There’s one thing about restaurant design they probably don’t teach you in cooking school: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Clearly, that was the guiding construction principle behind places like Blaue Gans (né Le Zinc), the new Les Deux Gamins (né Metropol), and, on a much smaller scale, Pio Maya, a tiny taquería that opened surreptitiously this winter in a Greenwich Village storefront previously and briefly occupied by an Indian-wrap shop. With the exception of a couple of Mexican artworks, the layout is identical, down to the leftover diorama-like displays of beans and grains. All the energy and resources have wisely been focused on the food—a selection of cheap, filling Mexican fare that’s freshly prepared, subtly seasoned, and a very welcome addition to a culinarily blighted block (Gray’s Papaya the lone exception).
Tasty double-tortilla tacos have the perfect ratio of flavorful pork or chorizo to shredded lettuce and pico de gallo. The oval-shaped masa cakes called sopes are slicked with earthy refried beans and sprinkled with salty cotija, and the same comforting masa goodness permeates both versions of tamales—corn-husked and the banana-leaf-wrapped. But those Mexican antojitos are only part of the Pio Maya equation. If they weren’t so tasty, you’d think the joint was a rotisserie-chicken shop masquerading as a taquería. Juicy, burnished birds spin on a spit and end up in combination platters (with either seasoned rice and beans, dense, vinegary yucca, fried tostones, or caramelized plantains) or carved up and tucked into tortas and strewn atop tostadas. The extremely gracious owner happens to be the brother of the guy behind Los Pollitos, a burgeoning Brooklyn roast-chicken empire, and you can taste the family resemblance.