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Sauces and Slow Service

You'll get good-sized portions and delicious dishes at Maya Quetzal, just not much on the friendliness front

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Tucson doesn't have much in the way of options for Guatemalan food — in fact, the only option is the same one that's been around for more than 20 years now a Maya Quetzal on Fourth Avenue. The colorful building (inside and out) is showing its age and some signs of wear, but it's still bright, clean and friendly.

The restaurant was mostly empty on both of our visits, and service was slow and a bit brusque at times. The food, while it took a while to come out, was consistently delicious, except for the sides of rice, which were bland and a bit overcooked. Don't expect a quick lunch, and definitely don't expect service with a smile, but if you're looking for some slow-cooked savory deliciousness, and don't care too much about the rest, then it's worth a visit.

Maya Quetzal's menu features a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, and the rest of the menu is divided into sections by meat type. Most of the preparations are the same, for example, you can get en pepian with chicken, pork, or beef ($9.99), and en mole as well. I tried both the en pepian and the en mole, with pork and beef, respectively. The en pepian sauce is made with roasted peppers, tomato, green tomatillo, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and it was wonderfully nutty and complex. Normally I'm not much of a mole fan, but Maya Quetzal's version was savory and not too sweet, with just a hint of chocolate and smokiness, made with chocolate, tomato, dried ancho chiles, peanuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds.

The vegetarian dishes at Maya Quetzal are hearty and delicious, and even as the ravenous carnivore I am, I didn't miss the meat a bit in the chile rostizado ($9.25), a large Anaheim chile stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers, smothered in melted cheese and tomato sauce. The mushrooms and potatoes gave the dish heartiness, and the flavors melded well together, though the tomato sauce was a little bland, and the side of beans that it was served with suffered from the same fate as the rice sides—overcooked and bland.

Sauces are the specialty, and the pollo en jocon ($9.99) was no exception, with slices of chicken breast simmered in a tangy, acidic tomatillo, tomato, green onion and cilantro sauce, which was my favorite of all the entrée dishes. The chicken was tender and moist, and while the sauce had a bright flavor to it, it wasn't overpowering.

Portion sizes are generous, but not overly huge, at Maya Quetzal, especially for the price, and appetizers are no exception. Pupusas, rellenitos, tacos and quesadillas are the mainstays of the appetizer section, and the rellenitos de platano ($7.50) aren't to be missed. Dough made from ripened and green plantains, mixed with garlic and spices, is stuffed with pepper jack cheese, deep fried, given a hefty squirt of chipotle mayo, and served insanely, steaming, piping hot. Delicious. The pupusas were also tasty. Although they technically hail from El Salvador, and not Guatemala, the thick corn masa dough is stuffed with goodies (either cheese or chicharron, in this case, both $7.50 for two pupusas), fried, and topped with a vinegary, tangy cabbage slaw. You can't go wrong with thick, handmade, crispy corn tortilla, melted gooey cheese and salty, chewy chicharrones. You just can't.

So, while you might not have the best customer service experience, if you're looking for inexpensive, filling, consistently tasty food that's a little outside of the normal burger and fries or Mexican food fare, then Maya Quetzal is definitely worth a try.

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