First Look

La Ventana and a Second Meso Maya are Now Open Downtown (Photos)

There are only a tight handful of restaurants in Dallas that offer serious upscale Mex-Mex. Meso Maya is one of them, and now, luckily for us, there are two locations to choose from. But there's even more good news. In the latest expansion from Firebird Restaurant Group (the group that also owns El Fenix), Chef Nico Sanchez has created a new concept, La Ventana (Spanish for The Window, appropriately). And La Ventana sits adjacent to Meso Maya II, on McKinney right near the new Perot Museum.

Inside, the place is rustic Mayan chic. Brick, iron, stucco and wood are accented by bold colors like orange, green and brown that give the space a classy-festive feel. But don't you dare forget to walk outside. An oasis surrounded by the cold metal and gray cement of downtown Dallas, the strings of lights that crisscross Meso Maya's beautiful interior courtyard are sure to make every day feel like a fiesta.

There's a lot on the menu worthy of celebration, namely Spanish, Chilean and Argentinian wines ($7-$15/glass and $28-$56/bottle), margaritas featuring additions like avocado, mango or serrano peppers ($7-$12), and cocktails like the Mexican Martini and Mexican Mule ($6-$12). Start your meal off with a traditional 3-cheese queso fundido ($8.5), chicharrones served with queso poblano and brisket adobado ($8.5), or a simple sopa de lima ($5 a cup, $10 a bowl). Entradas ($17-23) like the pollo con mole and the carne Oaxaca are ones I've tasted at the first location and highly recommend. Others I can't wait to dig into, like the pato al pasilla with pan roasted duck breast, real blue corn tiacoyo, nopalitos and a smoky dark pasilla broth. Each entrée's ingredients read like poetry. I don't know what huachinango is, but it had me at calabacitas, guajillo and hoja santa sauce.

Desserts like the caprirotada (Mexican bread pudding) or pastel de chocolate range from $4 to $8. Can't decide what to order? Ask for the Chef's Cinco Platos: five tasting courses for $35 (available for dinner Thursday through Saturday). The lunch menu is similar to the dinner one, adding tortas and tostaditas to the mix.

On a personal note, I can't wait to get my hands on bury my face in Meso Maya's signature yellow-orange salsa, which will now be in close proximity to both my home and office. That's news worthy of any of Meso Maya's roughly 46 varieties of house and premium tequila. Salúd!

There are tacos on the menu at Meso Maya, but while we're talking tacos, let's walk over to La Ventana, where you order at one ventana and pick up at the other. You're given a nametag with a name that's probably not yours (Alejandra, for example) and wait for your alter-ego to be called. Just another way to infuse that festive spirit into the place. While you wait, grab a seat at the colorful, beer-branded tables in the exterior courtyard, where colorful plastic flags hang and hand-painted Dia De Los Muertos-style murals decorate the space.

Inside the kitchen, tomatoes are being charred, their blistered skins begging to be made into red and green salsas to top one of six kinds of tacos Chef Sanchez offers. Corn tortillas are made by hand in-house for both restaurants. Along with your tacos, order a margarita for $5, a beer for $4, or choose from an array of Mexican bottled sodas to wash 'em down. From his window, Chef Sanchez told me that he's looking forward to offering breakfast tacos and coffee soon, as well as aguas frescos in the summer and Mexican popsicles too. Sign me up.

Meso Maya and La Ventana, located at 1611 McKinney Avenue, are open today for both lunch and dinner service.

Follow foodbitch and City of Ate on Twitter. Or you can find her on the patio drinking a Mexican Martini and eating her weight in tamales.

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