Things are looking slightly up for long-suffering diners clamoring for decent Mexican food. Colossal (and the not so colossal) burritos burst onto the scene last year and found salivating customers willing to throw money and lower standards. Recently, ambitions to elevate the cuisine and fill that still simmering void in Shanghai have manifested themselves in the form of Maya, Brad Turley’s reintroduction of Zoco’s former space and new introduction of a classier, upmarket Mexican restaurant.
Old habits die hard; when we first got hold of the menus we looked up and down for the absent burritos. The closest thing on the menu was the chimichanga, the burrito’s deep fried second cousin. The verdict: golden, beefy, bathed in sour cream, and unfortunately a few sizes too small for how good it was. Next up, the taco pack: fish, chicken, and beef each half-clothed in a crisped, soft tortilla. Our cohorts thought the chicken taco was exceedingly salty, but somehow everything in the combo was devoured up anyway.
Of course, we had to move beyond the normal taco stand fare, even though that’s what we’ve had the jones for ever since ’03. At its best, Mexican food is is a mash-up of memorable flavors – citrus tang, sharp chillies, fresh and tender seafood and meats. The scallop ceviche was the embodiment of this marinated balance, perfect after a day of running around in Shanghai’s nearly ending summer weather. Our first ever Shanghai sope, a small hill of refried beans and cheese sitting atop its cornmeal base, was a solid copy of those we enjoyed back in Cali.
Unfortunately, this is Shanghai, and we’re far away from the cheap avocados, chillies, and limes of the Gulf of California region that inspired Turley’s creations. As a result of the higher cost of getting these wonderful ingredients locally, Maya sits on the pricier end (mains range between 80-180 RMB) of the cost/portion spectrum, which sucks for us who’d eat there everyday if we could. Still, Maya is a winning combo of something different and well-made, and is thus worth the recommendation here.
Maya – 2/F, Shanghai Grand Plaza Club house, 568 Julu Lu near Shaanxi Nan Lu (巨鹿路568号四方新城俱乐部2楼近陕西南路), Tel: Phone: 6289-6889, Hours: 5pm-1:00am, closed on Sundays
Eric Hu is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news and gossip about Shanghai’s food scene to food at shanghaiist.com.