It isn’t quite as far as Mexico, although the airport road is quite “out there.” And it certainly doesn’t have the effect of your grungy on-the-border restaurant, nor the quaint-and-classy, high-cuisine restaurants in Mexico.
The Fairmont Heliopolis near the airport dwarfs the Mexican restaurant, María, especially with the hotel’s spectacular, round entrance. You have take a bit of a walk to the deep left corner of the glassy, marble multi-lounge lobby.
One gander at the menu and the chef’s name: Victor Garrido, and you know your voyage was worth it because you will finally get a taste of what it’s like to be back in Mexico – if you could just tune out the wailing Arabic-language karaoke singer in the lounge across from Marías.
The main staples of any typical restaurant are on the menu: the burrito, enchilada, taco, chips, and tequila-laced mar-gar-it-as.
But María’s has what you cannot find anywhere else in Cairo: sopes, plantain leaves, tamales and mole made with real Abuelita chocolate (the typical chocolate used to give a different texture and food dishes as well as your hot chocolate, with a glimpse of cinnamon) . These are all part of the Mexican cuisine that you simply won’t find in your typical chain.
The night a group of us went to María’s to test out “how Mexican is their Mexican,” my Spanish, Mexican and Egyptian friends were delighted with a Chicken Tamal as one of our starters. A tamal is a sort of corn-based dough, stuffed with - in this case - chicken, wrapped in a corn leaf and steamed. A very unique taste, indeed and a great start.
Off the menu, Chef Garrido came out to personally recommend the Fish Filet, which he proudly states is a recipe from the beach zones of his home state of Guerrero, Mexico. The fish is marinated in dry guajillo chile, mayonnaise, butter, laurel, clove and cumin. For sides was the typical, but good quality Mexican rice and guacamole paste.
The bonus? The soft, sweet plátano macho, as they call it in Mexico, known in English as plantain; a steroidical-sized green banana that cannot be eaten unless cooked. A true rarity because although it is abundant in Latin America, this is the first time I’ve seen it in Egypt.
And fish without shrimp just doesn’t make sense. Accordingly, the chef prepared shrimp Mayan-style: marinated in annatto seed paste, which is very typical of the Yucatan tropics and Quintana Roo. The base of the marinade is orange juice, lemon, Mexican oregano and avocado leaves. The shrimps are then roasted with a bit of tomato and butter.
Another plate was a huarache de filete y nopales, the huarache being the thick tortilla made of blue corn and nopales being cactus. They pile black fried beans, cubed Angus beef, mushrooms, avocado sauce, sour cream and a sort of halume cheese on the blue tortilla chip. Although it sounds exotic and appealing, this plate is a simply a photogenic novelty item and not really a fine gourmet meal.
María’s is named after a famous Mexican actress from the golden age of Mexican cinema. The decor is decidedly simple, bright, not cheesy Mexican, and positively modern without overdoing it. Their starters range from LE 35–90, a Corona is at LE 75 and their plates and margaritas average at LE 100.
If that sounds pricey, currently they have a 50% off for ladies on Saturdays and Wednesdays, until 30 July – just before Ramadan.
María’s will close during Ramadan and re-open in September with an even more authentic menu, including a plate of seafood marinated in pineapple butter and garlic; lamb wrapped in banana leaves with green tomatillo sauce; lobster and scallops and other surprises.
Open from 2:00pm - 12:00am
Closed Tuesdays and during Ramadan
+2 022 696 0000
This is the first in a series of "Authentic Surprises" where Ahram Online lists the restaurants in Egypt that are as authentic as possible.
If you highly recommend a place for it's authenticity, feel free to send the name of the restaurant and if you have any contact info to artedalia.egypt[@]gmail.com