Maya.J is a tapas style restaurant located in the heart of Manayunk, Pennsylvania. Taken from their website “Chef Wilson’s culinary career stretches over a quarter of a century and includes studies throughout the US, Thailand, and Europe. Chef strives to create a culinary atmosphere where quality and creativity are of the utmost importance” Maya.J definitely brings a global perspective to food, and the flavors blend together like the United Nations. Read below on our entire experience at Maya.J!
Setting the Stage
We walked in the door at 5:30 and took 2 seats at the bar, closest to the entrance. This was not our first visit to Maya.J. We had visited twice before, both with the same subpar experience- good food but poor service. The environment itself is enjoyable- good lighting, trendy vibe, modern tunes, and an attractive bar area. We do admit, 5:30 on a Saturday is a bit too early for dinner, but hey we were hungry! Translation: Marcie was getting hangry (no, we weren’t looking for the early-bird special, Gramps). It only took about a minute and a half for Michael, the bartender, to greet us. He was super friendly and eased right into a casual conversation.
There are a few tables on the first floor with more dining space available on the second floor. On our previous visits, the joint was packed and we dined upstairs. Leaving our past bad service experiences upstairs, we opted for bar seating. We thought this would increase our chances of having a great experience this time around with constant attention from the bartender.
Who else was there?
There were 3 other girls around the age of 25 having drinks at the bar discussing their plans for the rest of the night (Def getting #whitegirlwasted “starting at R2L”). There was another couple in their 40s eating dinner at a high-top. There wasn’t much hustle and bustle due to the time, plus Maya.J had only been open for a half hour at this point.
We started by ordering two of Maya’s Specialty cocktails, the Cucumber Crisp for Brian and the Main Street Mule for Marcie. It was easy to see that Michael is a veteran cocktail craftsman who takes pride in his creations based on the mixing, presentation, and overall cleanliness. Both gin-based drinks came out Instagram-worthy, and tasted as good as they looked. For comparison, we had ordered the same drinks on our last visit… and would’ve preferred warm Natty Light (Michael must have been off that night).
First Food Choices
Maya.J’s menu seems small based on the physical size but once you read each dish’s description, you want to order everything. Categorized into Land, Sea, and Earth, there are options for everyone. Keep in mind that they’re small plates and the portions are great for sharing. Our first few choices of food were the Pumpkin Bisque, Tuna Poke, and the Maine Lobster Mac & Cheese. The Pumpkin Bisque tasted almost like a dessert! It was very sweet and had a coconut base, and with hints of cinnamon. There were roasted pine nuts sprinkled on top. We would not have ordered it if we saw a picture of how it looked (natural watery peanut butter, bleh). “Gross” was our initial reaction but once we tasted it, we wanted more! The Tuna Poke contained your standard high-quality raw tuna blended with avocado and pumpkin seeds, flanked with some crunchy puffed rice crisps.The dish overall tasted light and refreshing, with just a mild touch of spice. The avocados melted in the mouth. Now, onto the Lobster Mac. The first rule of lobster mac and cheese is to show off that beautiful red crustacean in all his glory. Maya.J nailed it with the perfectly creamy cheese sauce held in orecchiette pasta, and lobster chunks on top and throughout. A little extra crunch on top sealed the deal.
Brian polished off his Cucumber Crisp and next ordered the Spicy Pickle Martini, another Maya Special. Highly recommended by Brian, Marcie chased her sip with water. Garnished with a hot Thai pepper, Michael warned Brian to “try just the tip”. Brian did just that. “HOT!” But good. Next, we ordered two dishes recommended by Michael, the Char Grilled Octopus and the Panang Curry with duck meatballs. He suggested the octopus based off of our first round choices. We were going to order the Duck with Pesto and Mozzarella special, but he convinced us to go for the curry instead for our duck fix. Both dishes were options we probably wouldn’t have ordered on our own, but we’re always up for trying new things. The octopus came out first, served with some naan. It seemed strange served with the naan, and the textures just didn’t blend well. It didn’t help that the naan was burnt and stole flavor away from the tasty octopus. Definitely preferred the octopus on its own. Not the best dish for strictly visual diners, unless you don’t mind the look of curly tentacles.
The Panang Curry arrived and we were quick to switch over to that plate. Along with the pumpkin bisque, this was another surprisingly delightful dish. It had just the right amount of spice that remained in the aftertaste. The duck meatballs were perfectly tender and combined well with the thinly sliced rice dumplings, carrots, sweet potatoes, edamame, and green beans. It was nice and hearty, and plenty flavorful.
We weren’t originally going to get dessert, but Michael highly recommended the Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding to split. We could see where he was coming from, it was delicious… probably when it’s made fresh. Ours tasted a little dry and definitely seemed like it was not made that day. You could tell the bread was heated up because the centers were hot, and the edges were cold. 6.5/10 on the ranking for desserts. When thinking of bread pudding, typically it is very moist and this was more of a “sliced” pound cake style dessert. We could have done without it at the end of dinner.
Overall our experience of Maya.J was much better this time around. Michael made the experience very enjoyable with constant engagement by being very knowledgeable about the drinks and food. We will be back with friends for sure! Below you will find our overall rankings.
The vibe was great, but the pandora advertisements in between songs was a slight turn off.
Service was spectacular even though Michael forgot 1 drink towards the end 😉 (Another Cucumber Crisp that never came once it started to get busier.) Food quality was almost perfect in our book except for the dessert at the very end. Warm and cold in different parts and could tell it wasn’t fresh like the rest of the food. When it comes to being Tinder worthy, we think this might be a 2nd or 3rd date location based on price. Space is kind of tight which may make for awkward interactions if your Tinder date is a bust! Overall our experience was great, and we will be back for a mid-week dinner in the future! We highly recommend trying this place! Get out and visit. Tell them Marcie and Brian sent you! Comment below on your thoughts and experiences at Maya.J!