BitchBiz: While this review was written independently, Bitches Who Brunch does partner with Richard Sandoval Restaurant Group.
We’re no stranger to Richard Sandoval. (You can also find reviews of Masa 14, El Centro, and Zengo here). So when the team at Maya, his Mexican kitchen—and, come to find out, party spot—in the Upper East Side, reached out, we said yes right away.
An international restauranteur and personality, and global award winner, Sandoval has a penchant for big, bold-concept restaurants that start with a tradition of Mexican cuisine but always add a few unexpected twists along the way. You can always count on a few things: a fun cocktail menu, culinary creations you haven’t seen before, and a trendy setting that draws a contemporary crowd.
The same holds true here at Maya, with a space that can function well both for a boozy brunch, first date cocktails on a weeknight, or a big birthday dinner. Like Sandoval’s other restaurants, this one is a nice balance of warm and sleek, with plenty of good seating options along the bar, the window and around four primary seating areas.
The crowd is definitely an upbeat one: a nice quiet place to take your out-of-town aunt this isn’t. Most other diners were part of large parties, with an average of a dozen people reveling in their Saturday bliss, with a wide variety of custom mimosas flowing.
Bottomless brunches are common in the city, but endlessly re-orderable menu items aren’t so much. So when we learned of Maya’s $50 option that comes with both, we went for it. It is on the pricier side for brunch, but there is plenty of time in the mandated two-hour window to get your money’s worth.
We started with one of their Bloody Marys, which packed a nice spice, and the Maya Mimosa, made with champagne and puree of blood orange and passionfruit. One of us started with the latter, and by the meal’s end, we had all converted – it was one of the best drinks there. Servers constantly travel the floor with pitchers of this and other libations, pouring freely.
Our server was jovial and friendly, as if part of our group – the atmosphere here is contagious. He introduced himself like it was his house and we came to the right place for a party. And he did what I love best – took the pressure of ordering away immediately by offering to bring us a range of things on the menu (part of the glory of the all you can eat option). So we sat back, feeling like royalty as the food started rolling in.
We started with the Maya Benedict, a fun take on the classic, with poached eggs, carnitas, avocado and poblano cream sauce. Not bad – but the may sope foundation was too tough to slice. The chipotle bacon is a simple side, crispy and spicy. The tacos are adorably tiny and sharable, and all of them decent. The one oddball was the bacon wrapped hot dog taco, which gives an off kilter performance in a cast of otherwise solid tacos.
One of our favorite dishes was the squash blossom quesadilla, a warm and savory combo of corn masa, squash blossom, poblano chiles, toasted corn and a few different salsas. Another high ranking plate was the chicken enchiladas, with sweet tomatillo salsa and crema fresca and pickled chiles that gave a nice zing to an old standard. These two outshone the short rib empanadas, which were fine, but nothing special in comparison.
My fiancée and I were dining with another couple, and during the meal, one of our friends exclaimed, “Well that’s just scrumulescent,” inventing a new adjective on the spot for what he described as “the brightest spot on the menu”: the mesclun salad, whose mixed greens were topped with Asian pear, mango, cucumber, jicama, caeamelized almonds and a papaya dressing that left a citrusy shine on the whole thing.
It had arrived with a salad companion, the quinoa salad, which we found forgettable after the mesclun salad stole the spotlight. Other highlights were the salmon Maya, which was buttery, smoky and decadent on top of a very well pairing sweet potato puree. The breakfast potatoes were fine, but we were romanced by everything else on the table to dive in deeply.
As if this wasn’t enough of a feast, a few desserts followed this fare, featuring fruit with citrus salt (sweet and bright); pan dulce, a Mexican French toast (needed more crema fresca); plantains (caramelized and sweet) and Mexican-style donuts (warm and simple, but needed more chipotle caramel).
The consensus of our group was this: everything was smart, confident and had potential. Many dishes delivered, and for those that didn’t, it was simply about needing more of one element (i.e. sauce) and less of another (random hot dogs).
For a good time, a warm atmosphere—the manager joined the staff in her table greetings, making us feel like we were at a true party—and inventive Mexican fare, look no further. (And we couldn’t have if we wanted to, from two hours of Maya mimosas).
The Bitches Say: B+. While a few of the menu items could use some revisions, you will hardly find a more boisterous atmosphere in the neighborhood, nor a better value for your brunch dollars.
1191 First Avenue
New York, NY 10065
Maya serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with a final brunch seating at 1:00 p.m.