Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch
Richard Sandoval's Global Mexican Empire
March 2, 2017 -- I'm always on the lookout for something different in the realm of Mexican cuisine. Why? Like any New Yorker of a certain age, I was brought up on a never-varying diet of the "basics:" enchiladas, hard tacos, refried beans and guacamole. Nothing wrong with these "traditional" dishes, but it can get tiresome. Besides, once you know there's better Mexican food out there, you crave it.

Happily, my dining scouts tell me, there is an upscale Mexican eatery, Maya, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It has earned a loyal following because of the inventive Mexican dishes from owner and chef Richard Sandoval, the Mexico City-born entrepreneur who now operates more than three dozen restaurants worldwide.

My intelligence about the New York branch of Maya comes from a trusted husband and wife, connoisseurs who dine out regularly. They've frequented Maya, their go-to Mexican hangout, since 2003. Despite a plethora of other options, their devotion to Sandoval and Maya has never wavered. Add my teenage daughter, Ariel, to the list of enamored habitués. She and my wife have decided to hold her upcoming high school graduation party there.

My frontline culinary scouts claim they've never had a bad meal, not even a bad dish, at Maya. Everything is "really good," they say. "You leave wishing you had room to taste everything," the female half of the dining duo adds.

Despite a very deep menu, our sophisticated East Side gourmets often make a dinner out of a trio or quartet of starters and a bowl of guacamole. Besides the traditional preparation, you can opt for three guacamole variations: bacon, tuna tartare and a diners' favorite, spicy crab. Prices range from $14-$17. Favored starters include Vuelve al Vida, the well-known Veracruz-style seafood salad. That $15 dish is a combination of shrimp, octopus, mahi-mahi, bay scallop, onion, avocado and cilantro. Shrimp Al Pastor Huarache is $16. Rock shrimp quesadilla ($15) and flavored Huarache Flatbreads ($11-$13) also get a thumbs up. Starters can satisfy at least two and, depending on your appetite and ordering pattern, maybe as many as four people.

There are two soups ($9), including the Tortilla Soup that has me salivating in anticipation. I might also be tempted to try either the Arugula or Nopales Salads ($12).

Entrees include the chefs' specials ($24-$32) with our scouts touting the "tasty," Mexican-spiced Salmon Adobado ($25) as an ongoing favorite. Besides pork and beef items, there are a number of seafood dishes including striped bass and shrimp.

I personally have been exposed to only one dish, the Slow Roasted Pork Carnitas ($24). One of Maya's most popular entrées, it consists of pork tenderloin and shoulder, avocado puree, a red onion-mandarin salsa and Mexican ricotta cheese. The dish was hearty and perfectly spiced.

There are seven tacos ($13-$16) and an order consists of three nicely sized tacos served with freshly made soft flour tortillas. There are also three enchilada options ($20-$24). None could be said to fall into the strictly traditional category. Our scouts recommend the smoked brisket taco, a "beef version of slow-roasted pork" that comes with creamy chile slaw, avocado and pickled onion. The steak and tofu tacos also score. So does the $24 Huitlacoche & Wild Mushroom enchilada with roasted garlic, Mexican ricotta cheese, poblano chile sauce and chayote salad.

Speaking of tacos, my family is intractable. Denise, my flexitarian wife, swears by tofu tacos. My daughter is an unwavering fan of the chicken variety.

Sides ($6) include caramelized plantains, poblano chile potato gratin and Mexico City-style corn on the cob. The blackened corn is a "yummy" adult and kid fave.

Among the desserts ($9) are Mexican-style doughnuts and a chocolate tart made with Abuelita, a popular brand of Mexican chocolate usually used in beverages. There are also four dessert cocktails at $12 each.

Besides the obvious beverages--Mexican beer, a variety of Margaritas and wine--there's a Tequileria featuring more than 200 agave-based spirits. Prices start at $10. Tasting flights are $18 to $100. You can even store your bottle in a personal Tequila locker.

Maya may work best for dinner--reservations are suggested--but there are other options. There's a $21, three-course lunch option as well as a full lunch menu. The bar and lounge area offers a variety of Mexican tapas for $5 each and guacamole. There's also an all-you-can-eat "bottomless" brunch for $45 on Saturday and Sunday.

New York not on your itinerary? You can sample Sandoval's way with Mexican food at his multiple Mexican and Pan Latin eateries in 11 other states as well as Qatar, Dubai, Tokyo and Serbia. He even has restaurants in Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and Punta Mita.

This column is Copyright © 2017 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Martin B. Deutsch. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.