Restaurant review: Maya Grill

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Today's lesson in restaurant math will be an investigation of the following equation (aka the Patacon and Corona Theorem):

(El Arepazo/5 + booze + good Mexican eatery/2) ÷ Gahanna = the Maya Grill.

Oh relax, I'm just goofing. But while trolling around the Gahanna Creekside development, I serendipitously stumbled onto a super-friendly restaurant that was spotlessly clean and definitely deserving of good publicity. Furthermore -as the above equation illustrates - that eatery boldly combines much-beloved, multi-national Latino restaurant favorites. Actually, (as with lots of math) the aforementioned dining formula now seems so simple and obvious, I wonder why scores of other restaurants hadn't derived it long before.

So yes, at the Maya Grill, you can get a cheap House Margarita ($4 - made with an uninspired mix but sneakily lethal) or nice-priced Mexican beer ($2.50) to go with your patacon or arepitas slathered with that widely admired El Arepazo-style green hot sauce (Maya's version is pretty much indistinguishable). But if burritos and al pastor tacos are more your thing, Maya's got those too.

By compiling a menu that fuses a few (El Arepazo-like) Colombian and Venezuelan items with hooch and well-above-average Mexican fare, Maya's locking onto a smart combination. Oh sure, there's a constant reshuffling of the same ingredients (which includes a pre-grated cheese blend that might be a concession to hard-to-convince gringos), but Maya's colorful and inexpensive food all tastes fresh and vibrant.

Maya's not bad looking, either. It's modern, modestly sized (though not tiny), clean and comfy, and has roomy padded booths and sunny yellow walls hung with shiny pressed metal souvenir-type "art pieces." Instead of kitsch-niche-filing salsa or mariachi music, you're more likely to hear pop and rock hits from the '80s and '90s.

The biggest hits from Maya's menu used plantains in pleasant ways or showcased fresh masa dough in seductively toasted-corn-flavored, hand-formed pockets.

Here's a taste (Note: Expect all dishes to be served with good black beans and rice and garnished with sliced romaine lettuce, tender avocado, Mexican crema, that cheese mix, cilantro, plus diced onions and tomatoes).

Sopes ($7) Two crisply fried, raised-edged, thickish corn tortilla discs that were great with Maya's intensely piggy carnitas; these make a terrific appetizer

Gordita ($5) Floppy and chubby corn tortilla with a killer texture and flavor. Try it with Maya's fine barbacoa (like smoky pot roast).

Big Empanada ($5) I loved this crackly, crispy (if greasy) heavy-duty deep fried corn tortilla pouch packed with black beans and the usual goodies plus your meat of choice (stewy chicken's good).

Patacon ($9) Above a long "sheet" of fried (but not extremely crispy) sweet plantain came a ton of meat (your choice) plus all the fixins - good and could feed two.

Caribbean Wrap ($8) All of those "reshuffled" ingredients -including the good black beans and rice - came bound in a big ol' burrito with pleasing barbacoa beef intriguingly sweetened by mature plantains.

Baked Fish Filet ($10) A boatload of marinated tilapia steamed in foil and served with irresistible arepitas (crispy fried masa coins), a nice salad and -you guessed it - black beans and rice. Healthy, and a great deal.

Gringas Al Pastor ($9) Probably not what you'd expect, but good nonetheless. A massive platter of melted cheese-blanketed zesty seared pork strips and onions you wrap into flour tortillas for DIY tacos.

Photos by Jodi Miller

Maya Grill

93 N. High St., Gahanna