My first experience with The Mayan was that of disappointment.
I was in the middle of a fact-checking assignment when I called to talk to the owners of El Fogoncito and found it was gone. The restaurant that had been at the corner of 30th and North Walker Ave. was closed and, in its place, was The Mayan.
Rewriting a story on the fly can be pretty annoying, but the more I talked to the new owner, the more hopeful I was that this change was for the best. So I stopped in, got myself a taco and a plate of queso fundido, and that’s when I knew we had a hit on our hands.
The Paseo District hasn’t exactly been suffering for food choices over the last decade. A few spots of come and gone, but for the most part, Paseo dwellers have their pick of a very impressive litter. Pizzas at both Sauced on Paseo and The Other Room. Steaks, seafood, and other upscale delights at Paseo Grill. Sandwiches, vegan delights, and brunch at Picasso’s Cafe. Add in the recent arrivals like Scratch Paseo, Oso, and Red Rooster (not to mention the extreme proximity to all that Uptown 23rd has to offer) and you can see why foodies are flocking to the area.
The Mayan and Oso might seem like adversaries, but their two completely different kinds of tacos. Oso goes for chef-driven tacos that might have a few things in common with a taqueria, but are ultimately their own thing. The Mayan, on the other hand, brings those classic taqueria-style meats—asada, al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa—with the addition of shrimp, cochinita pibill, and even an all-veggie option.
It’s a bare-bones space, though extremely well painted. But The Mayan isn’t a spot built for impressing a date with a lot of pomp and circumstance. This is where you go for delicious tacos that will impress your date’s taste buds.
If you only take one piece of advice among all the rest I am giving you today, make it this one: Every single person who comes into The Mayan should order the queso fundido ($11).
“Even me?” says my imaginary enemy, the lactose-intolerant vegan.
Yes, Kyran. Even you. Because you don’t have to eat the queso fundido to enjoy it. Just watch as others eat it. Watch them run a fork along the edge of the cheese and gently pull it up, revealing a dark golden crust of nutty, irresistible burnt happiness.
Don’t stop there. See the joy as they scoop pieces of asada and pastor and grilled mushrooms onto a tortilla. Bask in the glow of the smiles of everyone who touches this glorious pinnacle of cheese technology.
Chips and guac ($7) are maybe a bit more straightforward and easy to share. The queso fundido is a delight, but it’s also messy and everybody wants all of it. The chips and guac, on the other hand, are much more readily spread around a small table. (And for a more traditional Oklahoma Mexican food experience, there are also chips and queso for $6.)
I got a chicken burrito ($10.99) that, in retrospect, was a mistake.
Burritos are wonderful and I love them deeply, but in a restaurant that specializes in tacos, you might find the ratios off with a burrito. Also, chicken is boring and I shouldn’t have gotten chicken.
Better was the chicken poblano burrito ($10.99) which is served covered in a poblano cream sauce. It’s that sauce that really brings it together. The chicken, rice and beans inside the tortilla are tasty, but a bit dry. The sauce adds a lovely kick of heat and keeps the rest of the meal moist.
When it comes to tacos, you really can’t go wrong at The Mayan. Even my least favorite, the vegetarian taco ($3) was good. It was just...different. The taco is filled with grilled cactus, avocado, pico de gallo and queso fresco. Cactus requires a good deal of cooking to make it nice and tender and The Mayan’s kitchen did that. However, the way it was served, in strips, means a lot of bites where you’re pulling out just as much cactus as you’re leaving in. I’d like to see the cactus processed a little more, for an easier to enjoy taco.
One big plus at The Mayan are the size of the tacos. You might order a couple, but you really won’t need three, unless you’re just starving.
Pastor tacos ($3.25) are my favorite here and with good reason. The larger tortillas hold a lot of fillings and the pastor comes with not just a load of marinated pork, but also onions, cilantro, and pineapple. That fruity kick and the spice of the meat makes for a juicy, delectable taco that hits all your spots.
Asada tacos ($3.25) are filled with the usual delicious marinated steak, but also pico de gallo and avocado. Is it weird that avocado makes such a huge difference here? Asada tacos can get a little dry, so the addition of avocado makes a ton of sense. Plus, the creamy fat of the avocado pairs well with the slightly tangy marinade on the beef.
Barbacoa tacos ($3.25) are the most tender on the menu, but that also means a mess. Keep your wits about you when plowing through a braised beef, onion, radish, and cilantro taco or else you’ll be wearing it for the rest of the day.
I think the shrimp taco ($4) probably made the biggest impact on the group of diners I was with. Not only was the shrimp cooked perfectly, but they paired it with sauteed spinach, avocado, and an agave honey for a unique, but very tasty take on a shrimp taco.
Is The Mayan the best taqueria in Oklahoma City? Woof. That’s rough sledding, right there. It may not be the best, but it’s certainly deserving to be in the conversation. With quick service, big portions, and delicious recipes, it’s little wonder that the Paseo neighborhood has so quickly embraced this Mexican eatery. And with queso fundido on the menu, it’s a fair bet you’ll be seeing me and my friends at The Mayan pretty regularly.