order of a table of six next to us - which had a table of eight next to it - and then made a beeline for us. Might I mention again that up until now she was the only waitress I had seen in our half of the restaurant? And ours were not the only three tables.

About 10 more minutes passed by and we finally got our food. Jim ordered the delicious chicken tacos with pinto beans (I tried some of his taco before he could stop me - but he didn't mind). I got a combo of two entrées, in this case two types of soft taco with black beans and soft white rice (some of the best rice I have had at a Mexican restaurant). The first taco was a shredded lamb and goat taco. The goat was pretty tangy - it overpowered the lamb, I think - with bits of cilantro and onion. Still very good. The second was a cochinita pibil taco. Cochinita pibil is perhaps the most famous recipe to come out of the Yucatán (I even ate it once in a diner in Mexico City, which is not close to the Yucatán). Theirs is very tangy and pungent, with its classic magenta onions (from a day of marinating) and small, rich and chewy chunks pork. I don't think I've ever had a cochinita pibil I did not like, and theirs is as good as the next!

Might I add that their corn tortillas for their soft tacos are soft, thick and flavorful, absolutely delightful to bite into.

Our meal came to about $27 before tip. We might've ordered dessert, but I had somewhere to go, and who knows when I would have gotten it? But if I had nowhere to go, then yeah, some queso napolitano (a rich type of flan) would've been in order.