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Food

Meso Maya comes to Plano!

At Meso Maya, don’t let the chips and salsa fool you into thinking that this is your run of the mill Tex-Mex place. Nico Sanchez, the executive chef, made sure Meso Maya would be a unique culinary experience when he opened the very first location

First I’ll give you a little background on Chef Nico. According to Meso Maya’s website:

“Chef Nico’s love for the culinary arts started at age nine, when he worked for a bakery, making deliveries and assisting in the kitchen in Mexico. Nico honed his skills at several restaurants throughout the country … where he learned about seafood, dried chilies, making sauces from scratch, Oaxaca, and where he perfected tamale-making techniques.

“In 1996 he left Mexico for Dallas so he could pursue his goal of becoming a renowned chef.  Chef Nico earned his reputation within the Dallas restaurant scene by working at Cuba Libre, The Porch, Hibiscus and Meso Maya. His food is celebrated for its complexity, unique presentation, and fresh flavors (thanks, in part, to his love of gardening—he grows peppers, tomatoes, squash, and onions).

“Yes, Chef Nico Sanchez is a stickler for precision and detail, and Meso Maya offers a menu unparalleled in the city. From the heart-shaped leaves of the hoja santa, which we use to wrap tamales, to the particular paring of cochinita pibil (pork) and achiote (spice), the fare here is unrelentingly faithful to the dishes you’ll find throughout the regions of Central and Southern Mexico.”

You can tell how passionate Chef Nico is about food after talking with him for only a few minutes, and by how he critiqued his own dishes. Like they said, he’s a stickler. But he also wears a childish smile as he brings out dishes to me and explains where the recipe and influence comes from. And as I went on and on about these dishes, which I’ll get back to later, he was nothing but humble and appreciative.

Now onto the restaurant. As many locals know, the new Meso Maya location was once a popular Chili’s before it closed, but walking inside you would never know it. Chef Nico explained the layout of the restaurant to me, because each section was designed with certain patrons in mind.

Bar and booth seating is at the front for those looking to watch a sports game, have some drinks and aren’t worried about people having some fun. Meso Maya boasts an impressive drink menu from the tequilas and mezcals, the margaritas to the specialty cocktails there’s something for everyone.

The middle section has larger tables for families and big groups. A greenhouse, faux-patio type section is separated by glass and is available for private parties; this area has much more natural light while the other areas are much cozier.

Finally in the back is an area separated by a partition meant for intimate dates and those patrons looking to have a more quiet and peaceful meal.

I sit down in the middle section close to the kitchen, which is exposed to the public by a glass wall; a woman can be seen making corn tortillas from scratch while Chef Nico buzzes around checking meals and tasting sauces.

Now to the good stuff: food and drinks.

If you’ve never been to one of the other Meso Maya locations then heed this warning: Do not fill up on chips and salsa, no matter how delicious. It will be difficult if you’re anything like me, a chips and salsa enthusiasts; I’m truly not hard to please when it comes to chips and salsa (other than salsa should be room temperature or cold, not warmed but that’s beside the point). But I really love the chips and salsa at Meso Maya. The chips aren’t too thin where they constantly break off in the salsa, and they’re not too thick. The salsa could have been spicier for my personal taste, but it’s perfect for those who prefer a more mild salsa. And it has an incredible flavor; a little smokey, a little spicy, truly just right.

I also have to praise the guacamole. I’m not super picky about my guac either, but I can definitely rank them. Meso Maya’s is at the top if not No. 1 (sorry HEB). It consists of fresh michoacán avocados, white onions, diced tomatoes, cilantro, Serrano peppers, fresh lime juice and red radish. It’s got chunks of avocado, not super spicy or too creamy. It’s simple, it’s clean. It tastes homemade, and it lets the avocado be the star it’s meant to be rather than overpower it with spices and other vegetables.

Speaking of avocados, the Avocado Margarita is a must. Granted, pretty much all of their cocktails are a must. What’s great about the Meso Maya cocktails is the balance of flavors.

The Avocado Margarita is made of fresh muddled avocado, freshly squeezed pineapple & lime juices, triple sec & Casa Noble Crystal. It’s just the right amount of lime and smooth avocado texture; it’s not too sweet or too “avocado-y”.

The Serrano Berry, fresh muddled strawberry & Serrano pepper, Ambhar Tequila Blanco, with fresh lime juice, tastes like it’s straight from a strawberry patch. What’s amazing is it’s not loaded with sugar like most flavored margaritas but rather the sweetness comes naturally from the strawberries.

The Cucumber is served on the rocks and is made of fresh squeezed cucumber and lime juices, simple syrup and Patron Silver Tequila. I like a fresh cucumber drink but generally the flavor of cucumber over powers the rest of the drink. This is not the case here, the cucumber and sweetness of the drink complement one another. Once again, the balance between flavors is just perfect.

Back to the food, in addition to the guac, I cannot recommend the Ceviche Mixto enough. Served on a bed of lettuce, their ceviche consists of isla cortes white shrimp, striped bass, fresh lime juice, diced jicama, tomatoes, cilantro, fresh avocado. It’s fresh, it’s clean, there’s not sauces or spices attempting to cover up the flavor of the shrimp and bass. It’s one of my favorite flavors of the entire meal.

