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Pan-seared tuna taquitos Photo by Ash Daniel
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Maya Mexican Grill & Tequila Lounge Photo by Ash Daniel
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Flourless chocolate cake Photo by Ash Daniel
In most of the United States, when we talk about Mexican food, what we really mean is Tex-Mex. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and some places do it quite well. But it's hard to find authentic coastal Mexican food.
Until now. Maya Mexican Grill & Tequila Lounge in Short Pump has finally brought the clean, fresh flavors of Mexico and Central America to Richmond.
We were greeted and seated promptly, and felt very welcomed. We began by studying the tequila list. Handsome Husband lived in Texas for 23 years and is very familiar with fine, aged tequilas. We simply don't see many of them this far north. But this bright, friendly restaurant has a great list, and the beautiful, golden, aged tequila that he ordered came in a hand-blown shot glass and was delivered on a wooden presentation tray, along with a fresh fruit chaser. The blue-accented glass and the bright raspberry-hued beverage inside was a striking presentation.
The menu was fascinating, with fish and lighter foods making decisions difficult. I needed some time to think, and I noticed a pomegranate mojito on the menu. I wasn't sure, since I didn't think the pomegranate juice would be fresh. (It usually isn't.) Growing up, I had a pomegranate tree in the backyard, so I'm a little finicky. I asked our server, and she looked slightly startled that I would think that they would use anything but fresh.
My cocktail came, and it had the blush of a tropical sunrise. The slight tang of the fresh pomegranate juice offset the drink's sweetness to create a perfect sweet-and-sour blend. I savored that mojito while I considered my final dinner decision. I spotted the chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce — my decision was made. It was an excellent choice, with moist chicken and a fresh, tangy sauce. Handsome Husband had a grilled rib-eye steak with mole sauce. The sauce was rich and complex, and our server volunteered that it took the chef more than eight hours to make it. The steak came cooked exactly as ordered. For dessert, we split the flan. It was sweet, tender — a great example of what flan ought to be. I don't think there was an egg white to be seen.
On our second visit, we were warmly welcomed back by our server. My husband tried another tequila and was just as pleased as last time. I ordered a signature rum-and-pomegranate cocktail that hit the spot on a warm spring day and reminded me of a Mexican beach village.
Our appetizer on this visit was seared tuna taquitos with sweet, mashed plantains. The mango salsa was the ideal complement. They have a small but pleasant wine list. We felt the Argentinian Malbec was the best wine to go with Handsome Husband's ribs and my skirt steak. He declared the ribs some of the best that he'd ever had, and the barbecue sauce was intriguing. For a guy who really loves his ribs, that was a heck of a statement. My skirt steak was rubbed with spices, cooked just right and served on slices of grilled, fresh pineapple and seasoned rice and flavorful black beans.
It is so enchanting to find this kind of Mexican cuisine here in Richmond. And the fresh ingredients, the attention to detail, the excellent service and the great music on the stereo make this a spot worth the trip to Short Pump.
Maya Mexican Grill & Tequila Lounge
4348 Pouncey Tract Road, Glen Allen 360-0942 or search Maya Mexican Grill & Tequila Lounge on Facebook
Hours: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $7 to $11; entrées $15 to 23