This review of a Yucatan restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage
Hotel breakfasts can be a repetitive, dispiriting experience. Over the course of a few weeks in Mexico, I stayed at mostly mid-range hotels. Most of them seemed to enjoy inflicting omelettes or fried eggs with toast on their guests for breakfast. While there’s nothing wrong with either omelettes or fried eggs, bland oeuf fatigue led me to seek out other options during my stay in Merida, the charming and varied if drenchingly humid capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state.
La Chaya Maya, as it name indicates, aims to serve traditional Maya/Yucateco cuisine. The branch of La Chaya Maya in the centre of the city is small, but the staff, many of whom also speak English, were uniformly polite and efficient. In a shtick aimed at the tourist trade, a few were garbed in allegedly traditional Mayan dress with one lady making tortillas by hand in the middle of the dining area. It does open early and close late though – conveniences that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Breakfasts at La Chaya Maya
Pork tacos for breakfast might seem odd, but a serious meat craving led me to order them. The tortillas were thick, fluffy and nutty, but the overly soft and only mildly moreish strands of pork were underwhelming. The less said about the weak and watery coffee, the better.
On a second breakfast, I opted for the huevos motulenos. A crispy tortilla was topped with a runny fried egg as well as a nutty puree of black beans and sweet, starchy plantains. The melange of melted cheese, diced ham, peas and tomato sauce was indistinct and unremarkable though. At least there were fresh tortillas on the side to mop it all up.
The horchata was a tad watery but refreshing with a milky, lightly sweetened soy drink-esque quality to it. A chilled drink made from chaya, a local leafy green plant and folk remedy meant to cure all ills, was refreshing and mildly sweet but otherwise unremarkable.
Dinner at La Chaya Maya
Breakfast was what attracted me to La Chaya Maya in the first place, but it was a dinner there that was far more memorable. A huge portion of Papadzule saw egg-stuffed tortillas doused in a generically creamy sauce that bludgeoned the palate instead of caressing it. It would’ve been bearable in a smaller portion size, but the gut busting shovel load here made it a real chore.
Much more interesting was the releno negro. Firm, moist turkey thighs were covered in a black sauce that didn’t look like much but had a peppery moreishness and a hint of grit to it too. A Scotch egg-style breaded and rice-flecked egg accompaniment was unexpectedly odd, but nonetheless pleasing with the malty graininess of its coating.
One of the best things about visiting countries outside of the Euro-American geographical core is the often weird and wonderful varieties of fruit on offer. A fruit platter for dessert may have been small, but it was nonetheless varied and beguiling. The ciruela was a fleshy, tamarind-esque plum, the nance tasted like a citrusy pear while the ciricote resembled a mildly musky kumquat.
Given that La Chaya Maya is firmly placed on the well-beaten tourist path, it’s a shame that its rendition of Yucateco cuisine, little known outside Mexico, was such a mixed bag. Its sprawling menu gives the illusion of choice, while ultimately failing to execute Yucateco cuisine in the best possible way. Even so, it’s probably worth checking out at least once despite this inconsistency and its cheesy ticks. The welcoming service goes a long way and there are some interesting dishes to be had, if you can tease them out of the long-winded menu.
What to order: Releno negro; Fruit
What to skip: Pork tacos; Papadzule
Name: La Chaya Maya
Branch tried: Street 62 x 57, Centro Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico
Phone: 0052 999 928 4780
Opening Hours: seven days a week 07.00-23.00.
Reservations: highly recommended the closer you get to the weekend
Average cost for one person including soft drinks but excluding tip: MXN 105 approx. for breakfast (approx £5); MXN210 approx. for dinner (approx £9)