Maya – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Maya for the Finest in MesoAmerican Fusion Cuisine From Chef-Genius Dennis Apodaca

My precocious niece doesn’t miss a beat. Ever attentive to adult conversation, she often stumps my brother and me with her surprisingly deep and thought-provoking questions. Case in point, when she overheard me telling my brother Mario about the Mesoamerican-inspired cuisine at Maya, she asked what I have against Americans. Perplexed by her assertion, I gently asked what she was talking about. “First you said Americans are ugly (obviously remembering a discussion Mario and I once had about the “ugly American syndrome”) and now you’re calling them messy, too.” From the mouth of babes…

Her comment got me thinking about the last time we saw a great chef who wasn’t a bit on the “messy” side. No, not like the Charlie Brown character Pig Pen, but with a light dusting of flour or a splash of sauce bespattered on their white coats or aprons. Hands-on chefs–those who not only conceptualize their menus, they prepare everything themselves—don’t always embody the axiom that cleanliness is next to godliness. These do-it-all chefs are veritable whirling dervishes in the kitchen—chopping, shredding, grating, slicing, dicing, mincing, broiling, boiling, simmering, frying, sautéing, plating… It’s inevitable that a smattering of sauce or a sprinkling of crumbs will land on those immaculate whites.

Chef Dennis Apodaca and Partner Cecilia Schmider

Practicing chefs wear those little stains like edible badges of honor, emblematic of the noble profession. When Chef Dennis Apodaca stepped out from the kitchen at Maya, it made us happy to see a small chile stain on the sleeves of his jacket. It meant he was in the kitchen preparing meals for his guests. Cooking, as savvy Duke City diners know, is something Dennis does better than just about anybody else in New Mexico. Even though having been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program has made him more of a public persona, it’s in the kitchen where he’s most comfortable. It’s where he plies his craft with incomparable skill and dedication.

My friend Carlos once described Dennis as “a five-star chef in a one-star kitchen.” That’s an apt description for how Dennis has been able to coax incredible flavors at Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s), a timeworn, ramshackle eatery with no freezer, oven or even burners. Not surprisingly, “five-star chef” was also the term used by Cecilia Schmider in describing her partner in Maya, the downtown venture that promises to blow the lid off the Duke City dining scene. If you loved Dennis’s culinary skills at Eli’s Place, you’ll be blown away by what he’s doing in the more expansive digs at Maya.

Salsa and Chips with a Side of Guacamole

Cecilia explained that the name Maya was inspired by the bright, vibrant cuisine prepared by the dynastic Mesoamerican civilization and their descendants. Bright, vibrant and colorful are apropos terms for Maya, but so are inviting and homey. While Dennis conceptualized the menu—a fusion of New Mexican, Mexican and neo Latin cuisine–Cecilia took the reins in designing the 1,500 square-foot milieu. The restaurant environs are a perfect home for Dennis’s inspired cuisine. Surprisingly, this is Cecilia’s inaugural foray into the restaurant world, having previously worked in retail jewelry and before that as a speech pathologist.

Maya is situated on the first floor of the commodious Imperial Building on Second and Silver. You might recognize the mixed-use Imperial Building as the home of the Silver Street Market, Downtown Albuquerque’s only grocery store. Immediately next door and in partnership with Maya is The Monk’s Corner which features libations brewed at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu. A reciprocal arrangement between The Monk’s Corner and Maya means guests of either may partake of both—Maya’s diners can enjoy their cuisine with libations from The Monk’s Corner and vice-versa.

Burrito Ahogado

Maya’s menu is hung on framed slate boards on the wall behind the counter where you place your order. It’s an uncomplicated menu devoid of the overly descriptive ingredient lists which seem to characterize contemporary menus. Weekly specials for each day of the week are listed first then appetizers. On the second slate board you’ll find ensaladas, a section called “Nuevo Mexico” which showcases culinary fare from the Land of Enchantment (prepared in the inimitable Dennis Apodaca manner, of course) and finally sides such as papas, fries and slaw. Tortas with salsa headlines the third slate board along with tacos. Three smaller slate boards are dedicated to desserts, “to warm you up,” and specials. It’s not a huge menu, but you’ll have a hard time deciding just which of the beguiling dishes to order.

