You know you're in the right spot on a Sunday night if you find yourself sitting next to the Giavos family of Kitchen 64, the Continental and others and Bob Talcott of Can Can Brasserie. That's how we found ourselves at Maya Mexican Grill and Tequila Lounge, a cute, airy restaurant tucked behind the movie theater in Short Pump. Opened in November by New York transplant Maria Oseguera and her husband, Michael, Maya attempts to bring a more refined take on Mexican cuisine to Richmond — and it's succeeding.
Our first meal begins with a nice portion of Maya's nachos. Topped with a large dollop of house-made guacamole, the beautifully plated dish bursts with flavor. A generous smattering of cheese covers sweet chorizo, pineapple and mango salsa, black bean salsa, and smoky pulled pork. While each component complements the others, a pop of spice would round out the dish.
Tough decisions follow while we walk through a menu of creative tamales, savory empanadas, burritos and tacos. Knowing how time-consuming the process of making tamales can be, we go for the chipotle-rubbed skirt-steak tamale ($9.95) and dried-pepper-spiced chicken tacos ($11.95). A chatty and knowledgeable server encourages us to save room for the tres leches cake made that day.
Pretty presentations continue, with dishes arrive piping hot after an appropriate amount of time. Poblanos pepper the sweet tamale maize with a just-below-creamy texture. Delicate sliced steak, cooked the requested medium rare, adds smoke, and crema with more poblanos makes a satisfying base for the sweet corn. Two tiny beef empanadas come as side dishes: We're told they're a family recipe. Packed with ground beef, these little pouches are not to be missed.
The tacos are equally detailed. Three corn tortillas are packed till bursting with tender, spiced chicken. Large spoonfuls of guacamole join shredded cheese and charred corn — so many bright flavors, such fat vessels. The price ($11.95) seems extreme for three tacos compared with other Richmond establishments, until the large, fresh dish is delivered to the table and is devoured.
During another visit that week, the menu has been tweaked and new items added. A packed alambre, a skewer of vegetables and filet mignon, catches our eye. It contains so much rice, charred vegetables and grilled pineapple that it's necessary to share, especially with extra tomatillo salsa and mole sauce. They are drinkable and you'll want your own for extra dipping.
The moist yet fluffy tres leches cake ($5) is huge enough to share with three friends. Its sweet, almost marshmallow-textured icing has a bit of citrusy zest while the cake is redolent with vanilla and sugar.
House-made margaritas, a well-curated tequila list, cocktails and occasional live music assist in making the bar a hot spot for the after-work crew. Sunday brunch has specials such as chorizo sweet potato hash Benedict and house-made sauces.
In an area steadily adding more Tex-Mex, Mexican and South American options, it can be a struggle to stand out, but Maya is doing all the right things to make a name for itself. S
Maya Mexican Grill and Tequila Lounge
4348 Pouncey Tract Road
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.