Far from the maddening crowd, and pretty damn far from the nearest Del Taco, Casa Maya lies in the heart of Mentone. Mentone sort of sets the mood for the restaurant—quirky, funky and a little offbeat, a town David Lynch would’ve been far better off setting his new Inland Empire opus in, as it looks like the kind of place one of his characters could be found sucking nitrous through an oxygen mask in.
But I digress.
Casa Maya is Mexican with not one twist, but a few. The most obvious is its focus on Mayan cuisine, with all the delicious tastes and treasures from that era. There are several items on the menu that a newcomer to the Casa needs to sample, starting with the cochinito tacos—juicy, tender pork draped with red pickled onions and stuffed in the requisite corn tortilla. There’s also the goat version. Yeah. Goat. One bite of this spicy yet sweet meat and you might just forget about the cute Billygoats Gruff. Maybe.
Yes, at Casa Maya, expect the unexpected—like the fact that none of their cuisine is cooked in lard. They also don’t do the typically huge wads of melted cheese on every meal, either, because Casa Maya is committed to serving healthy food, which means there are a host of vegetarian choices. Try the cactus salad, with tomato, cilantro, onions and nopales, or the classic vegetarian burrito. They even have that rarest of rarities, a healthy kid’s menu that offers a real fruit bowl instead of fries, and healthy burritos instead of the normal lard-based bombs.
The menu allows for much mixing and matching. I started off with the black bean soup, which was simple but well-seasoned. Much better for my body than my normal “comfort” meal of a steak downed with a martini or dos. (The Casa, by the way, has a fully-stocked bar, which can come in handy on a Saturday night, or depending on how things are going, a Tuesday afternoon.)
For the main course, I opted for the seafood burrito, a massive shrimp/whitefish creation that would challenge the heaviest Hometown Buffet heifer. The burrito itself is gigante, and soaked in a white wine sauce, set off with a dab of sour cream, fried mushrooms, and complimented with a fairly sublime white rice with peas. The shrimp are the reason to come to this joint, though—so hellishly tasty I almost believed for a moment that Mentone rested against the ocean. If you’re not the fishy type, though, we suggest the Salbut—baked turkey with marinated onions and cabbage, wrapped in a corn tortilla—and the breakfast menudo, or huevos con chile verde.
The Casa atmosphere is half Mayan Peninsula, half relaxed sports bar, an odd mash-up of styles that sounds sloppy, but in reality is unpretentious and chill. You can hang with the parrots in the main dining room or head toward the bar and the widescreen—if the weather’s nice, they’ve got outside seating, too. And who knows—in this oddity of a town, you might actually see Dennis Hopper ride by. We suggest you duck.
Casa Maya, 1839 Mentone Blvd., Mentone, (909) 794-7458. Lunch for two: $10-$20.