Two New FiDi Upscale Taquerias: Maya (Next Door) vs. Mijita
I tried two relatively new "upscale" Mexican places for lunch near downtown this week - Maya (Next Door) and Mijita - and thought they should be put up for comparison.
Maya (Next Door) is the take-out counter for the restaurant, Maya, which as you may have guessed is next door. It's located on 2nd between Folsom and Harrison, which is a little bit of a walk for FiDi workers - though totally doable. I had time to leisurely explore several dead-end alleys on the way (what can I say? I'm a weirdo), eat, and walk back in under an hour.
Mijita just opened recently in the Ferry Building with windows on the boardwalk.
I arrived at Maya (Next Door) just after noon and expected a long line. There was only one person in line when I arrived and there were perhaps at most two people in line at a time during the lunch hour. Often, no one was even in line. There are only three tables inside (which were easy to snag less so later), and several more outside. There is plenty of room for more tables inside, so I hope they add more. I don't like sitting in the sun because I burn easily, and in the winter I don't want to sit outside for obvious reasons.
My wait at Mijita was 20 MINUTES LONG - and I arrived at 11:50 just before the lunch rush to try to avoid a line. Part of the reason for the wait is the fact they have one cash register and no counter space for another one even if they want it. There are many shared communal tables inside and despite the line, it was easy to snag a seat. It might be more difficult with a larger party.
Edge: Maya (Next Door)
At Maya (Next Door) I ordered the fish adobado taco (2 for $5.25) which included tomatoes, onion, cilantro, cabbage, and chipotle salsa. It was the best fish taco I've ever had - mostly because they used such a light hand with the chipotle salsa, which often overpowers the fish. The tacos were very light (not fried), the fish tasted fresh, and it was enough food that I barely finished both tacos. Chips appear to be included with orders, but you have to request salsa (which is also free). Medium salsa didn't have much kick to it, but the chips and salsa tasted good though were nothing spectacular.
The SF Bay Guardian reviewed Maya last week, and recommended the previously mentioned fish tacos as well as the $4.95 (tacos or burritos) shredded chicken tinga in a chile de arbol salsa with crema fresca & sesame seeds (the review said "pumpkin seeds" which apparently is incorrect). Soups (tortilla soup with chopped avocado & queso fresco, and frijoles rancheros - whole pinto bean soup for $2.95) sound yummy as well.
Mijita's menu is noticeably smaller and consists of carnitas, carne asada, and veggie tacos, a quesadilla, albondigas, and some sides. The website mentions the Oaxacan Chicken Tamales, but they werent on the menu. I ordered the quesadilla, which is composed of masa enclosing cheese and peppers, and is topped by guacamole and pico de gallo for $4.50, and the frijoles - a small bowl of pinto beans topped with queso fresco for $3. The quesadilla was very good and the pico de gallo accompaniment really added to the flavor. The beans were no revelation, but made competently with the queso freso a nice touch.
While in the super long line at Mijita you can look at other diner's dishes and get a feel for the portion size. It is *much* smaller here (Id say on the order of Tacubaya). That means that it will take two items to create one lunch (especially since the taco price is for one taco - not two as at Maya). Also, chips and salsa aren't free (one of my pet peeves). If I were to purchase them in addition to the food I already ordered, it would be easy to spend $11 here.
EDGE (food taste): Tie
EDGE (food cost): Maya (Next Door)
Maya (Next Door)
303 2nd St. (between Harrison & Folsom)
Lunch weekly 11:30-2
(also, complimentary botanas in the restaurant bar during happy hour)
Ferry Building Marketplace
Daily 11:00 a.m. on
I'm just going to stick this post under here since it's about the same restaurant.
Ruth, Erika, and I showed up at #18 in the SF Lunch Series to give this place a once over.
I'll just say it upfront: this place is a disgrace. The food, with the possible exception of the albondigas, is not good. And yes, the prices are outrageous. If the food had been special, I might be able to deal with the price: I have no trouble paying a premium when I feel I'm getting food that justifies it. But Mijita doesn't come close.
The three of us spent a total of $30 on the following...
TACO DE PESCADO $4.75
One very large strip of mahi mahi. Very fresh, lightly fried, but rather flavorless. Token bits of wide-cut cabbage. Cold tortilla. The tortilla was a huge issue. One can watch the tortillas being rolled, pressed, and cooked through the windows facing the bay. They looked divine. But this tortilla, as all the other we received, were cold and tasted little better than store-bought ones. What happened? Anyway, I highly recommend Nick's Crispy Taco's on Polk for baja-style fish tacos. Better in every respect (while factory tortillas, at least theirs are warmed up) and over a dollar cheaper.
TACO DE CARNITAS $3.50
Primary problem here was again the cold tortillas. Meager topping of meat, which I thought was fairly average carnitas. If it costs three times the average taqueria carnitas taco, should it be at least a little bit better?
QUESADILLA MIJITA $4.50
Dense, firm, tepid. Might have been good when it was fresh, but ours was not. The cheese and epazote flavors were overpowered by the smokiness of roasted green chiles. Spoonful of guacamole was okay: pretty much just straight up mashed avocado. Salsa cruda was ripe tomato, onion, and cilantro; no chiles in sight.
SOPA DE ALBONDIGAS $4.00
The one positive part of the meal. A large bowl with tasty broth, plenty of fresh vegetables, and six meatballs. I've had better albondigas, yes, but these were pretty tasty. The meatballs had been grilled a bit, and were still a touch rare on the inside. And not a bad deal at $4.
Undercooked. If there is one thing a Mexican place must get right, it's the beans. Don't leave them firm and chalky, and don't burn them. Especially if I'm paying $3 for a little cup of them.
ENSALADA DE JICAMA $4.00
Crunchy and fresh, but rather bland.
