I loved the little Chichen Itza stand in downtown's Mercado La Paloma, where office workers munch on inexpensive cochinita pibil tacos with a jicama salad and after lunch, you can get some smoked milk or tuna ice cream at the Oaxacan ice cream stand.
Now Chichen Itza's owners have gently gentrified with a new full-service restaurant in a two colorful, pleasant rooms on Sixth St. across from the Park Plaza Hotel, which should be a great option for Koreatown dwellers looking to branch out from Korean and Oaxacan food.
The food: Chichen Itza's Yucatan cuisine combines Mexican and Cuban flavors, with lots of meats marinated in orange juice and tropical twists on familiar Mexican dishes. Tuna chile rellenos (above) were slighty spicy with a mild tuna flavor -- not quite on the level of Mozza's stuffed zucchini flowers, but just as easy to gobble up. Kibi is strangely enough, the same as the ground beef and cracked wheat patties called kibbeh found in Middle Eastern restaurants, apparently brought to the Yucatan by Lebanese immigrants, according to the menu. A mild but deliciously smoky salsa served with the bread basket perks up the kibi and goes well with everything. Fried plantains are piled in a nice Lincoln Log stack and don't seem at all greasy. The cochinita pibil, which is basically what I'm there for, comes with black beans and rice. But it's a tad disappointing, as the large, tender chunks of pork don't get exposed to enough of the achiote/orange marinade to soak up that orangey, porky goodness. Fortunately a basket of corn tortillas is provided; we mush up the pork and make our own tacos, and by the bottom of the dish, it's starting to taste seriously good. But they might want to lose that super-spicy raw habanero pepper garnish -- when someone pops one into his mouth without thinking, he's going to be in for a big surprise.
The verdict: There's something just a touch gringo about Chichen Itza -- maybe because it's so new and clean, or because the manager rushes out to worry that the chile rellenos are too spicy just because we'd asked for water refills. But he's just trying to be nice, and despite a little lag in the kitchen for the main courses, everyone is very eager to please. Prices are slightly lower at lunch, and at dinner, main courses are mostly around $13-$16. And don't miss the cochinita pibil tacos.
Chichen Itza Restaurant
2501 W. 6th St.