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Central Arkansas has Mexican restaurants of all stripes. Some upscale, some mind-blowingly cheap. Some lean towards TexMex, others to more authentic fare and still others draw influences from elsewhere in Latin America. And then there are some that bill themselves as one thing, but don't deliver.
We were excited when we heard about Riviera Maya, not just because it would bring a new restaurant to the spot vacated long ago by the Kettle at Fair Park and I-630. No, it was the bold claim on the restaurant's sign, “Discover Real Mexican Food,” that led to some anticipatory drooling.
Well, wipe the drool away. Riviera Maya is clean, has a varied menu, serves an adequate margarita — and is completely unexceptional in this market.
We gave it a few tries. We went with a crowd one evening, assuming we'd be able to try a lot of items. And we did. The nine-page menu is a mishmash of Mexican food listings and Photoshopped images inserted over each other. We started with cheese dip and went from there.
The cheese dip ($3.25, $1.75 for a half order) is what you'd expect at a mid-range chain restaurant, white with a little spice. Same with the salsa — simply run of the mill. Chips were hot but not impressive. Nothing was bad, just not much to talk about.
One companion chose the fajita taco salad ($6.50), a tortilla bowl full of guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese, and lettuce hiding strips of beef fajita down below. The beef was a little overcooked, but the guacamole was pretty decent.
Another chose the carne asada ($8.50) and was rewarded with a little steak topped by a heap of grilled onions and sides of tortillas, rice and beans. We don't know what happened to the guacamole that was listed with it.
A third went for one of the combinations (No. 7, $6.95) and was delivered a trio that included an adequately prepared and sauced beef enchilada, burrito and taco. The seasoning was fine but the meat was a bit cold.
We chose the pollo a la Riviera ($8.75), shrimp and chicken simmered with tomatoes, peppers, and onions in cheese sauce served up with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo. The large shrimp were perfectly cooked and well seasoned, the chicken pounded flat. We enjoyed, but it arrived without cheese sauce. About five minutes later a waiter had the cheese sauce to us.
We were willing to give Riviera Maya another shot, and went for lunch a few days later. Our companion chose the burrito Maya ($5.50) with beef. The large burrito was almost completely obscured by lettuce, cheese shreds, sour cream and tomato. One thing we can say for the place is there's enough food.
We chose the beef fajitas ($6.50) and received the traditional hot steaming plate of beef, pepper, tomato and onion strips with tortillas and fixings. It wasn't bad.
It's not that the food at Riviera Maya is terrible — it's decidedly decent. But a restaurant that touts itself as “Discover Real Mexican Food” should attempt to set itself apart from the competition by offering something out of the ordinary. Perhaps that will change as the restaurant matures.
801 Fair Park (at I-630)
One thing the restaurant does have going for it is its variety of available beverages. The margarita is a bit better than average. Bloody Marys and daiquiris are also offered. The real surprise is the non-alcoholic drink menu, which includes horchata and tamarindo in addition to iced tea, punch and colas.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
All CCs accepted. Full bar.