AGUA DE JAMAICA $3.50
I thought this was okay. A good tanginess and not overly sweet, with a complex, almost herbal flavor. Erika did not like it at all, and she's had a whole lot more jamaica in her lifetime than I have.
Three table salsas available. One was a store-bought variety, didn't note the name. Another a tangy tomatillo salsa with little chile flavor and no heat. Now that I think about it, I don't there was a single molecule of capsaicin in the entire meal. The final I wanted to like. It was a red salsa based on rehydrated chiles and garlic. It was in the same family of salsas as the supremely delicious one at my favorite Mexican restaurant: Estrellita. It was smokier, not as garlicy, and generally not all that good, but it was at least on the right track.
I could talk about the non-food aspects of the place, but why bother.
Afterwards Erika and I had to go to Massimo for the rest of our lunch, after dropping $10 each at Mijita. Erika's summary of Mijita: a travesty.
A NOTE ON MAYA: The Maya next door thing has been open for a long time now, at least a year. I remember learning about it here...
although I have yet to try it.
I'm not sure what I can add to this report except that the sopa de albondigas was not much more than room temperature.
I'm not fussy about the heat of my food -- I actually think most food tastes better at about body temperature. But congealed quesadillas? Cold, dried-out-around-the-edges tortillas for the tacos? Lukewarm soup? It would have been pathetic at regular taqueria prices, but for those prices at a "foodie" destination run by a highly regarded professional chef, it was disgraceful.
It appears to me that part of the problem is that they simply aren't able to execute the concept under real world conditions -- that they're having to deal with the volume by preparing in advance foods that should be prepared fresh. Erika commented that no one seems to have envisioned what the place was actually going to be like. Did they not think they were going to be crowded at lunch time (despite the evidence of Taylor's and Mistral) when they decided to only have one order taker/register?
Of course the other part of the problem is that, as Nick said, there wasn't a drop of capsaicin in evidence. Even preparing and serving the food properly wouldn't make up for the intrinsic lack of deliciousness.
So much for the authentic Mexican street food claim. It's just another all style (ooh, politically correct ingredients! famous chef! Ferry Building!) no substance, rip off.
If you do want to check it out for yourself, the official lunchers' tip is: use the take-out window outside on the dock, which during the time we were there never had more than a couple of people in line.
PS: If you want a good carnitas taco, go down to the Ferry Building, then turn around, get on BART, get off at Fruitvale and walk across the street to the El Novillo taco truck. Not only will it be better and cheaper, but it will be quicker (BART ride included).
re: Ruth Lafler
"they will *have* to get their act together to stay in business."
I don't know about that. Look at Miette - they sell pretty baked goods that taste horrible, yet they've managed to stay in business.
That's the benefit of the Ferry Building, you can sucker enough tourists and sheep to stay in business.
Yeah, there's no shortage of sheep who will happily line up for heavily promoted, polictically correct food, especially when they can fool themselves into thinking they're sophisticated for eating it.
Even though I recommend the Ferry Building to visitors I always feel a qualm. I love the concept, and there's good stuff to be had there, but some of those places are definitely Emperors without clothes (Miette, McEvoy to name two), and at those prices, a bad choice is really costly.
re: Ruth Lafler
re: Ruth Lafler
re: Robert Lauriston
What have you had that you liked at Miette?
I have been burned so many times. I have given them more chances than I would any other bakery because of presentation and quality ingrediants but the awful hot cross buns, Irish Soda bread, cookies that taste like dust, a disappointing, soggy strawberry bread and a multi buck lemon cake that would have been unidentifiable if not for the color.
I did have one good thing there ... shortbread ... maybe that's why I kept trying to like the place.
re: Robert Lauriston
I used to sample their stuff all the time at their farmer's market booths and was never impressed -- all looks, no flavor.
I bought a piece of chocolate cake that was so dry I threw it away.
I bought some of their macaroons -- the macaroons themselves were okay, but the filling had no flavor.
I gave up.
re: Robert Lauriston
The first thing I bought was a dacquois(sp?) with apricot buttercream. The dacquois was almonds and more sweet than I would have preferred and the almond flavor wasn't there. The apricot flavor in the buttercream was incredibly faint, like almost not there, but they had put a strawberry on top with mint leaves as decoration and the mint flavor extracted into the buttercream to the point that half of the buttercream was spearmint flavored. That is just not thinking or not tasting.
The lemon tart I bought next had very little lemon flavor and the crust was more of a thick cookie crust that really didn't do anything for the tart.
There was a chocolate cake piece that was very dry and some lemon cookies that were kind of sour rather than tart. This is all some time ago, but with a record like that, why try again.
You have to taste your finished products.
Sorry about the rant.
re: Robert Lauriston
re: Robert Lauriston
I haven't bought anything from Miette in years - the few things I tried on my own dime were dry, too sweet, flavorless or some combination thereof.
But I work near the Ferry Building so co-workers will sometimes get "treats" from Miette for birthdays or such.
The last nasty thing I got was a cupcake at one of the b-day celebrations. I mean, it was FREE and its was a group participation event but I could only choke half of it. And the extras sat in the kitchen unclaimed for a long time. And this in an office where no-one says no to free anything.
I'm no fan of Specialities - I think they underbake - but I was really glad when yesterday's treats were Specialities' cookies. Their peanut butter cookies are tasty with a cold glass of milk.
I'm sorry to hear about your experience. Again, I only tried two items, but my quesadilla was delicious and served hot. I noticed it cooled quickly though and in my last few bites I could taste the congealing cheese. Perhaps you went there during the height of the lunch rush which might account for temperature of your dishes?
I found the frijoles overcooked (which I forgot to mention), but still thought the flavor was good.