During an extended weekend trip to Omaha a few weeks ago, we were able to get together with a good friend of mine, Denny, and his lady friend, Ruth, for dinner. Cindy's daughter had alerted me of a Mexican restaurant near the stockyard area of Omaha - Guaca Maya - after she had visited Omaha a week or so before we were out there. I was telling Denny about it and he hadn't heard of the place, either. After meeting Denny and Ruth at their house for a drink, we drove over to Guaca Maya on S. 33rd on the south side of Omaha. (see map)
Claudio Cano-Robles and her husband, Juan, own the combination restaurant and night club. The large, window-less building looks like it could have been a union hall or a veterans club at some point in time. It features a large parking lot on the north side of the building and there is an auxiliary parking lot even further up the street for overflow.
We didn't know what to expect when we walked into the building around 7:00 p.m. on a Friday night. But we were pleasantly surprised to see a spacious and well-lit dining area with festive ornaments, banners and flags hanging from the ceiling.
The main dining room turns into a night club after 9 p.m. on the weekends. There was a party in one of the rooms toward the back where the Tejano group that was scheduled to play that evening at Guaca Maya were celebrating a CD release.
We were greeted by a hostess and she grabbed some menus and led us toward the back part of the restaurant. While we were headed toward the back, we passed an open kitchen area with a lady manning a flat grill. She was making homemade tortillas. I thought, "All right, I like this place already."
After being seated in a booth, we were greeted by our waiter for the evening, Ruben. He had handsome Hispanic good looks with a big smile and Cindy and Ruth were smitten. We immediately ordered a pitcher of Jose Cuervo margaritas.
The menu at Guaca Maya features a lot of Yucatan-style foods - seafood, chicken, pork and beef dishes are all featured. We were surprised to see fresh oysters on the half-shell on the menu. They were listed in a section of the menu called "La Viagra del Mar" (Viagra from the Sea) that featured shrimp, oysters and ceviche dishes. Oysters are something you don't see on a regular basis at a Mexican restaurant. In addition to the chips and homemade salsa (that had a nice peppery bite to it) that was brought to our table, we ordered up a dozen oysters and some homemade fresh guacamole.
The oysters came out and they were big and meaty. With a little bit of fresh lime juice and a bit of Cholula sauce, we dug in. The oysters were tasty, didn't have any grit in them and were very fresh. They were so fresh that Denny and I joked that they must have gotten them out of the nearby Missouri River. I've had oysters at seafood restaurants much closer to an ocean that weren't as good as the ones we had at Guaca Maya.
And the guacamole was just outstanding. Served in a medium-sized stone bowl, the guacamole featured avacado mixed with garlic, lemon juice, cilantro, chopped onions and tomatoes. I literally wanted to lick the bowl clean when it got down to the end of it. I almost ordered another round, but at $9.75 per serving, it was already pretty expensive.
Getting down to order dinner, there were many things that jumped out at me on Guaca Maya's menu. They had a grilled tilapia that was cooked with garlic that I was looking at. Grilled shrimp in a tequila sauce also looked interesting. And there were a number of beef, pork and chicken combinations on the menu including beef and chicken in an adobo marinade, and skewers of beef, chicken, shrimp and scallops. I honestly didn't know what I wanted to get until Cindy pointed out the pork chile verde - roasted pork served in a green chile sauce.
When Ruben came back to take our order, Ruth was still having problems as to what she wanted. She made all of us go ahead of her. While I did take the pork chile verde, Cindy and Denny both took the mixed fajitas grill - skirt steak, chicken and shrimp with sliced tomatoes, peppers and onions. Finally, it was Ruth's turn and she said, "Oh my gosh, it all looks so good. I really don't know what to get." She ended up getting the steak and shrimp plate. We ordered up another pitcher of margaritas and I got a bottle of Sol beer just because I like the taste of Sol with Mexican food.
Ruben and another server brought out food out to the table about 15 minutes after we ordered it up. My pork was chopped and smothered in a peppery green sauce. There was some bark on the outer side of roasted pork - sort of like what you get with barbecued pork butt - and it was a little tough to chew. While it was good, it didn't knock it out of the park for me.
Ruth's meal featured a healthy cut of ribeye steak and a number of grilled shrimp. It was a lot of food for her, she said. But she really enjoyed what she could eat. The shrimp looked great and I was sort of jealous that I didn't go for a shrimp entree rather than the pork.
Cindy and Denny's fajitas were identical. Cindy got homemade corn tortillas with her fajitas while Denny got the homemade flour tortillas. I took one of Cindy's corn tortillas and made a makeshift taco out of my pork chile verde and added some of the refried beans and rice that I had with my dinner. The corn taco was excellent. There's nothing better than fresh corn tacos hot off the grill.
There used to be a great Mexican place in Omaha by the name of Señor Matias. They had, hands down, the best fajitas of any place I'd been to in the Midwest. When Denny moved to Omaha over 20 years ago, I told him that he needed to try Señor Matias. He, too, thought they were excellent fajitas. Sadly, Señor Matias closed down about 10 years ago and Denny said that he hasn't been able to find any place in the area that came close to the fajitas from there. But he said, "These are about as close to the fajitas that Señor Matias used to have." Cindy also thought they were great.
After we finished and settling up with Ruben (it was about $60 bucks per couple with tip), the girls decided they needed to go to the powder room. We walked through the colorful bar area on the way to the restrooms. It was still before 9 p.m. and the bar area was pretty dead. The staff was beginning to move tables out of the dance area near where the band was going to play later that evening. For as large as the place was - and the fact that they had a large parking lot WITH an auxiliary lot up the street - we figured the place must get pretty packed on the weekends after 9.
The gaming area near the restrooms toward the front of the place featured pool tables and some video machines. It also had a mural along the wall of a scene from a Mexican cantina. Denny and I got a major kick out of one of the people depicted in the mural - it was of an old lady sitting at a table smoking a cigar. The only problem was that it looked like an old guy in drag. Denny said, "Hey, maybe this is a gay bar for older Mexican men!"
Cindy's daughter knows her Mexican food - as a Spanish major at the University of Iowa, she worked in a couple of pretty darned good Mexican restaurants in Iowa City. She said the food at Guaca Maya was some of the most authentic Mexican food she's had in the Midwest. While Ruth's steak and shrimp wasn't necessarily authentic, and fajitas are sort of a staple item at most Mexican restaurants these days, I'll have to say that while my pork chile verde was good, it wasn't great. And that's not to say that I wouldn't go back to Guaca Maya. I'd just get something other than pork chile verde. And with the abundance of items on the menu, I'm sure I'll be able to find something.