Move over Fresh-Mex, full Mexican restaurants are here to stay. While Taipei has had a bit of a good start developing a taste for Mexican cuisine, much of the progress has been in the form of Chipotle or Cafe Rio style fresh-Mex with only the basic taco/burrito combo. But that isn’t the case with Mayan.
Started by the innovative California-born chef Erik Siddons in 2011, Mayan has branched out to two locations: Mayan Grill on Zhongshan N. Rd. (中山北路) and the Mayan on Xinyi Rd. (信義路). Erik may not be Mexican, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of greatest, if not the best, Mexican Chefs in Taiwan. A self-taught Mexicano starting at the age of 7, Erik has always been fascinated by the many forms of Mexican food, constantly experimenting and improving his craft since he was old enough to cook.
His skill comes not only from practice, but also from the many actual Mexican chefs he learned from on his frequent trips to Mexico with his dad.
“My dad told me as a kid I could just walk into the kitchens and ask the chefs how to make the food and no one would complain.” says Erik.
And that’s exactly what he did. Getting advice from others, mixing and matching to draw out different flavors and creating his own style of Mexican cooking, Erik has made some of the best tasting Mexican food this side of the world, as well as making (and selling) his own Habanero hot sauces.
If you find yourself looking for some of the more comprehensive Mexican foods, then you have come to the right place. Mayan isn’t just another burrito-wrap/”Mexican Salad” bar with fast, albeit delicious, food on the go. Here not only will will find some of the other classics like enchiladas, chile verde, and taquitos, but also some of the more exotic dishes like the specialty flautas, arroz con pollo (Chicken and Rice), smothered burritos, and empanadas. On top of that, you will find proper dishes such as the pineapple pork, spicy volcano shrimp tacos, and prime steak.
Also, if you aren’t feeling the whole Mexican thing, you can also choose to go with one of the equally well-thought out pastas or risottos.
We started off our meal with the tortilla chips and homemade salsa (not included) which was is admittedly a pretty boring choice, but also pretty freaking tasty. There are a couple different kinds of salsa to try, depending on your preferred level of spiciness.
I decided to go with the famous Mayan Flautas, getting the meal which also came with a cheesy tomato soup and real Caesar salad: homemade croutons and Caesar dressing, anchovy flavor and all.
For those who haven’t tried them before, the flautas at Mayan are basically an oversized version of a taquitos, with the addition of all of the dressings. The biggest difference is that using a flour tortilla rather than a corn one, the flautas are stuffed with seasoned chicken before being deep fried, creating a light crispy texture on the outside, with the juicy, chewy chicken on the inside.
Unfortunately, on the day we went the Spicy Volcano Shrimp Tacos were sold out, but we also had a chance to try the pineapple pork. Served with Spanish Rice, potato wedges, veggies, and the topper: fresh grilled pineapple chunks, the pork steak is a well-marinated juicy slab of mouth-watering tender meat.
In addition to the awesome meals the Mayan provides, Erik also makes his own line of habanero hot sauces for sale, which come in three levels of hot: Devils Water, Devils Tears and Devils Blood. The sauces have amazing flavor pouring out of them as everything is freshly made, and you will be able to taste the difference from the store-bought variety, if you don’t burn the taste-buds off your tongue first.
Because everything at Mayan is made from scratch with the best ingredients, prices are going to run you a little more. You will end up spending about NT$400 per person on a basic meal, while some of the of the more unique dinners could run you as much as NT$800 if you get appetizers and drinks.
We hit up the Mayan on Xinyi Rd., which is a bit more of a cafe style with a laid-back atmosphere and an open environment. The Zhonshan Mayan Grill on the other hand is more upscale, having an incredible design and more seating available. The seating at Mayan on Xinyi is comfortable and there is a lot of space at the booths, although it can be a bit of a squeeze during rush hour.
The long bar in along the main room of the restaurant sets the mood for a more relaxing spot to either get an awesome bite to eat, or just chill with a good drink after a day of work. And you will find good drinks for sure as the Mayan not only has a full bar, but also imports some of the best beers and tequilas that you love from around the world.
Erik is an excellent host with a lot of good stories to tell, and if you have the fortune of bumping into him, he will give you recommendations on the menu and tell you all about how the great-tasting food is made.
Wrap It Up Burrito Style
If you want a full range of delicious Mexican food to choose from, and not just an assembly line burrito, Mayan is one of the few places in Taipei that can give it to you. Sure, you are going to pay a little more for an original style, a full range of Mexican cuisine made from scratch and the best ingredients available, but it will be worth it. Furthermore, you have two awesome locations to choose from, one classy for when you are trying to impress, and one chill for when you are just hanging out. Either way, if you are missing Mexican in Taipei, check out the Mayan.