By Sylvan Hardy
When Paúl Arias moved back to Cuenca at age 15, he couldn’t forget the view of the Manhattan skyline across the bay from Beyonne, New Jersey.
“I grew up in Jersey, thinking about New York, and when you do that you think a lot about food,” he says.
The New York and New Jersey influence is hard to miss at Arias’ restaurant, Mayu Smokehouse and Bakery, which opened early this year on Paseo Tres de Noviembre, at the bottom of the escalinata beside Hotel Crespo. Mayu has quickly become a favorite with young Cuenca professionals, university students, tourists and a few expats.
Mayu offers several seating options, all of them casual. The main dining area has a wide-open feel enhanced by high ceilings, situated around the large bar and food prep area. For those who want even more space, there are several outside tables with views of the Rio Tomebamba.
There’s a real bar scene at Mayu, similar to the one at Arias’ other restaurant, Chipotle on Calle Larga. On a recent night, a bar stool occupant at Mayu made the point that it’s a pleasure to find a restaurant bar where middle-aged folks can sit comfortably and have a drink. “In a lot of the local restaurants, the bars are only used for providing drinks to waiters for table service,” he said. “This one feels good.”
He added that there’s another good reason to belly up to the bar: two-for-one specials on rum, vodka, gin, whiskey and tequila drinks till 8 at night.
Arias is indulging his passion for craft beers and offers several IPAs as well as other specialty brews such as the Russian Imperial Stout and Belgium Dark Ale, which pack 12% and 13% alcohol wallops, respectively. So far, his suppliers are Quito-area artisanal brewers but he’s in discussion with a larger Chilean micro-brewery to enlarge the selection.
Mayu offers a full menu with appetizers ranging from sliders, small hamburgers or a mini-Cesar chicken salad, three for $6.75 or six for $11.
There’s a good selection of big sandwiches, including a BLT, chicken BLT, Philly cheese steak, spicy chicken, and Cuban with prices from $5.75 to $7. In keeping with the New York / New Jersey theme, there’s also a pastrami sandwich (be sure to ask for it with mustard, muy picante).
There are choices of five hamburgers with various fixin’s, in 150 and 300 gram sizes, with prices ranging from $5.75 to $7.75.
The main courses include chicken Parmesan for $8 or chicken al carbón at $7.25, that come with a choice of fetuccini, spaghetti or pesto, with alfredo or pomodora sauce. Other fuertes are ribs in $12 or $18 portions; pork chops for $9.75; BBQ chicken and spicy fried chicken for $7.75 and $7.25.
Friends and I have tried several of the sandwiches and main courses and haven’t been disappointed. And the craft beer is as strong as advertised.
The menu was actually a second thought, according to Arias, who originally envisioned an order-at-the-counter arrangement. “The plan was to have all the food, drinks and bakery items listed on blackboards and have people order at the bar but we found that people here aren’t ready for that so we hired a wait staff and printed table menus,” he says.
Arias says he is still developing the restaurant concept but is satisfied with his first few months. “I wanted something sophisticated and fun,” he says. “I feel good about things so far.”
Mayu Smokehouse and Bakery: Paseo Tres de Noviembre at the Juana de Oro escalinata (next to Hotel Crespo); Tel. 283 4669 or 099 403 4284; Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight. Closed Monday. Click here