Ravenswood's El Maya and the plight of the midscale Mexican restaurant

Posted by Kate Schmidt on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 10:21 AM

On every corner, a mole
Putting a quasi-upscale Mexican restaurant half a block from Ravenswood's Mixteco Grill seems a bit like setting up your gourmet burger joint across the street from Kuma's Corner. But that's what relative newcomer El Maya has done. And if you think about it, there isn't a whole lot of uncolonized territory when it comes to midscale Mexican places on the north side. Just a bit northeast of Mixteco and El Maya, there's Cosina Grill. Not far to the south, in Lakeview, there's Frida's. Those two are just a subsection of a field that continues to expand, from old-timers like Old Town's Adobo Grill and Salpicon to 2013 Michelin star awardees Topolobampo—Rick Bayless's River North flagship—and the French-Mexican Mexique, in Noble Square. Six additional restaurants received Michelin's so-called Bib Gourmand, among them Bayless's Frontera Grill, northwest-side outlier Sol de Mexico, and Lincoln Square's humble little Los Nopales.

There's some volatility amid all this. The suburban Yucatecan restaurant Xni-Pec, also on the Bib Gourmand list, is closing at the end of the month. El Maya is located in what was formerly a spin-off of Logan Square's Chilapan; Frida's is a surviving spin-off of Andersonville's now-closed La Cucina de Frida. For years Frontera alum Geno Bahena popped up hither and thither all over town, leaving quite a few closed restaurants in his broad wake.

The trend continues, though. Wicker Park's Antique Taco, which opened just last summer, got its Michelin nod while still brand-new. Lakeview's Chilam Balam, another honoree, now has a sibling, Shaman, in West Town.

But we were at El Maya. The hostess was warm, the rooms brightly painted, the entrees solid—and I still kept thinking about a certain competitor's lamb with Oaxacan mole negro. It's rough out there.

El Maya, 1522 W. Montrose, 773-878-1882

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

No mention of La Ciudad? Uptown discrimination once again.

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Posted by L S on 02/22/2013 at 11:10 AM

No mention of La Ciudad? Uptown discrimination once again."

I don't think 'discrimination' means what you think it means.

But, then again, the omission of that legendary place is tragic, no? (See what I did there? Probably not, but I did, and I am my main audience.)

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Posted by Uh, yeah on 02/22/2013 at 11:16 AM

Nothing against Uptown and omission not intentional--thanks to both of you for clueing me in.

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Posted by Kate Schmidt on 02/22/2013 at 1:58 PM

This kind of stiff competition only makes the place around the corner that much better. Around my corner: Mayan Palace, 2700 N. Halsted. Unpretentious but warm. Fish tacos, always solid and satisfying with that lovely radish crunch. Margaritas are numbing, always a good fish entree available. Salsa chips and rice and refried beans. Nice neighborhood joint that makes you almost willing to pay your property taxes.

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Posted by liliachacon on 02/22/2013 at 10:43 PM

Adobo Grill has dropped the ball on some of their dishes like the chicken cazuela. It was the best thing on the menu but is much different now. Mixteco has been more miss than hit with many dishes as of late. We had a great meal at Shaman recently. Frontera wows but only if you order the right stuff. Big Star does tacos and queso fundido much better than Bayless's Frontera.

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Posted by drinks_at_avec on 02/26/2013 at 10:21 AM
Showing 1-5 of 5

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