If you’re not into seafood, never fear. You can’t go wrong with the Chicharrones, a traditional Latin American dish: berkshire pork jaw chicharrones with salsa verde, queso de rancho, served with handmade white corn tortillas. The pork is delicious and flavorful; juice will drip from the tortilla.

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to enchiladas, and I love the way Chef Nico has created these dishes. I try their specialty enchilada plate, Pollo Serrano. Two large enchiladas come out on a plate stuffed with savory chicken breast, chihuahua and asadero cheese and cilantro, encased in those delicious handmade white corn tortillas. Serrano cream sauce coats the top, but the tortilla and chicken are not overpowered by the sauce. It’s served with white rice, Chef Nico calls it “wedding rice”, and black beans. Chef Nico specifically wanted to have rice that was different from the general Mexican rice, and growing up this rice was often served at weddings and other special events.

If you’re a steak lover, go for the Carne Asada, a wood-fired marinated steak that is cooked to perfection. The outside of the thinly cut steak is slightly charred while the center is medium rare. It’s served with a homemade sweet corn tamal, crema mexicana, charred salsa, queso fresco and black beans. The sweet corn tamal is similar to cornbread, but it’s served very moist. It just falls apart in your mouth. Pair with a bite of steak for extra-awesomeness. This was my favorite entree.

Pork chop fans can also rejoice with the Chuleta de Puerco; a fire-roasted, bone-in pork chop. Once again Chef Nico has cooked, and trained the other chefs to cook, this piece of meat perfectly. The knife easily cuts off thin strips of pork. It’s juicy, it’s packed with flavor; I really can’t say anything bad about this dish. The pork chop is complemented with elote con crema, mexican calabacitas, and pipian rojo sauce. The elote con crema is not corn on the cob, but rather the corn has been shaved off and mixed with creama and spices. It’s an awesome Latin America version of creamed corn, and I highly recommend.

Chef Nico has also debuted a brand new dish that is only being served at the Plano location. Camarones a la diabla for those who have forgotten most of their high school Spanish lessons, is jumbo Mar de Cortez shrimp with roasted garlic guajillo salsa, sweet plantains, white rice and napoles. Chef Nico says if this dish does well in Plano, he’ll slowly introduce it to the other restaurants, and I’d be shocked if it was incredibly popular. Right now the menu doesn’t say it has sweet plantains as Chef Nico only decided the night before to add them to the dish.

PSA if you’ve had cooked plantains before and didn’t like them, please give it another shot. If you like plantains, then you’re in for a treat. I’ve personally found plantains to be a hit or miss, generally a miss. But these plantains have just the right amount of sweetness, and they’re cooked in thick chunks so the fruit doesn’t taste dried out or overcooked. Get a side of these for your table, so everyone can try a bite. The plantains were another favorite flavor of the night.

And you can’t leave before dessert. They offer three desserts: Pastel de Moras, skillet baked blueberry cake with Mexican vanilla ice cream and blueberry drizzle; Flan de Queso, mexican egg custard with cream cheese, sugar cane caramel, dark rum whipped cream; Pastel de Chocolate, moist oaxacan dark chocolate cake with fresh corn ice cream, warm chocolate rum sauce.

Making me pick a favorite of the desserts is like asking a parent who their favorite kid is, I love them all equally just for different reasons! The Pastel de Moras is warm and sweet; if you like cobbler this is the one for you. The flan isn’t like most flans, Chef Nico wanted it to have more texture so he made the recipe thicker. Again, the flavors were balanced in perfect harmony. Of course, chocolate lovers have not been forgotten in the least. The chocolate cake comes out with an impressive scoop of fresh corn ice cream on top. Yes, corn ice cream. Let me tell you people, I scream for corn ice cream. I really do. With one taste you can tell the ice cream was made fresh that day. It’s simple, soft and while there’s bits of actual corn in it, there’s only a hint of corn flavor that’s truly delicious.

Sip on the coffee while you eat all three desserts, no one will judge you.

I have no doubt Meso Maya is going to make a huge splash in Plano. It’s different, everything is “slap your momma” good, and when there’s chips, salsa and guacamole left on the table, you know that’s good food. Run, don’t walk, to Meso Maya!

Meso Maya

4800 W. Park Blvd., Plano
972.372.4473

mesomaya.com

Hours:

Sun-Thur | 11am – 10pm
Fri-Sat | 11am – 11pm

Dinner
Sun-Thur | 4pm – 10pm
Fri-Sat | 4pm – 11pm

Happy Hour
Mon-Fri | 3pm – 6pm

Brunch
Sat-Sun | 11am – 3pm

Cori Baker
Cori Baker is a journalist and photographer based in Plano, Texas. Cori is an alumna of Plano Senior High School and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor's in Journalism and a minor in business.

Cori has worked as an intern for KUT Radio, Austin's NPR affiliate station, a photographer for Reporting Texas, and is currently the Creative Assistant at the Plano Profile. Her work has been featured on Reporting Texas, Orange Magazine, Plano Profile, and the Austin American-Statesman.

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