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¡Viva México! “South of the border” solo dining in Oak Park
I have maintained for many years that I simply do not like Mexican food. My exposure to “south of the border” cuisine has always been that unappetizing combination labeled “Tex Mex.” In my mind, that was obviously what all Mexican food must be like. Luckily, some persistent friends here in the Chicagoland area finally convinced me to try authentic Mexican food in the city and my perspective changed. True “Mexican” cuisine is not only amazingly tasty, it is varied and exciting. I still don’t enjoy the taste of jalapeño peppers or cilantro (just a personal idiosyncrasy), but moving beyond those two flavors I have discovered a whole new horizon in cuisine.
Living in the suburbs, many of my culinary adventures happen outside of the Chicago city limits. One of my favorite haunts for both food and culture is Oak Park. From the wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright properties to the charming Marion Street area, Oak Park is a walkable and exciting place to visit, and there are some wonderful restaurants there. One of the most concentrated areas for great dining is near the intersection of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street. Just south of this intersection, only steps from the Green Line CTA, is a Mexican restaurant called Maya del Sol.
In order to explore my newly-acquired taste for Mexican food, I recently ventured into Maya del Sol for a solo dining experience. Remember . . . my reviews are generally focused on the experiences of dining alone, so some of what I discuss might not apply for a group. Nevertheless, for both cuisine and for decent single dining or group dining treatment, I definitely recommend a visit to this charming restaurant.
They seated me at a rather small, two-top booth. As a solo diner, I absolutely don’t mind when they take me to a two-top table. After all, why waste a huge table on a busy night? The two-top booths at Maya del Sol are a bit on the small side and I can imagine with two people they might feel crowded. But for one, it was a comfortable location with a nice view of the dining room.
Before my meal, I had two minor irritating moments. The person who came to pour water asked me if I was expecting another person. When I said, “No,” he paused with a strange look on his face and said, “Oh, I guess I should remove the other place setting.” He then stood there, apparently waiting for a response, so I said, “Yes, that might be a good idea.” I actually found it humorous until the server came up, looked at the table and said, “Are you dining alone tonight?”
At this point, I had a minor snarky moment again and said (quite pointedly), “Yes. I am sitting here alone and I intend to have dinner alone. Is that ok with you?”
OK, OK. I know . . . that was a bit abrupt, but after three times I think I was just a bit sensitive. To her credit, the server laughed, broke the tension, and spent the rest of the meal both attentive and funny. In fact, she and I bonded by laughing about some high-maintenance diners who had been sitting near me. Overall, once we became friends, the rest of the experience was superior.
Of course (as I have often stated), the meal is the point! Here Maya del Sol gets very high points. The chips and salsa (a seemingly ubiquitous accompaniment at all Mexican restaurants) were far better than any I have had in a long, long time. The chips were clearly home-made and the two salsas were both just on the right side of spicy for me. I detest what I call “painful food” so I often avoid salsa because it burns my mouth. These two (one green, one red) were superb!
I indulged in a margarita (actually, two of them). Again, this was an excellent choice. They use top-quality tequila and the drinks are made fresh without any pre-packaged mixes. This was a true and tasty cocktail made with fresh lime juice and served “up.”
Because I was scarfing down the chips at such a rate, I realized that I did not require a full meal. As a result, I ordered from the appetizer menu and decided on their Ceviche Trio. You can get a full description by taking a look at the Maya del Sol menu, but the three portions were Piña Colada, Coctel de Camaron and Tradicional. Here’s a shot I took with my phone camera. Wow! I loved all three.
Maya del Sol is located at 144 S Oak Park Ave, Oak Park, IL 60302, just a few steps south of the Oak Park Green Line CTA stop.
During nicer weather, they have an astonishingly lovely outdoor patio for drinking/dining!