I feel like the whole speakeasy thing has been done and done and done, but sometimes it’s really just done right. Mayahuel in New York East Village is one of the places that nails the whole behind-the-secret-door vibe, and it’s become one of my favorite places for drinks.
Mayahuel is located on a side street in the East Village, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll probably walk on by. The last time I was there the place had dark curtains in the windows and I wasn’t even sure it was open. But try the door and you’ll be happy you did, because this place is a bit of a rabbit hole. Stairs lead you downstairs, to the bar — super small and charming — and a few tables. At the back is another staircase that takes you upstairs into the dining room, which reminds me a bit of something you’d find in a Middle Eastern tea room. The decor is very weathered and worn yet still has a rock and roll chic vibe to it.
Opened in 2009, this Mexican restaurant has an insanely expansive menu. Like, it’s on par with the Cheesecake Factory menu. Pages and pages provide you plenty of options to choose from, and while the people at Mayahuel say they don’t brag about the number of tequilas they carry, let me tell you — it’s a lot.
My personal favorite is the super smokey mezcal, and I was definitely in luck when it came to options. I chose from the Forget Me Nots and chose the Black Friar Cobbler, which is mezcal, sloe gin, blackberries, and lemon. It had a smokey undercurrent that was delightful, and really pulled out the summery feeling of the blackberries. Potent without being “strong,” it was a great start to the evening.
For the food, I was with a friend and we went with a few options to share. We started with the Camaron Y Vieras Con Chorizo, which are seared shrimp and scallops with chorizo topped with roasted sweet pepper choilis and chipotle. Um. Positively amazing. It was the perfect match of soft flavor from the seafood with the warm, gentle heat of the chorizo.
Next we had the chilaquiles, which are corn tortillas baked with chihuahua and cotija cheeses, topped with your choice of salsa verde or salsa roja. We went with the verde. Chilaquiles are one of those things that were never really on my radar, but now they’ve become a favorite of mine. Traditionally a breakfast food in Mexico, they’re a nice alternative to nachos, which I’ve become kind of bored with. Chilaquiles take the concept to the next level, and you can even add chorizo, pork, or chicken to really make this a satisfying meal.
We closed it out with the tacos de prescado, fish tacos, which are panko crusted tilapia with corn salsa and chiptle soy vinaigrette. They were satisfying and if your’e ordering to share, you really only need 2, which is grate since a place is 4. The flavors were again rich and savory, and I think a great balance to the drinks.