Flexibility is what makes Maya del Sol, a new eatery which opened Sunday on Oak Park Avenue, stand above the competition. At least that’s how co-owner Anan Abu-Taleb feels.
That flexibility shows up, not only in the restaurant’s cuisine-which doesn’t stick to one genre, infusing Mayan, Mexican, and California style cuisine-but also the broad range of prices and offerings on the menu.
A casual customer could come in and order an oak grilled steak taco, garnished with chipotle sauce, cheddar jack cheese, red cabbage cilantro and shredded carrots for $5. On the flipside, a more upscale diner might want an oak grilled rib eye steak, paired with white rice, sweet plantains and roasted chayotes, priced at $23.95. It’s all about freedom in Anan and his wife Margi Abu-Taleb’s concept.
The spark to open Maya started when the couple made a trip to California. There they sampled Taco Tempo. Anan said the fresh ingredients, unusual combinations and creative mix of flavors intoxicated him.
“I loved the food, I loved the presentation, I loved how unique it was,” he said. “It was spiced right, the portions were perfect, and I felt so inspired by this place immediately. My wife and I looked at each other like, ‘I think this place would work perfectly in Oak Park.”
The Oak Park couple formerly owned Vivaldi, an Italian restaurant in the same space now occupied by Maya. They also founded Pizza Capri, and are restaurant veterans with more than 20 years in the field.
The mix of cuisines reflects both the concept and the staff assembled by the couple.
“The chef is so creative, I didn’t want him to be stuck in one area,” Anan said of Maya’s executive chef Ruben Beltran, a Mexican native who worked for 15 years at Frontera Grill.
They also recruited Dimas Romero from Taco Tempo to work as Maya’s sous chef. He specializes in Latin-infused California-style cuisine, but also incorporates his Mayan and El Salvadorian roots.
“It took me a while to convince him to come out here, but I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse,” Anan said.
Todd Gunderson, director of operations, said he defines Maya as upscale casual, geared toward comfort, value and affordability. He pointed to the Oaxaca chicken breast, marinated in mild red chiles, wood grilled, and topped with sweet plantains, pineapples and mole sauce, as one of Maya’s signature dishes.
The owners recruited local architects to help nail down Maya’s look. Anan said it has a Mayan feel too it, with warm reds, oranges and yellows decorating the walls. The walls are stripped down to a rustic brick. Gunderson said those walls are about all that’s left from before Maya’s renovation.
They moved Vivaldi’s old kitchen a room over to better showcase Maya’s immense outdoor patio. They also incorporated an oak bar, which seats 20.
“The whole idea was really, what does the community need, what is missing, and what’s the big thing in the future, not what people are eating today,” Anan said.