2 January 2017: Long-timers among us fondly remember Dennis’s stint as chef at the long defunct Fajitaville where he got us addicted to chips and salsa so unlike those offered by New Mexican restaurants. He’s still at it. Chips and salsa are always a good bet at one of his restaurants, but you’ll want to make it a threesome with guacamole. One of the salsas is akin to a pico de gallo with fresh, chopped tomatoes, red onions and jalapeno. The other is a smoky fire-roasted salsa with a terrific flavor. Neither is especially piquant, but both are addictive. The guacamole is thick, creamy and redolent with the freshness of avocados in-season.

Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles

2 January 2017: As we mulled what entrees to order (knowing they would all be fabulous), we asked Dennis for advice. He recommended either of the specials. Both sounded so good we couldn’t select just one. First to hit our table was a Burrito Ahogado which translates to smothered or drowned burrito. It’s unlike any burrito we’ve had at any of Dennis’s other restaurants. Though vegetarian, it’s a burrito carnivores will love, too. The burrito is engorged with collard greens and corn swimming in a spicy tomato broth with a garnish of pickled carrots and red onions and a sprinkling of cobija cheese. My Kim, who’s never been a fan of collard greens, absolutely loved these. The spicy tomato broth will tantalize your taste buds with a pleasant piquancy and nice acidity. This is one special which should be on the daily menu.

2 January 2017: Of course that could be said about the other daily special, Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles. When Dennis makes mole, you’re well advised to order it. His mole has a profound earthiness and a discernible depth of complex flavors working together very harmoniously. The use of guajillo bespeaks of the authenticity he pursues in his cooking. Guajillo, the dried form of the mirasol chile, is a mild, slightly sweet chile with notes of berries and tea. It’s an excellent basis for mole with which he covers tortilla chips. As you enjoy the mole, you’ll find it’s been garnished with finely chopped pineapple, cobija cheese, shaved radishes and more, all of which combine to give you different flavor profiles in every bite. This mole dish is served with papitas and the best refried black beans we’ve had. This is a mole worthy of Oaxaca.

Duck Cubano

2 January 2017: While there isn’t a protein Dennis can’t make interpret into its self-actualized best, one of his favorites has long been duck. Duck enchiladas, you might recall, is one of the dishes with which he wowed Food Network glitterati Guy Fierri. When my Kim saw Duck Cubano on the Tortas menu, she couldn’t wait to see what delicious liberties Dennis would take with the traditional Cuban sandwich. True to form, the pressed sandwich was stuffed with roast beef, ham and cheese but it also had bacon and instead of yellow mustard, it was constructed with pickled mustard seeds and spicy mayo. To say it’s one of the tastiest Cubanos we’ve ever had is an understatement. There’s deliciousness in every morsel. The duck is plentiful, rich and delicious with nary a hint of sinew or excess fat. The Cubano is served with a side of housemade chips and a tangy tomatillo-avocado dressing.

5 January 2017: A former Intel colleague from Las Cruces used to chide me about being a “Norteño,” a term she used to label Hispanics who grew up in Albuquerque or north thereof. She insisted that other than me (and she thought me weird), she’d never met a Norteño who liked mole, perhaps the most Mexican of all dishes. While it’s true that very few Norteños grew up eating mole, Mexico’s legendary multi-ingredient sauce with its nuanced complexity and deep flavor profile, I was sure her contention was ill-founded and absolutely fallacious. Unfortunately aside from myself, I couldn’t think of a single born-and-bred Norteño who enjoyed mole. To this day, only a handful of my Norteño friends, all of whom have red and green chile running in their veins, admit to enjoying mole.

Kale & Collard Greens Enchiladas

While not a Norteño by ethnicity, my friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott grew up in the Duke City where he was weaned on red and green chile, attended Albuquerque High and counts several Norteños among his many friends. Although I knew he didn’t like mole, I thought surely he’d like Dennis’s mole. Alas, he’s more Norteño than I’d thought (an maybe I’m just a little bit weird). To his credit, he did sample a forkful of the special of the day, kale and collard greens with guajillo chile mole, and didn’t spit it outt or disparage my taste buds (which are besotted with the guajillo chile mole which manages to make even kale (never did jump on that kale bandwagon) palatable).

