By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
"Chingao!" my friend exclaimed quietly but forcefully as he polished off the last of the anafres sitting in the tall clay pot between us, swiping up any final smudges of the refried black bean and cheese dip with thick, torn-off bits of his tortillas de maiz.
In front of him was a similarly decimated platter of camarones Maya — shrimp that had been cooked in a simple lemon butter sauce, served with the shells mostly intact — along with a few stray edges of a baleada con aguacate and an empty bottle of Salva Vida, the national beer of Honduras. It was a scene of utter destruction.
5945 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77081
Region: Outer Loop - SW
Camarones Maya: $13.50
Lomito de res: $13.99
Sopa de caracol: $12.00
Desayuno Maya: $6.00
Desayuno especial: $3.99
Honduras Maya Cafe & Bar
5945 Bellaire Blvd., Suite B, 713-668-5002.
I laughed from over my plate of chancletas, only a quarter of which remained. "So you like Honduran food, huh?"
"Yeah," he chuckled after a few minutes. "Hell, I might never eat Mexican food again."
So far, that seems to be the consensus among everyone I've taken to Honduras Maya Cafe & Bar, the new Honduran restaurant on Bellaire Boulevard. It hasn't been open long, only a few months, but it's a welcome addition to the city's entirely too small Honduran dining scene, which currently consists of Las Hamacas — a chain with several locations around town — and a handful of other small restaurants. It's said that the only two places to get authentic Honduran food are Honduras and New Orleans. But the Bayou City has started to give the Big Easy a run for its lempira since much of New Orleans's Honduran population relocated to Houston after Hurricane Katrina.
Honduras Mayan is in a beautiful, open space with plenty of tables and a full bar, and it fills up with people once 7 p.m. rolls around. Friday nights are especially popular, as the restaurant hosts a karaoke night that sees people streaming in the front door — families, young kids, couples — to sing along to their favorite canciones catrachas over a frozen margarita or a Port Royal lager.
Inside, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you're in a semi-upscale restaurant: Sparkling granite tabletops, colorful mosaic tile designs over the bar, thoughtful woodwork and captivating murals make Honduras Mayan quite easy on the eyes. The service is equally refined, quick and efficient, the staff always ready to help out if you have a question about a menu item, or offering suggestions for first-timers. There is a bit of a language barrier, but it's easily overcome with a little patience and occasionally some pointing. And regardless of your level of Spanish, you may find yourself starting to feel like family after only the second or third visit.
On my first visit to Honduras Mayan, I was desperate to try the baleadas.
A popular street food in Honduras, baleadas are made by folding a huge, thick flour tortilla in half and stuffing it with a simple yet rich concoction of beans, crema and shavings of cotija cheese. This baleada sencilla — or simple baleada — is comfort food at its finest, the downy tortilla gently embracing the generous spread of refried black beans, tangy crema and salty cheese inside. At Honduras Mayan, you can get your baleadas with other traditional contents, like scrambled eggs (for a cheap, filling breakfast) or fat slices of creamy avocados, as we did that evening. I will never understand why baleadas aren't more popular here than, say, quesadillas or other greasy tortilla concoctions. The simple little pockets are certainly better for you (although I'm not arguing that they're health food), they don't weigh you down, and they taste amazing.
Along with our baleadas (we made the mistake of ordering two before dinner; don't do this, as you they'll fill you up), my dining companion and I munched on the traditional anafres sitting on the table.
"Way better than salsa," he said.
"I wouldn't go that far," I replied. But the bean dip, served in a ramekin that was kept warm by a candle underneath it, was definitely a nice change of pace from chips and salsa and felt somehow more civil, perhaps because of the stout clay pot housing it.
I sipped on a frozen margarita as we nibbled, reflecting on how such a plainly Tex-Mex concoction as this — salt-rimmed glass and all — was better here than at any other place in town. How can a brand-new Honduran restaurant be serving the best frozen margarita in Houston? I don't know, but repeated visits are definitely in order (especially during the daily happy hour) to reaffirm this conclusion, now reached at least three times.
After our main courses arrived, conversation was briefly suspended. My dining companion was happily peeling apart his buttery shrimp and tucking them into some fluffy, fat corn tortillas, spreading more of the bean dip on as he went. On my plate, slices of pear squash — or chayote — sandwiched a thin layer of cheese. The dish was battered and then baked, and covered with a very light tomato sauce. I hadn't understood why the dish was called chancletas until it arrived; the shape of the stuffed squash was similar to those of small sandals, or the "chancletas" my father was always imploring me to pick up off the living room floor when I was a kid.