Meso Maya is Better Than Authentic. It's Good.

Does authenticity matter? What the hell is authenticity, anyway? Look it up in a dictionary and words like "real" and "genuine" stab at a definition. Framed this way, authentic seems a prefect descriptor for a Topps baseball card or a Rolex watch. Put the word authentic next to a taco and suddenly things get squirrely. Authentic according to whom?

Marketers love the term. Pizza Hut is authentic, didn't you hear? Taco Bell even took a stab at cantina style tacos for an authentic taste. (They tasted authentically terrible.)

"Quality" and "craftsmanship" are words that are harder to fudge. They don't imply things should be one way or the other, or this brand or that. Instead they say that things should be built, assembled or made with the best materials available, in a consistent manner over time. Could be carpentry, could be plumbing, could be a steaming basket of warm, handmade corn tortillas.

Besides, authenticity stands as a barrier to innovation. Sure, there's historical value in tending to tradition, but if that was every chef's sole focus we'd never eat anything new. Pizza Napoletana, whose authenticity is (somewhat) closely guarded by the VPN, was once a novel idea. Some crazy baker got bored with naked bread; now the topped rounds are the stuff of legend. And many renditions taste great whether they are authentic or not.

Nico Sanchez has taken some heat at Meso Maya, the subject of this week's review. Despite the positive picture painted by Leslie Brenner at the Morning News, D's Nancy Nichols criticized the Preston Hollow restaurant for claiming to serve authentic Mexican food and trotting out Tex-Mex classics.

To which I say: Who cares? I care that his beans are salty one day and bland the next, and I'm bothered when a menu promises warm, melted cheese and a waiter brings me a gloppy dish. But I'm less interested in whether a plate aligns perfectly with preconceived notions of some culinary ethnic lexicon than I am with the answer to a different, simpler question: Does this food taste good? If the answer is yes -- as it is more often than not at Meso Maya -- then authenticity be damned, it's time to eat.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz