Chef and global restaurateur Richard Sandoval's innovative culinary style melds the precision of classically trained technique with the homestyle appeal of traditional Latin American flavors. Growing up in Mexico City, Sandoval first learned to cook alongside his grandmother as she prepared massive family feasts. He nurtured this passion at the Culinary Institute of America, which taught him the skills needed to forge contemporary French cuisine. However, in 1997, Sandoval decided to return to his roots and use those skills to prepare contemporary interpretations of the Mexican staples he remembered from childhood. Maya embraces this mélange of influences, and the menu "showcases some of the best Mexican food in the city," according to Fodor's. Although the chefs experiment from time to time, they mainly commit to faithful recreations of unmistakably classic dishes. The tableside guacamole can include inventive additions of smoky bacon or spicy crab, and the tequila-flambéed shrimp arrives with chipotle sauce as well as a black-bean purée. Dark, rich mole sauce adds flavorful complexity to a time-tested dish of roasted chicken, which the New York Times hailed as "the most impressive main course" in its 1997 restaurant review. The drink menu also embraces Mexican tradition, and it tempts diners with a selection of mezcal, sotol, and more than 125 tequilas. The bartenders even create their own flavored tequilas in-house by infusing the spirits with everything from jalapeño to roses and chamomile. Maya's terra-cotta-red and lemon-yellow walls add lively splashes of color amid the earthenware tiles and hardwood flooring. Crisp white tablecloths adorn a number of the stout wooden tables, although they don't distract from the collection of framed artwork that was custom-made in Mexico according to New York magazine and some guy who tried to touch them.
Mexican favorites meet Salvadoran specialties at Ranchito Victoria Restaurant and Bakery, which slings up both cuisines with equal aplomb for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A traditional Salvadoran breakfast, or desayuno tipico, starts the day off right with heaps of refried beans, cheese, and cream crowned with two eggs. Later in the day, savory entrees of cheese-stuffed peppers, salted beef, shrimp in garlic sauce, and pork in adobo sauce steal back the spotlight. Traditional sweets round out the meal and include plantain empanadas and tres leches cake, which contains three different types of milk—just like Gladys, the cow responsible for all the world's Neapolitan ice cream.
Upon walking in to Taqueria Tlaxcalli, patrons are greeted by a Carina, the traditional skeleton depicted in Day of the Dead decorations. The décor, which also includes sculptures and ceramic teapots, originate from Mexico, the native home of owner Mauricio Gomez and his wife, Yesenia. Their recipes and staff followed the same journey, traveling from Mexico to New York. Cooks serve specialty dishes such as tripe-and-tongue tacos with cactus and jalapenos, as well as sweet hibiscus juice, which patrons sip as they sit beneath a bright-yellow mural painted in the Aztec style.
Oaxaca Taqueria captures the essence of Mexico's street vendors with authentic Mexican food made fresh daily with local and environmentally sustainable ingredients. Their devotion to all-natural meats and crisp garden-grown veggies hasn't gone unnoticed. The New York Times, Time Out New York, and New York Magazine lavished praise upon the food at Oaxaca's four locations, causing the food to become as full of itself as the patrons who frequent the eatery. Known for their light tacos and enchiladas, Oaxaca's chefs stuff carne asada, stewed chicken, and frijoles onto or into corn tortillas for entrees. They grill their Mexican sandwiches, known as tortas, on talera bread, and they serve heaps of their three entrees with rice and beans when catering. Each location boasts a daily lunch special featuring one of their three mainstays, which guests can with one of their traditional beverages such as jarritos or horchata.
Taka Taka’s chefs' cross-continental fusion of Japanese and Mexican cuisines results in spicy creations, including sushi rolls dusted in chipotle flavorings alongside tacos stuffed with tempura meats or sesame sauces. These mixed plates arrive tableside via a conveyor belt, a style of dining popularized in Tokyo in the late 1950s, when many factory assembly robots left their positions to pursue becoming sushi chefs. As the conveyor belts parade the vibrant, artful dishes in front of guests, they grab their desired plate as it appears or make a special order if they don’t see what they seek. Staffers cleverly color-code the plates to indicate price, with little numbers corresponding to the menu, which details the ingredients hidden within each wrapped tortilla or seaweed leaf.
Dancing patrons regularly tap toes against the elegant environs of El Habanero Mexican Cocina, where chefs construct authentic Mexican dishes with a finesse that has earned a loyal following. Like Candy Land's reigning monarch, burritos, enchiladas, seafood, and steaks dress up in flavorful accessories, including jalapeño coleslaw, guajillo, and mole poblano. Behind a full bar, the chefs' cocktail-crafting brethren swirl fresh fruit juices with top-quality tequilas and vodkas to concoct margaritas, mojitos, and martinis.
A crimson booth spans the length of El Habanero Mexican Cocina's interior, cushioning diners amid exposed-brick walls and flat-screen TVs. Occasionally, a live DJ spins a spirited soundtrack to get diners dancing or crocheting atop sleek hardwood floor.