Suck on our salty meatballs, A.A. Gill.

Cincinnati Bites
Shrimp and Grits from SmoQ

Posted Monday, July 26, 2010

Taqueria Maya is an authentic Mexican restaurant at 9996 Kings Auto Mall Dr., tucked away in a mostly deserted strip mall next to a Lenscrafters. The place is owned, at least partially, by the same folks who brought us Taqueria Mercado.

If you've been to any of the three Taqueria Mercado locations, then you're already familiar with the menu. There isn't a discernible difference among all the Taqueria locations, and that's a good thing. Authentic tacos are each served on two warm corn tortillas, filled with your choice of meat and topped with a generous dose of cilantro and onions. Burritos that are quite literally twice the size of what you'd get at Chipotle, yet still pay less for, are here. Fajitas, soups, salads and desserts abound.

When we arrived one early weekend afternoon, there were only a couple tables occupied. This surprised us, because every time we go to Taqueria Mercado, the place is typically pretty busy. We claimed a table and sat down as a nearby television blared Mexican sports programming.

Taqueria Maya resides in the space formerly occupied by Mark Pi's Express. The configuration hasn't changed much but, like its big sister in Fairfield, Maya also offers a check cashing booth in the back corner.

To our surprise, the waitress immediately supplied us with a basket of warm chips and salsa. That's a first for any of the taquerias we've been to in Cincinnati -it's not something we ever get for free at Taqueria Mercado. The salsa was thin, red, mildly spiced and good, but I resisted eating much of the chips, knowing full well (with emphasis on the "full") what we were in for.

The available taco/burrito meat fillings are as exotic as any of the Taqueria locations: carne asada (steak), al pastor (pork), barbacoa (beef), chicken (pollo), fried pork (carnitas), chorizo, tripe, suadero and lengua (beef tongue) are all on hand. I ordered a suadero taco and an al pastor gordita, along with a side of refried beans and a Mexican Coke. My girlfriend, evidently having forgotten its sheer size, ordered a large veggie burrito.

Saudero, which is akin to a beef brisket, is quickly becoming my favorite taco filling, with al pastor a close second. The meat paradoxically doesn't seem as fatty as barbacoa, but still quite flavorful. The gordita is essentially a smaller taco with a crispy, thicker corn tortilla, packed with a lot of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and meat. I don't order them very often because their usually troublesome to cut (you certainly can't pick up and eat one without it being a mess), but it's still quite good.

My girlfriend's burrito was enormous: as long as her forearm and more than three inches in diameter. She'd forgotten whether it was the large or small burrito that she typically orders, so this time opted for the large. She managed to eat not quite half of it. The burrito tasted good, with a generous amount of roasted vegetables, but in retrospect she would have ordered it without cheese in addition to the sour cream she'd already left off. It's just too heavy otherwise.

If your looking for the same cheap prices and authentic, great taste you'd find at Taqueria Mercado, but either can't take the drive to or endure the crowds at the Fairfield, Downtown or Florence, Kentucky locations, Taqueria Maya is the place to be for an equally wonderful Mexican experience.

Taqueria Mercado 3

100 E 8th St.

As a side note, I've also now been to the newest Taqueria Mercado location a couple times (Taqueria Mercado 3), located downtown. While it still looks very much like the old Javier's inside, the place is noticeably different in both menu and sheer volume of people.

Taqueria Mercado 3's menu is exactly like the one at the Fairfield location (or any of the locations, for that matter), and so is the quality: delicious. There may be a slight variation in their famous refried beans here, but otherwise everything else seems identical. And there's now cerveza, my friends, as they recently acquired their liquor license.

Taqueria Mercado 3 on Urbanspoon Taqueria Maya on Urbanspoon
Taqueria Maya

Price: Cheap (under $11 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.5 out of 43.5 stars

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Ratings Legend
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