5 January 2017: Ryan did like the Caramelized Onion and Poblano Raja Queso, another special of the day. This is a wonderful departure from the de rigueur con queso served in many New Mexican restaurants. It has a perfect degree of meltedness. It scoops easily and there are no foot-long cheese strings to get passed before you can eat it. The chips are thick, crispy and have a just-right amount of salt. This would make an excellent party dip.

Fried Snapper and Fried Broccoli on Sweet Corn Rice with Mole

7 September 2017: The genius of Dennis Apodaca is such that he can coax deliciousness out of ingredient combinations perhaps no one else would consider. Inventiveness has always been one of the many traits he’s always exemplified. So, when you see something on the Maya menu that doesn’t immediately whet your appetite, try it anyway. You might happen upon a surprisingly wonderful hodgepodge of ingredients that work very well together. Such was the case when my friend Bill Resnik and I enjoyed yet another Apodaca original: fried snapper and fried broccoli on sweet corn rice with mole lightly sprinkled with cotija cheese. Though my preference would be for enough of Dennis’s mole in which to to swim, he served just enough of the enchanting elixir to allow the other ingredients to display their own deliciousness. The fried snapper and fried broccoli are coated in a light batter and are perfectly prepared, the broccoli a crisp al dente. The sweet corn rice would be a star on its own.

7 September 2017: When two fellow gastronomes whose opinions on food I trus, st explicitly rave about Maya’s Wagyu beef green chili (SIC) cheeseburger, the question isn’t “when are you going to try it?,” but “why haven’t you tried it already?” First, the sage epicure Sarita listed it as one of the best dishes she enjoyed in 2016. Then Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, ranked it sixth best among New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburgers. In all honesty, wagyu beef burgers have never done much for me, but that’s probably because it takes a chef of Dennis’s caliber to coax optimum deliciousness out of the mouth-coating unctuousness and nearly obscene richness of this beef. Prepared to your exacting degree of doneness and served virtually naked save for white Cheddar and green chile, this is a magnificent burger which emphasizes all the delicious qualities of beef paired with a flavorful (but not piquant) chile. There’s no mustard, tomatoes, onions or other miscellany to impede your enjoyment. If you love beef, you’ll love this burger.

Wagyu Beef Green Chili (SIC) Cheeseburger

2 January 2017: There are only four desserts on the menu, all of which would tempt Job. My Kim, who’s got the sweet tooth in the family (which stands to reason considering she’s so much sweeter than me) wanted the cinnamon doughnuts which are served with a chocolate ganache and a crushed cherry compote. Because the ganache wasn’t ready, we were given cajeta (sweetened caramelized goat’s milk caramel) instead. What a great stroke of fortune! The cajeta proved magnificent, absolutely delicious with the slight sour component found in goat’s milk complementing the sweetness of the caramel. The cherry compote provided a tangy component which cut the sweetness of the doughnuts. In all, this is an excellent dessert.

5 January 2017: Maya is open seven days a week. From Monday through Saturday doors open at 11AM and close at 10PM. Featured fare on Sundays (10AM – 2PM) is brunch, long a staple of Eli’s Place…and if you’ve frequented Dennis’s flagship restaurant, your mouth is probably salivating at the prospect of pancakes. No one in New Mexico makes pancakes quite as good as Dennis’s masterpiece orbs. Whether it’s blue corn, lemon-ricotta or pumpkin, he’s a true griddle master. It surprised me to hear that in the three months Maya has been open, only a couple orders of pancakes have sold. Dennis will soon be introducing Dutch Boy-style pancakes (though they’ll have a more apropos name). The sample he gave us was terrific with a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar and a tangy cherry compote on top.

Cinnamon Doughnut with Cherry and Cajeta

Our inaugural visit transpired on a national holiday when only one other couple was at the restaurant at the time. As they walked out, Gil and Julia Clarke introduced themselves, indicating they are long-time readers of Gil’s Thrilling… They were as nice as could be. Gil kidded that one of the drawbacks of me getting to be well known is having to eat cold food. Meeting readers has always been a huge—and humbling—privilege for me. It is a thrill to hear from you—whether it be in public at a restaurant or through your comments on this blog.

