Deep Fried Chicago: Mayan Palace
Last time I ordered a chimichanga here in Chicago, I left simultaneously vowing to skip dinner and nodding my head in awe at the restaurant's deep fried prowess. They had served me a perfectly golden brown deep fried burrito, one that could be cut in half without spilling its guts across the table and whose balance of flavors was remarkable, considering the circumstances. But I said it then and I'll repeat it now: it wasn't the chimichanga I desired. That elusive, red sauce and melted cheese topped specimen has been something of a challenge to locate here in Chicago. But I may have finally found my white whale at Mayan Palace, a nondescript Lakeview spot located on a lonely stretch of Halsted.
Resist the temptation to fill up on the free chips (which I'll discuss below): the Chimichanga Suiza ($9.95) is worth saving yourself for. With at least five iterations on the menu (not counting filling variations), Mayan Palace easily corners the niche chimichanga market. Don't attempt to understand the menu's varied minutia, though: all you need to know is that you'll be getting a flour tortilla wrapped around your filling of choice and the whole affair will be deep fried, plated, and presented desnudo or topped with sauce and/or cheese and/or avocado slices. Said sauces are the various housemade moles, and while I defer to Nick's more experienced tongue on the matter, I found both the mole rojo atop my chimichanga and the mole poblano our server brought out for sampling to be smoky, rich, and deeply flavored. The chimichanga proper was flawless in every way: the shredded beef filling was tender and well seasoned, the tortilla was crisp without shattering, and the restrained dousing of sauce and cheese moistened without overpowering. This is a chimichanga for which I shall return.
I wish I could say the same about the Chiles Rellenos ($12.95), the meal's only misstep. Though the pepper still retained an enlivened crunch and the cheese was sufficiently melty, the thickly applied egg batter was bready and soggy under its ranchero sauce blanket.
But back to the Chips & Salsa (free, as they should be at any self-respecting Tex-Mex restaurant), that appetite ruining starter for the self-discipline-less in us all. Rather than simply filling time and stomach space, the offering here is on point. The chips are greaseless and crisp with substance, like Fritos. And the salsa, with finely julienned cilantro, chip clingability, and unobtrusive (but certainly present) spice is exactly what I'm looking for in a place like this. Think of it as spicy Mexican pizza sauce, if that descriptor could be used without a hint of insult.
It's also worth mentioning the exemplary Rice and Beans: the former featured fiercely individual, saffron hued grains, while the latter was rich and creamy. If I can wrench myself away from the chimichanga on my next visit, they'll make an excellent pair to anything on the menu—as long as it comes topped with that silky, dreamy mole.