First Look at Mayahuel’s Botanas (Mexican Snacks) & Full Drink Menu

Date May 1, 2009

Mayahuel, on 6th Street b/t 1st & 2nd Avenue is a new tequila & mezcal bar that will most likely be known more for its intimate date spot-status & cocktails created by master-mixologist Phil Ward (Death & Co.) than its soon to be introduced full menu.  Then again, if the kitchen can consistently produce pork belly as fatty & delicious as the one I tasted, David Chang may be given a run for his money.

It all sounds delicious, but how will it taste?

It all starts with a sign

Albeit a really small sign. As you can see from the little while sign on Mayahuel’s doorway below, there’s not much that makes the bar stand out on the western end of Curry Row (6th street near 2nd Avenue).

Less is more. See that little white sign next to the doorway? That's Mayahuel's signage.

Once you enter, however, and stroll past the bar

Caution, Mixologists at work.

…and tiny booths behind the bar

You better be hip to fit in this booth.

…you’ll travel to the dimly lit upstairs area where a romantic atmosphere is set by tall, welcoming banquettes and a reddish-hue emanating from the unique light fixture above a gated space which lets patrons spy on the mixologists working at the bar below.

If she doesn't love this...

Botanas and then booze

With the exception of two disappointing dishes, the botanas, or Mexican snack menu fulfills its goal of providing “shareable bites made to amuse and delight; sometimes fiery, never trite.” Two hungry people, however, can comfortably share all of the seven small plates ($3 to $12) and still have room for dessert.  Rumor has it that this menu is a prelude to a more expansive version as the bar goes through its full opening stages. Read on for the best course of action and which dishes to avoid…

It all sounds delicious, but how will it taste?

Start with the tortillas

Tortillas with guacamole, smoked tomato and salsa verde ($8) offers the best variety of fresh, vibrant flavors to start your night with.  Chunky guacamole is studded with chopped tomato.  The steaming hot smoked tomato, however, was too intensely smokey for me but the salsa verde packed the perfect punch of spicy jalapeno and bright cilantro, so much so that I was still eating it with my finger after running out of chips.

Fresh Guacamole, Smokey, Steaming Tomato & Spicy Salsa Verde

The tortilla chips accompanying the three sauces tasted house made but were very salty as you can see from the photo. Perhaps a ploy to get us to drink more? More likely a heavy salt hand as the cooks figure the menu out.

A little chips with your salt?

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

The union of seared shrimp and chorizo in the Camaron y Chorizo ($10) with roasted sweet pepper is a combination I will never get tired of.  A wooden skewer wraps a salty, seared piece of juicy shrimp around a slice of slightly spicy chorizo.

Shrimp & chorizo, a beautiful union.

Fried strips of tortilla and a drizzle of roasted sweet pepper sauce looked nice but were superfluous when it came to enhancing flavor.

Get that extra stuff out of the way!

Get in my belly

Pork belly, with its crispy edges hugging ribbons of melt-in-your-mouth fat and juicy meat, may be my new favorite food.  And other than Mayahuel’s salsa verde, their Cochinita, braised pork belly with papaya mango mustard ($10) was by far my favorite dish of the evening.  It was everything you would want from pork belly: crispy, fatty, juicy.  And when combined with the sweet papaya mango mustard, the result is a candied slice of fatty deliciousness that elicits only a Homer Simpson “Mmmmmmmm.”  Forks, or utensils of any kind, are absent so use your fingers or the unnecessary folded tortillas wedged between the slices of pork belly, to spread the mustard on the pork.

Braised Pork Belly with Papaya Mango Mustard ($10)

Push for pork at taco time

Here is where we get to the part of the botanas menu where I began to feel underwhelmed.  Tacos, soft tortillas with pastor (pork) or tinga (chicken), with cilantro, radishes and lime ($12) come 4 to an order.  You can mix and match any way you please but go with the juicier, more flavorful pork (left) over the dryer, blander chicken (right).  The accompanying pico de gallo and lime were welcome additions to each taco.  My strongest recommendation would be to ask for another saucer of the salsa verde to put on your tacos. That could be magical.

