Restaurant News & Reviews

Taqueria Maya owners open Mexican restaurant with a millennial twist in river district

Dos Tlacoyos — two thick masa tortillas made with organic blue corn, stuffed with black beans and topped with meat, lettuce, pickled onion, cotija cheese and avocado — go for $7.95 on Maya Restaurant’s dinner menu.
Dos Tlacoyos — two thick masa tortillas made with organic blue corn, stuffed with black beans and topped with meat, lettuce, pickled onion, cotija cheese and avocado — go for $7.95 on Maya Restaurant’s dinner menu.

Taqueria Maya’s expansion has been slow and subtle, but the owners’ new restaurant makes a big statement.

Maya Restaurant opened Tuesday at 455 Bercut Dr., the former home of Memphis Bar-B-Q Company and Sekou’s BBQ north of downtown Sacramento. The Maya family signed a 25-year lease for the building, Miguel Danny Maya said, with the intent of being around for the long haul.

The 8,500-square-foot restaurant marks the next chapter in the Maya family’s culinary history, which began 35 years ago when Miguel’s grandmother, Guadalupe, spent her days making 500 tortillas from scratch. Neighbors in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato flocked to a small adobe shed to buy packs of 10 for 10 pesos, Miguel said.

“If they never would have built that little shed, they would have died of hunger and we wouldn’t be here,” Miguel said.

The Mayas eventually moved to the Sacramento area and opened a food truck in 1998, followed by a taqueria at 2700 Broadway in 2011. But Miguel, 27, split from the family business to become a teacher in Spain and planned to find a job in a Sacramento school when he returned in 2016.

His father, Miguel Angel, convinced him otherwise with the challenge of being his own boss. Now the younger Miguel is the face of Maya’s brand, with more than 5,000 Instagram followers and a fledgling YouTube channel on Mexican cooking.

It’s not hard to see a millennial’s influence on Maya Restaurant. Mixologists at the central bar will soon start mixing palomas with kombucha or topping them with a mango freeze from Gunther’s Ice Cream, and Miguel plans to capitalize on mezcal’s current popularity by organizing tastings of the smoky liquor.

There’s a farm-to-fork focus, including horchata made with organic rice grown in Lincoln, and vegan options soon to join a menu that’s more vegetarian than the taqueria. Bright murals of Frida Kahlo and Hun Hunahpu, the Mayan god of corn, cover walls across from exposed wood beams and metal stools.

Even “traditional” Mexican dishes that dominate Taqueria Maya’s menu often take on some level of fusion between different regions at the restaurant. Blue corn tortillas commonly found in Oaxaca come alongside birria, a Jalisco stew with goat or beef.

“I feel like our generation — millennials — they want something new, something trendy, something that you can relate to with your parents and then kind of bring it in with the new school,” he said.

Maya Restaurant had difficulties getting off the ground, including having to jettison a pair of $30,000 smokers when the ventilation system didn’t meet city code, Miguel said. The restaurant previously opened for a week, then shut down when the air conditioning system broke down.

But it’s a long-term project, one that may become more attractive if Sacramento gets an MLS soccer team and the surrounding railyards and river districts develop further. For now, Miguel is focused on bringing a local coffee company — think Temple or Pachamama — in to fill the entry space where the smokers used to be.

“In the next five years, this area’s going to boom,” Miguel said. “I’m planning for the future. We’re here for 25 years.”

The Bee’s Benjy Egel is launching a new effort to cover Sacramento’s dining and beer scene. Please send tips and story ideas by email at begel@sacbee.com, on Twitter @BenjyEgel or by phone at (916) 321-1052.

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