Four partners -- Araceli Reynos, Ezzie Dominguez and brothers Isaias Poot and Juan Bootista, all of whom hail from the Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico -- have joined together to open one of Denver's only Yucatanian restaurants: Mayan Manjar Yucateco, which unlocked its doors last Friday, taking over the space that formerly held Maria Empanada, which is relocating to the old Buffalo Doughboy digs on Broadway.
"All of us do catering, which is how we met," says Dominguez, whose husband, along with Poot, also did time in the kitchen of Cafe Jordano. "We were doing tons of catering, and figured that we may as well open a restaurant showcasing the traditional food of the Yucatán," adds Dominguez, who's also a pro-immigration activist and spearheads Licencias Para Todos Colorado, an organization whose mission it is to authorize the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles to give driver's licenses to undocumented Colorado residents.
Dominguez, who's just 31, is also battling cancer, although she's quick to point out that opening a new restaurant, which is never an easy feat, is just one of the many motivators to keep on living. "I've got to stay positive and and active, and being at the restaurant -- that's one of the main reasons why I keep going. I can either lay down and cry, or stand up and just work harder, plus I have a son, so there's a lot to live for," she says, glancing around the restaurant, which is full of customers sampling plates -- cochinita pibil tortas; pastor sopes; Mayan enchiladas; housemade empanadas; and chicken relleno negro tacos -- and waxing poetic after every bite. All of the recipes, notes Dominguez, are "family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation," and the dishes, she adds, are "specific to Tekax," a small town in the Yucatán, which translates to "Place of the Forests" in the Yucatec Maya language.
The 28-seat space, which is charming in its simplicity, is bedecked with scenic photographs, hand-crafted folkloric salt-and-pepper shakers and napkin holders, and handmade yellow tablecloths painted with flowers. And while there's no liquor license, the aguas frescas, especially the cucumber-infused water, are fantastic.
Mayan Manjar Yucateco is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Here's a peek of what you can expect.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.