Pork (left) & Chicken (right) tacos

Pass on the popcorn

Palomitas, popped corn with lime, cotija cheese, and ancho chili ($3) was the first of the two major disappointments.  The room temperature, slightly stale popped corn left the crumbly, sharp cotija cheese grainy and dry.  The presence of the lime was welcome but sparse and the ancho chili was undetectable.  I spoke with one of the owners after the meal and he patiently digested my criticism, adding that they’re still working out the kinks.  He then happily considered my suggestion of fresh-popping every order of popped corn. I won’t give up on this dish just yet. Cheese covered popcorn has too much promise.

Hopefully next time this will be "hot" popped corn

Not Quite Quesadilla

A quesadilla should be filled with gooey melted cheese, but in the case of Mayahuel’s $8 version, filled with cotija cheese and topped with papaya mango salsa, the cotija cheese just didn’t melt.  The unfortunate result, as my eating partner in crime Jen put it, was “feet quesadilla.”  Yes, the sharp, slightly stinky cotija cheese did not taste good and neither the papaya mango salsa or the two sauces atop the quesadilla could do anything to change that.  Again, I politely voiced this displeasure to one of the owners and he acknowledged it admitting he didn’t love the quesadilla recipe himself.  Keep an eye out for potential changes.

Beware the quesadilla.

Getting thirsty?

It’s all about tequlia and mezcal at Mayahuel.  According to an article by Dan Saltzstein in the NY Times, both are distilled from the core of the agave plant, but unlike tequila where the agave core, or pina, is cooked in an oven, with mezcal, the pina is cooked over earthen pits of hot rocks, giving it a distinctive, smokey flavor.  Tequila is mainly mass produced while mezcal, in whose bottle you’ll sometimes find a worm, is an artisan product. Whatever, you decide to imbibe, you’ll have your pick of the litter.

You can't go wrong with strawberry.

Mayahuel’s menu offers seven full pages of tequlia and mezcal concoctions in addition to straight shots.  I went with the La Vida Rosa ($13), a sangria consisting of strawberry infused Blanco tequlia, rose wine, elderflower, and sliced fresh strawberry. The drink smells like candy and the initially tart flavor gives way to a strawberry undertone.  Eating the sliced strawberry at the end was a delicious treat.  At first glance, the value on this drink isn’t very rewarding but take into consideration this isn’t the Blarney Stone, your $13 is getting you the equivalent of liquid art from some of the city’s top mixologists.   So drink slowly, relish each sip.  Every drink should be enjoyed like a fine wine.

The Drink Menu

Below is the entire drink menu at Mayahuel in page order.  Click on each photo to expand.

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Mayahuel

304 E. 6th St b/t 1st & 2nd Ave

New York, NY 10003

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8 Responses to “First Look at Mayahuel’s Botanas (Mexican Snacks) & Full Drink Menu”

  1. Queen Mother said:

    With Cinco de Mayo just a few days away, the restaurant by that name on Bell Blvd. in Bayside was a real surprise — not just for the fact that it’s been there a couple of years without us knowing about it, but also because they serve classic Spanish recipes (e.g.,3 types of paella) and Sangria by the pitcher, half pitcher and glass. Huge portions, great service, Queens prices.

  2. Anonymous said:

    wow what a great website!! 😉

  3. Ceetar said:

    This place looks delicious. I could easily spend way too much money I don’t have on mezcal.

  4. PEPPER said:

    how does it compare to that mexican place w/ the churros?

  5. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Queen Mother,
    Thanks for the heads up. Want to write a review for the site?

    Anonymous,
    Thanks for the kind words. Anything you want to see more of?

    Ceetar,

    Let me know if you make it over here. Would love to hear your opinion.

    PEPPER,

    The mexican place with the churros you’re referring to is called Mercadito Cantina which is a little more of a restaurant than Mayahuel. Both places have unique drinks but Mercadito is more of a harried, frantic experience due to the close quarters. Mayahuel would be a better date spot. Mercadito wins for dessert though, their churros are awesome.

  6. 2kizzle said:

    Big L I had a ridiculous meal. Wish I had vanilla slice. They call him big L yesss I follow all ur places ur the man coorrerrctttt. Be home soon need food spot. Thinking cristogs to start , corner bistro followed by some vanila slice. Oh right my meal it was ny strip adorned with lobster and mushrooms cooked medium well , but short time medium well. Absolutely delicious I ate it. Side of garlic cilantro mashed and brocolli garliced up. Yep that’s right deathly brrathly night – appetizer was shrimp stuffed with crab. Cooporrrreeecctt

  7. tehj said:

    Nice review, great photos. Any idea what hours this place keeps?

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