First look: Mayan Manjar Yucateco opens in the former Maria Empanada space

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.

See also: Maria Empanada relocating to the former Buffalo Doughboy space

"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.

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