What to expect: Meso Maya, the self-labeled “simple modern Mexican food” restaurant that opened in Preston Forest Shopping Center last week has success writ large from the kitchen to the curb. First, chef Nico Sanchez (The Porch, Hibiscus), whom owner Mike Karns (president of El Fenix) lured away from the Consilient Restaurant Group, is heading up the kitchen. Second, the management team is being wrangled, in part, by the lovely MCrowd veteran, Elizabeth Ruiz. Third, the menu is packed with abundant deliciousness from the fresh margaritas, to the guacamole, to the house-specialty budin Azteca.
We visited (undercover) last week and are still talking about it today. Here’s the scoop:
jump for pictures and details…
On the menu: We started with a house margarita and an order of guacamole. The restaurant’s benchmark — a stunning, fresh margarita — provided a refreshing wake-up call. In a town where you can end up with a margarita made from a mix as easily as you can find yourself drinking a wine-a-rita, being presented with such a solid house drink is worth noting. Within minutes our guacamole arrived. While it was not made tableside, the mash did not suffer from the lack of theatrics. It’s chunky, creamy texture, simple recipe, and verdant color make it a must-order. Likewise for the accompanying chips and house salsa. Although I did not ask at the time, I’d put money on the thin, salty, crispy chips being made in-house.
For an entree, I ordered the house specialty: shrimp budin Azteca, which is a sort of Mexican lasagna. My companions settled on carne asada and chicken enchiladas. While the carne asada’s saltiness and moderate chewiness made it just so-so, the budin Azteca was worth ordering again and again. Think of it as Mexican comfort food. The layered corn tortilla pie is neither fancy or complex, but the satisfaction that comes from biting through so many layers of tortilla, cheese, and salsa verde…there’s very little as satisfying. When paired with an order of the cheesy, creamy, savory elote (street corn), the combination is elegant (albeit unnecessary).
Also notable were the tortillas used in the enchiladas. I would not have thought to praise this in a tortilla, but these were delicate and pliant in a way that all but vanished on the tongue so that the flavors of the chicken, cheese, and sauce could claim center stage.
For dessert, we took our server, Cesar’s, recommendation and ordered the postal de moras, or blueberry terrine, which turned out to be a hot, hearty, dense blueberry cobbler that would score big points any brunch or dessert table. At the end of this particular meal, the flavor and texture pushed us to a place that was nearly transcendent. This one dessert, while not huge, provided a portion-correct capper, even when split between three people.
Who was there: A real mix of Park Cities parents, nondescript regional-Mexican devotees, and even a table of savvy-looking teenagers.
Where to sit: That’s a tough one. William Baker (Meddlesome Moth, Cibus, Rusty Taco) designed the 4,800-square-foot space to have three dining areas and a bar overlooking the open kitchen. The room has little dead space. If you are on a date, ask for the back room with its shadowy corners. Large group? Reserve the maxi-banquette in the far back. Otherwise, sit in a booth along the wall, or at the bar where you’ll have a view of Nico’s kitchen.
Price: The bill felt very reasonable, especially given the flawless service and the level of our enjoyment. For a margarita ($7), guacamole ($8), two soft drinks ($2.25), chicken enchiladas ($11), budin Azteca ($14), carne asada ($18), elote ($4), and postal de moras ($6), our dinner for three came in at $77.90 before tip.
Nice detail: The styling of the room is top notch, from the succulents on the tables to the thematic Mexican furniture in the foyer. Also of note, our waiter, Cesar (who you can also find at La Duni), is one of my favorite servers in town.
The takeaway: Surprisingly, we did not need a reservation, but I’d imagine, now that the word is out, those days are gone. Regardless, the vibe is easy and feasty and did not feel rushed. I’d have preferred if the manager had not called me a “lightweight” for only wanting one drink, but that’s a small gripe from an otherwise stellar experience.
*Hey, eagle-eye: yes, you’re right. The images do not match with all of the dishes mentioned in the text. Sadly, we were unable to gain access to shoot photos of our own and instead are using images supplied by the restaurant. They’re good images, but still…