ST. AUGUSTINE'S CASA MAYA FEATURES FRESH CENTRAL AMERICAN FLAVORS
The fish tacos with flaky, flavorful grilled chunks of mahi with homemade chipotle mayo are an absolute must-have
22 Hypolita St., St. Augustine
• Maple Street Biscuit Company's third area location opened July 17 on Edgewood Avenue in Murray Hill.
• Intuition Ale Works' King Street Imperial Stout will be available in cans beginning Aug. 2.
• Floribbean Flames premieres July 23 at 9 p.m. on Travel Channel, featuring four local grillers battling for a $10,000 prize.
• Ovinte at St. Johns Town Center acquired San Marco's Bistro Aix. Executive Chef Ian Lynch will serve as executive chef at both eateries.
• M Shack is planning a third area location to open on Margaret Street in the Five Points Village in late 2014.
• The area's first Trader Joe's specialty grocery store is slated to open Oct. 3 in South Beach Regional Shopping Center, Jax Beach, right where A1A and JTB meet.
It can be a daunting task to pick a lunch spot in bustling historic St. Augustine when so many great options abound. I love a nice al fresco meal, so Casa Maya always comes to mind, with its sprawling open-air courtyard charm and eclectic menu.
In late 2012, the restaurant relocated from 17 Hypolita to 22 Hypolita — a much roomier space, complete with outside second-story patio seating and the aforementioned courtyard.
On one visit, we started with homemade-style salsa and organic blue corn chips ($3.50), which proved unremarkable; on another visit, we chose gooey queso fundido ($7.50) — baked Mexican cheese, salsa and chips aplenty. Black bean soup with rice ($3.95 for a cup) is also a satisfying choice, but obviously not as sharable.
Now, the dilemma: The marinated shrimp tacos (3 for $10.95) are satisfying, but the fish tacos are an absolute must. Savor these three tortilla-wrapped treasures (your choice of soft corn or flour) with flaky, flavorful grilled chunks of mahi, crisp slivers of romaine, refreshing diced pico de gallo and a heavy-handed drizzle of homemade chipotle mayo. Accompaniments aside, it's the freshness of the fish that makes this dish shine.
Another go-to is the huinic sandwich ($8.95) — ropa vieja with sweet plantains and creamy avocado slices on freshly baked bread, served with chips and salsa. The flavors and textures work fabulously with one another. If you've never had ropa vieja, a traditional Cuban-style dish, definitely experience this one: shredded slow-cooked brisket with onions, bell pepper, tomatoes and a touch of chipotle. Because it's slow-roasted, the meat is extraordinarily tender.
Casa Maya is open Wednesday through Monday, and it's a treat to dine outside and relax. Grab an adult beverage and unwind. The Sunday breakfast menu looks great, too — crunchy deconstructed enchilada-like chilaquiles, pillowy sweet potato pancakes, huevos rancheros and more. Did I mention homemade sangria? Oh, and save room for the spongy homemade-style tres leches.