This may seem a topic better suited for Halloween than the dead of icy winter coming up on Fat Tuesday, but hey, let’s talk about “haunted” restaurant locations. Local foodies quickly learn about these venues that seem to labor under a curse, housing one short-lived restaurant failure after another.
For more than a generation, the big old house at the corner of Bardstown Road and Bonnycastle may have been the city’s most notorious such location. You can’t convince a lot of restaurant-industry people that there wasn’t a real ghost in there, a female haunt angry when the beloved 1980s-era Parisian Pantry removed an upstairs wall the ghost apparently wanted left alone. Aggressive haunting ensued; the Pantry soon shut down, and a half-dozen successors filled the place with the stench of failure until Café 360 eventually broke the curse. Maybe the hookah smoke calmed the specter?
This may be the most colorful local restaurant ghost story, but it’s certainly not the city’s only haunted location. The Butchertown space, once “Dirty” Min’s cafeteria, saw a similar string of failures until Sergio’s World Beers finally broke its spell.
I’ve certainly heard people in the business use a broad vocabulary of curse words to describe the Frankfort Avenue storefront that, back in the ’70s, housed the original Lynn’s, soon followed by a range of eateries from Jamaican to Korean to Chef Alan Rosenberg’s short-lived Danielle’s and, most recently, the short-lived Cubana.
Walking along the avenue the other day, we noticed there’s a new tenant here, a bright and inviting Mexican restaurant called “Riviera Maya.”
Say what? The Mayan Riviera, Mexico’s answer to Destin, is a place of blue Gulf waters, white-sand beaches, intriguing Mayan temple ruins and affordable vacation packages. Centered on Cozumel, it lies on the tip of the Yucatan, jutting out into the Gulf in the general direction of Cuba.
“Mayan” is also a term of culinary significance in Louisville, where Chef Bruce Ucan’s landmark Mayan Café, which started in NuLu before NuLu was even invented, has introduced us to the Mayan cuisine of the Yucatan and Guatemala.
After a quick lunch at Riviera Maya, I can’t say it’s another Mayan Café. But I’m ready to welcome it as an inviting addition to the Frankfort Avenue strip. Sunny and bright, with bold red and yellow walls and granite-look tables, it turns out to be a branch of the same family tree as the local Sol Aztecas mini-chain, with a few Mayan dishes (like the marinated pork dish cochinita pibil, $13.99) supplementing more typical Mexican selections. A couple dozen main dishes are almost all $13.99, with assorted fajitas running $2 or $3 more, and veggie dishes, sandwiches, burritos and enchiladas a buck less.
Complimentary chips were fine, crisp and fresh, with tangy mild and piquant but not fiery hot salsas.
Lechon al horno (roast pork, $13.99) was outstanding, very much like Cuban lechon asada — marinated in citrus and spice, roasted and “pulled,” juicy and tender with crunchy end bits for variety, served on a large banana leaf. It came with three warm, fresh tortillas, sweet fried plantains, tender black beans and white rice studded with corn, peas and carrots.
A trio of mushroom tacos ($9.99) featured a deeply flavorful mix of spiced sautéed mushrooms loaded into soft tortillas, with creamy refried beans and Mexican-style rice with tomatoes. Both dishes were garnished with a less-than-memorable mound of shredded iceberg lettuce, pale diced tomatoes and sour cream.
A filling lunch for two, sufficient to provide a take-home bag, totaled $25.45, plus a $5 tip.
Riviera Maya Latin Cuisine
2206 Frankfort Ave.
Robin Garr’s rating: 86 points