Mayan Cafe: A safe place to flirt with vegetarianism

“I judge a restaurant by its guacamole, don’t you?” the carnivore said to me, as we were waiting for our appetizers.

Well, yes, among other things. The decor at Mayan Cafe, on Market Street next door to Taj, is understated and elegant, the wall art intriguing, the menu diverse, and everything’s from a local farm. What’s not to love, in general?

Our guacamole arrived, along with some really delicious black bean cakes, dressed up with a pinwheel turnip slice.

One bite into his guacamole, I saw the crime partner remove the metaphysical mourning cloak he’s been wearing since El Camino closed.

“Okay, I think we found our guacamole place,” he said.

Crispy, creamy black bean cakes, topped with guacamole, red onions, and that pinwheel is a thin slice of turnip.

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We were tipped off to Mayan Cafe by one of our favorite Louisville vegetarians. We were NOT disappointed. Start to finish, our lunch was a mini stay-cation.

I got a glass of Mayu Pedro Ximenez from the Elqui valley of Chile.

“A local favorite,” our server noted. I am no wine expert, but this was a good wine, a little nutty, smooth, and a very pretty color.

The carnivore (formerly known as the “crime partner”) got a Stroller Vineyard rose of pinot noir and, later in his meal, moved onto the Reginato sparkling rose of malbec. The roses were brilliant, especially the second. Imagine a red champagne, and you’re almost there.

My veggie enchiladas were perfect, and I rarely say that about anything. They didn’t need salt. They didn’t need vinegar. They didn’t need hot sauce. The many vegetables provided a lovely variety of textures and flavors in every bite.

Mayan Cafe is a great place to go if you are thinking of going vegetarian or even just eating lower on the food scale, which means more veggies, fruits, fish, whole grains, and fewer meats and processed foods.

At Mayan Cafe, you can taste and see just how great vegetarian cuisine can really be. I did not, for an instant, miss meat.

Vegetable enchiladas topped with verde sauce, fresh carrots, and greens. Side dish of classy lima beans.

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We were having such a good time, we really didn’t want to leave, even though our meals were quite filling.

“Is this a Mexican restaurant?” I asked. It doesn’t really seem like a Mexican restaurant even after the black beans, the guacamole, and the enchiladas.

“It’s Mayan,” the carnivore explained. “The Chef is Mayan.”

So not really Mexican in the way we think of Mexican restaurants. Not Mexican American, in other words. You will find no cheap margaritas, grocery store salsa, or easy cheese here. It’s more like “original Mexican.” Mexican before the conquistadors and immigrants.

“I’m thinking about dessert,” the carnivore announced.

“I don’t suppose we could get a kale salad for dessert?” I asked.

“You can have a kale salad,” he said.

We settled on the chocolate on chocolate, a decadent concoction of chocolate cake, chocolate avocado puree as frosting, chili infusion somewhere, mango puree.

My theory of chocolate is that it should have barely enough sugar to make the bitterness bearable.

The chocolate on chocolate was half way there. It’s adequately sweet, but the dominant note is definitely chocolate. It’s kind of perfect for people who have raided the baking chocolate in a moment of desperation. (Guilty.)

“What was that book we read about chocolate and chili? ‘Like Water For Chocolate?'” the carnivore wondered.

“You realize that book was about love and magical women?” I said.

“Wait, I remember. It was ‘Chocolat.’ That’s where we read about chili chocolate.”

“You realize that book was about magical women and their magical daughters?”

“Yes, but it was also a lot about chocolate. And I see you didn’t spurn your spoon.”

It’s true. I did eat the lion’s share of our dessert.

“We should have gotten the kale, but this gave me a lot more to write about.”

Louisvillians in the know go for the chocolate on chocolate as did these two who split one as we did.

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