Hidden Gem: Mediterranean meets healthy at Maya’s

A plate of kafta with rice and Maya’s salad can be bought for $10.99 and a bowl with salmon and harissa butter is on the menu for $13.50. Photo by Yesenia Alvarado/The Et Cetera

By YESENIA ALVARADO
@YeseniaA_ETC

Great food can be simple. Maya’s Modern Mediterranean proves that.

This gem opened its doors in October in the busy Casa Linda Plaza surrounded by all of the greasy fast food you already know about. Maya’s offers a new, fried-free take on Mediterranean by specializing in Israeli and Palestinian cuisine.

Russell Birk is the owner and self-proclaimed “Chief Hummus Maker” of Maya’s. He said he wants to provide more access to whole foods in the area.

A plate of kafta with rice and Maya’s salad can be bought for $10.99 and a bowl with salmon and harissa butter is on the menu for $13.50. Photo by Yesenia Alvarado/The Et Cetera

“This area is grossly underserved,” Birk said. “If you want to eat healthy here, where are you going to go? Torchy’s Tacos? Pei Wei?”

Birk used to be vice president of treasury at Blockbuster but said he prefers his current job as owner of Maya’s restaurant.

“I hated all of it,” Birk said. “It’s hard to do something when you’re not passionate about it.”

After spending a lot of time in the Middle East and learning recipes from chefs in Israel, Birk decided to open up his own restaurant with a different take on Mediterranean.

When you walk into the bright and minimalistic restaurant, you’re greeted with the words “HEALTHY,” “FRESH” AND “SIMPLE” in large bold teal letters on a white wall.

The decor matches their message. Maya’s clean and minimal design is translated into their dishes with air-baked and air-fried ingredients and vegan and gluten-free options.

Maya’s simple theme is seen in their short menu.

Besides the $15 plate with salmon, their dishes with other proteins range from $6.99 to $10.99. You can get an appetizer or dessert for less than $5.

They have six main proteins: kafta, shawarma, schnitzel, honey chicken kabobs, air-baked falafel and garlic-roasted eggplant.

You can get any of these in a bowl with rice or spinach, in a pita with Maya’s chopped salad or on a plate with your side of choice.

When I get one of their balanced plates, I forget that I’m eating wholesome food because it’s so good.

Birk said he wants to make quality, affordable food that with a little exercise can keep people, including students, in good shape.

“Students need to get healthy,” he said. “But they don’t really know how to eat healthy because you walk in anywhere and the portion sizes are too big.”

One of my favorite dishes is the shawarma bowl mixed with their perfectly spiced turmeric rice and spinach with sesame dressing.

The toughest part is deciding on a sauce, but a plate of their kafta with Persian honey soy dressing creates a flawless balance of sweet and savory.

Owner of Maya’s, Russell Birk, lets his 9-year-old son, Oren, take orders Feb. 26. Photo by Yesenia Alvarado/The Et Cetera

Some of their most popular dishes include the hand-rolled beef kabobs, also known as kafta, Big O’s hummus and the roast chicken, known as shawarma.

What makes these short hand-rolled beef kabobs so savory is the spiced and grilled grass-fed ground beef.

If you have tried Greek hummus and aren’t a fan of the garlic and lemon taste, Big O’s hummus is Israeli style, rich in tahini and olive oil.

The shawarma begins with hormone-free chicken marinated overnight with a variety of Mediterranean spices.

Unlike the usual shawarma, which is cooked on a vertical rotisserie and resembles taco meat, this chicken is oven-roasted, then sliced and grilled.

Maya’s doesn’t just offer hummus as one of its appetizers. The menu also includes a variety of sweet dessert hummus for less than $4.

Birk said he once tried the popular chocolate hummus but saw that it had a bunch of preservatives, so he decided to create his own version with natural, whole ingredients.

And if you’re old enough, you can wash the hummus down with a local craft beer or some wine like an Annabella pinot noir.

Despite its modern look, Maya’s is a family-owned establishment. Birk said the restaurant is named after his 4-year-old daughter.

Birk’s 9-year-old son Oren can be seen at the register wearing a Big O’s T-shirt, advertising the hummus named after him.

The portions may be smaller than what you’re used to, but the dishes are filled with whole foods.

As soon as you take your last bite, you should feel completely satisfied.

If not, their pita bread is pretty delicious all on its own.

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