Yucatan Gold

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Casa Maya is a well-kept culinary secret in St. Augustine. The renovated house-turned-bistro is located on Hypolita Street, a narrow, one-way alley. But locals and regular visitors to the Oldest City revere the menu as a refreshing homage to traditional Mexican fare, prepared with local ingredients in the Yucatan Peninsula style.

Warm simplicity is a key element of this family-owned restaurant. The burnt orange walls inside the tiny dining room are broken up by photos of St. Augustine landmarks and a large Mayan stone sculpture. Approximately 15 people can comfortably dine inside, but the three tables on the outdoor patio are prime spots to enjoy cool evening breezes. Food is presented on white plates, and a satellite radio station provides a mix of coffeehouse acoustic and independent artists—no mariachi bands here, thank you.

Upon arrival, our server led us to a small corner table inside. We ordered a basket of organic blue corn chips and house-made salsa ($3.95) to enjoy while looking over the menu. The salsa is chunky and smoky, with a hint of sweetness, and the chips are flavorful and coated with just the right amount of salt. We then shared an order of two veggie empanadas ($10.95). Flaky crusts enveloped a creamy blend of cheese and vegetables, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction atop the empanadas paired well with the mixed green salad that overflowed from the other half of the plate. A side serving of balsamic dressing makes a tasty dipping sauce for the empanadas.

As our entrées were prepared, we sipped on hibiscus sangria ($7), a popular house specialty that fuses a floral undertone with red wine, berries and fresh apples.

For the main course, we ordered entrées from the menu category, "A Tribute to the Sea Gods." Casa Maya is a Slow Food First Coast Snail of Approval recipient, and their fish is bought straight from St. Augustine docks daily. Our selections did not disappoint. The Ixtabay fish ($22.95) is a sautéed grouper filet topped with a spinach and mushroom sauce, served with pepper-infused rice, avocado wedges and pico de gallo. The fish was light and tender, and the cilantro in the pico provided a burst of flavor. My guest was surprised by the heat of her Pakal shrimp ($17.95); and indeed, the citrus, annato and chipotle marinade packs a strong punch. To be fair, though, the menu describes the dish as "an adventurous combination of flavors." The rice and avocado slices served on the side help tame the heat.

For dessert, our server suggested the mango Key lime pie ($4.75). The pie came garnished with whipped cream and strawberry slices, and is a sweet spin on the classic Florida dessert.

Casa Maya
17 Hypolita Street
St. Augustine