MEXICAN food is not a novelty in Greece, but a truly successful rendition of authentic (as opposed to Americanized or Europeanized) Mexican food is. So when the My Greek Review’s Food Task-Force (TFT) read about the arrival of Taqueria Maya in central Athens, we were excited. We first headed out there on a Sunday for a leisurely lunch but found it closed, so we opted for an empty, six day old Indian restaurant nearby instead, much to our deep regret (N.B. As our Food Task-Force member / experienced chef Dimitris Panteleakis says, when a restaurant manager answers your comments about inedibly dry, rubbery chicken with the ‘reassurance’ that the restaurant is open to receiving your comments, good and bad, via their Facebook page, one cannot help but yelp at the thought of being part of some amateur cooking experiment).
The interest in trying out Taqueria Maya was met almost a week later when, strolling up chaotic Ermou St in a state of near-murderous hunger, the taqueria came to mind and we headed to Petraki St, popping our heads into its narrow, busy space.
Four adults, a baby and a dog were quickly and politely accommodated (with a highchair for the baby – and mothers will be relieved to hear there is a changing table in the very clean bathroom) and we were all set to start trying the selection of tacos, quesadillas, burritos, salads and side dishes. Our aforementioned excitement at sampling the indoor street food restaurant’s dishes came chiefly from having read and heard that it uses authentic ingredients, makes its own tacos, and sticks to traditional recipes.
We ordered the (trademark) taco palooza platter, which has seven tacos, each topped with one of the seven fillings created by the chefs: pulled pork, chicken, mushroom and corn, lamb, fish and chorizo with sweet potato. We also ordered a salad of lettuce, cabbage, mushrooms, corn, cactus and black beans, a Cubano sandwich, a margarita cocktail and a quesadilla.
The place was busy but as time passed we began to grow frustrated by how long it was taking to get our order – even a few glasses of water to quench our thirst were missing. Dimitri headed up to the kitchen to enquire how long it would take and we found out that the place is based on a self-service system, something we had no problem with except that we had not been informed about it from the start (nor was there any obvious sign on the wall or the menu stating this). Moving on, once our dishes reached the table – first the salad and Cubano sandwich, then the pork quesadilla and margarita and finally the taco palooza platter, we immediately calmed down.
Overall, we were all joyfully relieved to discover that this relatively new street food restaurant has hit the mark by serving tasty, authentically flavoured, aesthetically pleasing foods at very friendly prices. I immediately made a note to self to pop in here with a girlfriend on a lazy afternoon for a light lunch. When our FTF chef visited the kitchen he watched the cooks make tortillas from scratch, something that’s a definite plus not only in Athens but anywhere in the world these days (even in Paris today the famous French croissants are often as pre-frozen, as the Greek cheese pies found in every neighbouring bakery). There was a catch however as the masa tortillas, which should be made only with masa (corn) actually include other flour too, which, beyond making them inauthentic, changes the texture and makes them more elastic and breakable (one actually broke in my hand).
The seven toppings were also not all completely satisfactory to our FTF, all of us having travelled widely in Mexico and two of our members having a special passion for authentic Mexican cuisine. The meats (pulled pork and chicken especially) were likely prepped early and by the time of being served, tasted a little dry. Meanwhile, the flavours in the sweet potato and chorizo taco and the fish taco were a little muddled. Which leads to the next point – spicing and toppings.
The My Greek Review FTF, all lovers of spice (bring it on) found that more aggressive spicing would have seriously raised the flavour profile – both in the three salsas, the hottest of which was, by our standards, just hot, and in the dishes themselves. This is often a problem with ethnic cuisine restaurants in Athens – cooks, even when very experienced in their cuisine as they clearly are at Taqueria Maya, are afraid to spice their foods because the Greek palate is not considered very spice-friendly – the result is less tasty, and in the case of most Indian restaurants we’ve visited, even bland dishes. It’s very sad and disappointing. Personally I believe the Greek palate is changing – Greeks, especially the younger generations, are more travelled and adventurous in their culinary pursuits, and have developed a taste for spice.
The My Greek Review Food Task Force is made up of:
Dimitris Panteleakis, professional chef who has worked in some of Boston, New York & Greece’s best restaurants and has a very well-trained, well-travelled and eclectic palate.
Arwen Curley Panteleakis, who has worked as a sous chef in New York and Athens, is a keen foodie with an internationally-trained palate and prolific home cook.
Adrian Vrettos and Alexia Amvrazi, both foodie travel writers with almost 20 years experience of reviewing restaurants in Greece and abroad (Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Germany) for numerous print and web publications, namely Fodor’s travel guides. Also passionate home cooks.
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