$14 bought us one appetizer (panuchos), 2 entrees (queso relleno and poc chuc plate) and 2 drinks (horchata and agua de chaya). After doing some Chowhound reconnaissance, we decided to supplement our meal with the jicama and orange salad, and a flan for dessert.
No point in dragging this out. Our meal was spectacular. Panuchos ($5.50) are essentially a shredded turkey tostada, freshly made deep fried tortilla topped with avocado, tomato, lettuce and pickled red onions, and served with a puree of black beans that was as smooth and silky as chocolate pudding. The texture was magical. How in the world did they do that? Did they skin the beans? Boil them into submission before blending them? Who knows. I want more.
The jicama/orange salad was spectacular. A few bitter greens topped with cubed jicama and diced orange, served in a beautiful, clean citrus dressing with a few pepper flakes. I'd love to recreate this at home, but I'm not sure how to get the dressing right (suggestions?) The salad itself was slightly sweet (obviously made from fresh orange juice), beautifully crunchy (my wife had never had jicama before, and she mistook it for a crunchy Asian pear), slightly spicy and sour. Wonderful, refreshing, and only $3.
The poc chuc entree ($9.50) was a citrus marinated char-grilled pork loin served with the same pickled onions, avocado, and a roasted tomato sauce (and a whole, undiced habanero which I assume is for garnish, or merely to taunt us?) Although the texture of the meat was slightly chewier than I'd like, the flavor was spectacular. Deep, rich, smoky offset by the sourness of the marinade, and the sourness of the pickled red onions, the creaminess of the black bean puree and the avocado. Just wonderful.
I'd known about CI for several years now-- before the 6th street location came and went. I remembered that when the 6th street/Macarthur Park location opened, Dommy made an effusive post praising the glories of queso relleno. (It was not formerly available at the Mercado/USC adjacent location but was available at 6th street.) Apparently the queso relleno ($10.50) has migrated to the Mercado menu (though it's not listed on the website menu). Yucatecan style queso relleno is essentially a hollowed out Dutch cheese (colonial fusion food) filled with ground pork and other mysterious ingredients (were those minced seeds I tasted?) It is served with a slightly viscous sauce white and red sauce, which was a bit of a mystery to me. I'll leave it for others better versed in the ways of Mayan cooking to help me out on this one. It was nice, and quite a contrast from the deep, earthy, smoky, citrusy flavors of the other dishes. Unfortunately, our edam was not cooked enough. My understanding is that it should be oozing when it's served, and there was a firm chewiness to it. (Again, if I'm mistaken then please correct me.)
Lastly, the drinks. The horchata ($1.79) was a pure snowy white, not the sort of beige tone I'm used to seeing, and had a grittiness to it that I did not prefer. This was definitely the weakest item we tasted. My Lovely Tasting Assistant™ ordered the agua de chaya ($3.50)... advertised as sort of a Mayan superfood, it's a leafy green that they blend with orange juice and various other ingredients to make a unusual but tasty concoction. Mildly sweet, a little sour, unusual. It immediately reminded us (in a way) of the sort of quasi-healthy drinks the Asian grass jelly/konjac teahouses all over the San Gabriel Valley.
Alright, that's it for now. We'll definitely be back to try more. Thank you, Groupon and thank you, Chichen Itza. (We'll be booking our tickets to Mérida next week!)