The next time you visit Maya, check Dennis’s whites for the chef’s badge of honor and relish the opportunity to enjoy the magic and creativity of one of New Mexico’s very best hands-on chefs. Maya is a find!

205 Silver, S.W., Unit F
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2017
1st VISIT: 2 January 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Guajillo-Pecan Mole Chilaquiles, Cinnamon Doughnuts, Chips and Salsa, Guacamole, Duck Cubano Torta, Burrito Ahogado, Caramelized Onion and Poblano Raja Queso, Kale & Collard Greens Enchiladas, Wagyu Green Chili Cheeseburger

Maya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 thoughts on “Maya – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

    1. Thank you, Sarita

      The closing of any restaurant, much less one created by the great Chef Dennis Apodaca, is a sad event. That reminds me, readers who frequented Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives alum Sophia’s Place should pay a visit (or ten) to its new location off Route 66. Dennis’s new place may not have the charm of its dilapidated predecessor, but it offers the same great, great food.

  1. Was there a week ago or so. Was told Dennis is, um, no longer with the company. Food was still pretty good. Anyone know what he’s doing now?

    1. Dennis is now at the helm of Remixx, Sophia’s Place reborn at 918 Central Avenue (10th Street). The restaurant is called Remixx because it occupies the spot in which the very short-lived Mixx once operated. Sources tell me the menu is closer to what we all enjoyed at Sophia’s Place than the cuisine at Maya.

  2. Yes, the GCCB is #6 on my Hall of Fame GCCB List. ( ). This is a superb Competition-Styla GCCB. The nondescript bun is beautifully marked from the grill. Order is with the delicious Cole Slaw on the side.

    BTW, I have never been inside the Maya doors. There is a doorway cut through to Monk’s Corner Taproom. Best Belgian-style ales in the state. Wash your GCCB down with a fabulous Treble Reserve, which is now my favorite quaff in New Mexico. I am here almost every Wednesday for lunch with Bob Chase. Join us.

    1. With all due respect Senor Perspicacious and regarding your Exclusive (and respected) Competition-Style List of 10 GCCBs:
      Given you never Commented herein and, e.g. thus did not take exception to my comment I’m now taking out of context as they say…LOL: “This, indeed, is a Burger! You can truely taste that burgery flavor and “feel”…the texture. How people can believe they are getting the same thing by just ordering an e.g. “double Whopper” is a mystery. A word about the bun….kudos as it lasted throughout the eating and while making for a “bigger” sandwich, it was not so big as to challenge the seal of my Fixodent which was offputting at the HC. ”
      I can only presume you have not ventured into Toro Burger, after 5. While it has been several months for me and while I had my Toro Burger “with the fixins”, here’s hoping you might find a challenge to your list even tho you may have to schlep Up the hill from Corrales to experience it. LOL
      Elsewise, I have no qualms with your list. Lo, maybe you might find you need a List of 11 as the new and “in” thing?
      —Caveat Anyone: I’m thinking of applying to patent or Trademark: “Burgery”

  3. Nice place, well lit with bright art and quite a change from (delightfully) rundown Eli’s Place. Had some trouble communicating with the folks who took the order due to music racket from the bar that semi-shares the space.

    Was looking forward to the Duck Cubano as I was born in Miami and love the Cuban sandwiches served there.

    The guacamole and chips were OK, but pricey and the chips seemed like they’d suffered under a heat lamp. Not like the crisp and warm ones I recall from Eli’s. Guac was kinda stringy and pasty.

    The Duck Cubano also disappointed. Meat was on the dry side and I missed the slap and tickle of the Miami Cubans’ mustard and pickles. Not a fan of the pickled element they used here — just tasted off. Good grilled bread. The homemade potato chips were the lone side element and they were just there. (No green dressing, as shown in your photo.) It was all a bit … stern.

    My son liked his duck enchiladas, a dish I enjoyed at Eli’s. We finished with a rice pudding that was the best dish of the night, warm and pleasantly gooey with golden raisins.

