Bite at the museum

Tequila Museo Mayahuel

1200 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

It’s always good to see an improvement made on the K Street Mall. In this case, the improvement is Tequila Museo Mayahuel at 12th Street, behind the Hyatt Regency and across from the venerable Broiler. Truncating an assessment of Mayahuel—the Aztec goddess associated with agave—is this quote from Terrence Clifford Brennand, powerful labor-union lobbyist: “Why is this restaurant empty?”

The good news is that Mayahuel is a lot less empty now. During this same meal, Terry accomplishes a first: He completes his salad. “Normally at a Mexican restaurant, the salad is an afterthought,” he says. Not at Mayahuel. It’s a creation worthy of complete consumption. There’s mango, jicama, pineapple, a light raspberry vinaigrette, some crunchy almonds and spring greens. The smaller $6 size is almost a meal, and the accommodating servers offer to put some grilled chicken or shrimp on top. The shrimp are large but heavily buttered, not blending well with the original salad flavors. To make a filling meal, add a cup of the creamy poblano soup, which has a bite but doesn’t suffer from a spoonful or two of the smoky house salsa.

Mayahuel’s space is bright and large with high ceilings, a spacious kitchen and long bar. While the “grand opening” was May 5—go figure—the restaurant has been open for some time offering a shorter menu than what it plans to incorporate at some future date.

On each visit though, the chef, Ramiro Alarcón, offers a tantalizing taste of what’s to come. One time it’s a tart, fish-laden ceviche that’s neither sugary nor syrupy. Another it’s a cup of albondigas soup. For many years, 524 Mexican Restaurant had cornered the market on meatball soup. Mayahuel’s is superior: A thicker, more flavorful broth and generously sized meatballs. Bookending the meal is a complimentary dessert. The free flan is memorable, but spending $5 on mango cheesecake is a Lincoln well-invested.

Mole is a labor-intensive, multi-ingredient undertaking at best. Mayahuel’s is dark and rich with a strong presence of chocolate, just as there should be. It almost doesn’t matter what swims in the concoction, but the chicken is nicely prepared.

The sautéed shrimp diablo lives up to its billing, making the nose run but not stomping on the other varied flavors. Rice comes in the shape of a squarish Aztec pyramid. Nopal cactus shows up regularly, most pleasantly grilled and accompanying pork ribs. A large paddle lay in front of two pieces of tilapia that are covered in a creamy, tan bean sauce. The not-on-the-menu special does not warn that the three thin circles of pepper on the nopal are habanero—although their heat and intensity quickly identify them.

Tequila is a big part of the program. There are colorful bottles of it in wall sconces. “Tequila Museo” is written right above “Mayahuel” on the menu. And given that tequila comes from agave and Mayahuel is the patron saint of same, it all flows together.

The jalapeño margarita on the rocks is tasty but would be tastier with more jalapeño. There are several Mexican beers on tap as well.

While drinking, explore one of the small plates. The Bocaditos Mexicanos has six samples of the entire spectrum of platos chicos. Best is the dobladitas, which are small corn tortillas with shrimp, ricotta and sautéed onions. While the fish special with the bean sauce is somewhat bland—with the exception of the habanero—the only strikingly pedestrian offering is the guacamole. It’s just plain old guacamole and sticks out because the distinct and complicated flavors in the other dishes. Maybe that’s the rationale for keeping the guac so simple.

Mayahuel seems to be benefiting from positive word of mouth. Each time is busier than the previous visit. The praise—and patronage—is well-deserved. Many things are being done well including service that is both engaging and efficient. Can’t wait until the full menu arrives.