The Best Mexican Restaurant North (and South) of the Rio Grande?

My apologies for the intermittent webhosting service we’ve had. I don’t know what is causing it, and I’ll follow up with 1and1 Internet Inc tomorrow to see what’s happening. I don’t think I’m doing anything to cause this, and unless attempts to spam the comments on my website and others under are getting so bad that it’s akin to a denial of service attack, I can’t think of what else would trigger this reaction. Whatever it is, I hope it’s fixed soon.

In other news, it’s been five years since I started my first major blog post series, in this case, a five part review of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials sequence. I’m still quite proud of it. If you are interested in learning more about this challenging series of young adult fantasy novels, and getting a window in my own religious philosophy, I encourage you to take a look at my posts.

Vivian Katherine’s First Birthday Party!

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We celebrated Vivian’s first birthday in style yesterday, with Vivian surrounded by family. She was the star of the show, of course, especially during the ceremonial smoushing of the first birthday cake. Erin has more wonderful photographs here

We expected it, but we were still a little overwhelmed when Vivian got on her sugar high and crawled at top speed from one end of our top floor and back, many times. She didn’t go to sleep until about 10:30, and I fear that all three of us were a little queasy from too much sugar. But it was a good time, and nothing that some Tums, ginger ale and mint tea couldn’t put right.

And now for an overdue review…

The Mayan Grill

The Mayan Grill

Waterloo Region has come a long way since I migrated there with my parents in 1991. The town, known primarily for its German/East European heritage, has become a lot more diverse, with decent Chinese and East Asian restaurants materializing throughout the tri-cities, and our streets becoming a good mix of colour.

But one ethnic group that has been poorly represented here in Kitchener has been the Mexicans. Coming to Canada from Omaha, Erin has been able to enjoy any ethnic food she cares to try (Thai, West African, you name it), but one place where Omaha has Kitchener beat is in the size and fervour of its Mexican community. I’m told that Omaha’s Cinquo de Mayo rivals the city’s Independence Day celebrations, and some of the best Mexican restaurants can be stumbled upon if you just go to the commercial strip and pick a door at random.

Mexican food, especially in this neck of the woods, has been contaminated by the influence of fast food outlets like Taco Bell. What remains has been further downgraded by the influence of Tex-Mex. Until a few weeks ago, if I had to describe Mexican food, it would have called it heavy, slathered in red sauce and doused with spices. I would have said that it had no subtlety. That it was hard on the stomach and overpowered the palate.

That may have been the Tex in the Tex-Mex talking. The Mayan Grill, which recently opened its doors in downtown Preston (northern Cambridge) is truly authentic Mexican, and it reveals to the world (well, my world, at least), that Mexican cuisine is subtle, diverse, an orchestra on the palate, with each spice and flavour individually distinct, and yet working together to produce a tremendous whole.

The owner, Ruth Kirschke, comes by her skill honestly. Born of a German father, her mother was Mexican, and has lived in Cancun and operated several restaurants there. A recent immigrant to Canada, her family opened this restaurant and staffs most of the positions. They pay only passing attention to decor. There are red, white and green flags hanging from the ceiling, and a couple of mini sombreros hanging from nails on the wall and a poster or two, but it doesn’t go overboard. The building is obviously a converted fast food outlet and the seating is utilitarian. In other words, there’s none of the kitsch that seems to infect some of the TexMex places I’ve gone to, and the family owners are more interested in serving up food.

On my first visit to the Mayan Grill, I had the Tacos al Pastor. This arrives as piles of marinated pork on rounds of soft corn or flour tortillas. Bits of mint, a dash of lime and a hunk of pineapple complete the ensemble. Any resemblance to Taco Bell’s tacos is purely coincidental. Each ingredient lends its voice in such a way that you stop and savour; the sweetness of the pineapple and the savoury of the pork, the tartness of the lime; it’s all here. You can tell the tastes apart, even as they merge together.

Yesterday, I had the chicken enchiladas which, in lesser Mexican restaurants, is usually an excuse to slather on the cheese and the sauce, but that wasn’t the case here. We were not overpowered with cheese or sour cream. The chicken was cooked well and in good proportion, and the flour tortillas were coated with tangy green salsa. Again, the divergent flavors forced me to stop and savour.

My mother-in-law has been to a number of Mexican restaurants across North America, including small joints in Mexico, and she called the Mayan Grill the best Mexican restaurant she’d ever visited. You might have a little trouble believing such high praise, but I can tell you that the Mayan Grill changed my opinion of Mexican cuisine. And you can’t get much better than that.

The Mayan Grill is located at 960 King Street East in Cambridge, downtown Preston.

Further Reading

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