It’s difficult not to dream of the beach at this time of year. Summer’s still just out of reach, and Denver’s spring weather can be, well, unpredictable.
And so I head to Mayan Manjar Yucateco, a small Lakewood restaurant that focuses on the sunny cuisine of the Yucatán Peninsula. Although the menu covers familiar territory (burritos, tacos, menudo), the restaurant’s bright flavors of Seville oranges, annatto seed, and banana leaves quell any hankering for a seaside escape.
As for many diners, cochinita (pork marinated in tart Seville orange juice) was my introduction to Yucatecan food. With the contrast of savory, fatty pork against the tangy marinade, I easily could have polished off Mayan Manjar Yucateco’s entire $8.99 cochinita plate. I left room for the comforting sopes instead. These doughy discs of masa were fried soft and crowned with a captivating combination of cabbage, Cotija, black beans, and cochinita.
An $8.50 plate of panuchos (fried tortillas stuffed with beans) rounded out the meal. Served open-faced with my pick of salpicón (steak salad), pickled onions, lettuce, avocado, and spicy habanero sauce, the flavors were surprisingly lively. Washing it down with a cool cucumber agua fresca, I could almost feel the ocean breeze.
As I ate my way through authentic dishes such as banana-leaf-wrapped tamales, I knew I’d found an unlikely favorite. Though the restaurant has its pitfalls—most notably bad parking, a 7 p.m. weekday closing time, and a menu that fails to mention options like individual sopes or panuchos—after a few bites, those quibbles don’t seem to matter. The food is far from familiar, and that’s precisely why a trip to Mayan Manjar Yucateco will be the perfect antidote to any Denverite’s springtime blues. 5209 W. Mississippi Ave., Lakewood, 303-936-5562