    Service was excellent — the young man who took our order kept the drinks filled and recommended the rice pudding. Another guy came by to see how we were liking the food. Our fellow diners seemed settled into the space and having a nice time.

    We drove down there just to go to Maya, which we won’t do again. But before a concert or after a movie, sounds good.

  4. A pleasant setting adorned with colorful art work, albeit I have a compulsion to comment about their placement on the walls…LOL Maybe its quirk of mine being a “tall” Gavacho, but I think they are placed a tad too high. I first encountered that “phenomenon” upon entering the adobe abode of my late wife’s parents down in the South Valley. Curious, I developed two theories: I figured it might be because they lived only about a quarter mile from the Rio Grande and it might offer some safety for the pics of JFK and e.g. the Last Supper in case of flooding. Elsewise, maybe it was to show respect for/to the taller Anglos who, albeit rare, might drop by while running for election per being at an estimated eye level!
    Beyond that and on their Facebook page, it appears the overhead lighting might be glaring. While it wasn’t dark enough yet when I dined, I’m thinking glaring would not be the case per their decorative shades.
    – For now, the menu is on chalkboards and the staff at the walk-up/order counter is/are most helpful in explaining the nuances of various dishes that might not be so commonplace in ABQ, i.e. a reason why one might be coming here! As it had been since the mid ’90s in Vegas that I had some homemade mole by a Chica whose naturalization ceremony I’d just attended, I chose the Machaca with mole to “retaste” my memory, albeit I had an ‘approach-avoidance conflict’ sorta speak. My remembrance was a chocolaty/sweet like sauce that one side of me might be drawn to, but with my palate not accepting as a topping of e.g. meat. (I know…it’s weird…as e.g. American-Chinese dishes can often have a sweet coating, e.g. Sweet n Sour Pork…LOL
    Alas, while the dish has a nice presentation given the contrasting color of the “tiny twigs” of radish atop the machaca atop smooth smashed potatoes, I found the meat a tad dried (which I noted to the waitstaff who checked for satisfaction) despite the mole drizzled on half of it with extra pooled on the side. The mole: interesting flavor with a touch of tang as contrasted with my previous memory. Aha….mole is reportedly a meaning of being a “mix” and, as such, is a mix of “stuff” along a continuum of flavor….
    – A kind of synergy: For those needing a cerveza, there is an opening in the wall for a self serving of the brews of The Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu. As the weather warms, I’m thinking it would be fun to check out another of Dennis’ yummy looking creations by enjoying the “open wall” the Monastery has, albeit its a “street scene”.

  5. You’re not weird. A little Abbie Normal maybe, but not weird. I’ve met some of your compas from Vadito and Chamisal and you’re nothing like them except that you all hate cumin.

  6. Oh Sensei, as I read your review, both Senorena and I had our jaws drop at the description of 1st the Burrito Ahogado and then 2nd those Cinnamon Doughnuts, wow, it got me drooling…As for my friend Ryan, I truly appreciate the honesty you brought to the review regarding the chicken wings, I think sometimes restaurants and chefs need to hear what they can improve on and hopefully can share back in this blog of their changes and improvements. Happy New Years to the FOG and to Gil & Kim…. Sr Plata

  7. Well, it was bound to happen, I guess. I actually disagree with Gil a little bit with this one. 955 agreements out of 956 total reviews is not bad at all!
    I had lunch with my favorite food blogger today. We had shared chicken wings, a queso dip and chips, Gil ordered the mole enchiladas, and I had the duck cubano. The queso and cubano were really, really, good. Very tasty. Gil loved his enchiladas. I took one bite…and let Gil keep loving them. I less than loved them.
    Did you see chicken wings spoken about in the review? Well, there is a reason for that. C minus wings, 5 out of 10, completely average. The dipping sauce was zingy, though.
    The best thing I ate was an off the menu brunch/dessert item that was a cross between a pancake and a muffin with a cherry compote sauce.
    Long story short, service was great, Dennis was very nice, location is cool, lunch was OKish, don’t think I’ll be making a return visit.
    And…any meal with Gil Garduno is a good one!

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