Since this is probably the millionth taco review you’ve read this year, we’re going to start this one with an assertion you haven’t already heard a million times: The tacos at Maya Cuisine in Northeast Minneapolis are quite possibly the best in town.
Sure, you could make a compelling argument for a handful of other more established, and equally deserving, taquerias. But now that Maya Cuisine has outgrown its tiny, counter-service-only space and added a dining room and full bar, it offers something a little bit different: a lively, no-frills dining experience that combines fresh, ridiculously good authentic Mexican food with cheap booze and serves it all up with warm hospitality and a tacit imperative to kick back, relax, and have fun.
Unlike many Mexican joints where you get amazing food and Taco Bell atmosphere or decent atmosphere and lousy food, the vibe at Maya Cuisine is as decidedly authentic as the food. Kinda like a stripped down and cheerier Pepitos, but with scratch tacos, tamalas, burritos, and tostadas, not gut-busting Tex-Mex plates slathered in cheese and red sauce. Maya Cuisine is Mexican food for people who love Mexican food, and who also want to linger a while, toss back a margarita or two, and if the mood strikes, maybe even step up for some karaoke.
It’s also where you should go if you’re just crazy about really good tacos.
What makes them so special? Many things. But for starters, each one begins with a perfect foundation: a handmade, hand-griddled corn tortilla. These little beauties are a little thicker than typical corn tortillas, but not sope-thick. A tiny bit chewy, yes, but not doughy. Tender, but not delicate. Watching our fresh tortillas puff up on the griddle like tiny, lightly browned pillows is one of the more beautiful things we’ve seen this year.
The taco menu offers a dozen different proteins, from traditional cabeza and lengua to barbacoa, chicharron, and al pastor, with the theme among them all being an abundance of well-developed authentic flavors, sublime tenderness, and juiciness — there’s nothing dry and crumbly here, folks. A few of the pork and beef options are so juicy, in fact, the sight of a hefty, dripping tongful being hoisted upon a tortilla instills the fear your taco will promptly and messily disintegrate in your hands. But thanks to the small wonder that is the Maya Cuisine tortilla, this, surprisingly, doesn’t happen.
Of all the meats on the menu, the papas con chorizo and cochinito pipil are especially good, and are the result of having combined the best parts of recipes and ingredients from three primary regions of Southern Mexico. Both are slow-cooked for three to four hours, the former with potatoes, guajillo peppers, and fiery chili de arbol, the later with Serrano and guijillo peppers, avocado leaves, and cinnamon.
Topped with cilantro, diced onion, and some of the spicy, chili de arbol house salsa from the small, DIY toppings bar, they’re addicting as hell. It doesn’t take long before you’ve amassed a Mayan temple-sized pile of empty Styrofoam plates in front of you. The use of Styrofoam instead of a more eco-friendly material is one of the few gripes we have about this place. That, and the rather ordinary chips and guacamole. So let’s get back to the good stuff.
The spicy, shredded chicken tinga is surprisingly moist and unsurprisingly tasty. The al pastor is sweet, smoky, and delicious, and is punctuated with pleasant little citrusy bites of pineapple. And the carne asada, however ordinary it may seem, is prepared like steak should be; that is, not overcooked.
If none of this manages to put you in the mood for a taco, maybe you’re more of a tamale person. In which case you’re in luck, because the tamales here are just as amazing. There are over a dozen fillings to choose from, including vegetarian options like spinach and mushroom and roasted poblano and queso. Regardless of what you put on the inside, the masa is what separates these tamales from the rest. It’s so remarkably light that it’s almost fluffy, not dense and filling. Translation: more Styrofoam plates piling up in front of you.
Oh, and one more thing. The bar and kitchen are open until 2am Friday through Sunday. We don’t have to tell you what to do with that information.
While the newly expanded portion of the restaurant will eventually offer sit-down table service, right now this is still an order-at-the-counter joint. At least until early December, when Maya Cuisine will unveil their new menu, which promises a mole made with Mexican chocolate, as well as other authentic street food favorites.
In the meantime, enjoy the counter service while you can, and watching those beautiful little corn discs of wonder puff up magically before your eyes.
Authentic Mexican in Northeast Minneapolis
1840 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis
OWNER: Isela Perez Pacheco
Fri – Sun 9am-2am
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $2-$10