Casa Linda Plaza, the favorite neighborhood shopping center at Buckner and Garland roads, will welcome an exciting new restaurant addition called Maya's Modern Mediterranean, opening in the former Alligator Cafe space in mid- to late-summer.
Maya's is a fast-casual, family-friendly restaurant serving Middle Eastern food with a fresh, healthy approach. The menu includes hummus, falafel that's "air-baked" instead of fried, hand-rolled beef and chicken kebabs, salads, and pita made in-house. They'll serve beer and wine, and last but not least, a dessert called "chocolate hummus."
The restaurant comes from Russell Birk, an experienced operator who worked for the Cozymel's chain (and still owns the Chicago location, one of the last survivors) as well as Woodlands Grill at Preston-Forest.
"I'm expecting Maya's to be something that Dallas doesn't already have," he says. "There are some concepts out there but none hit the mark for me personally. I'm not going to try and offer everything, but just do the things that I think are great."
As opposed to a concept like Zoe's Kitchen, which has more of a Greek influence, Maya will skew towards Middle Eastern, with dishes such as kafta, the seasoned ground meat kebab of Lebanese origin.
"We are going to simplify the names of some dishes to make them more approachable," Birk says. "If I offer 'kafta kebabs' to my son, he says he won't like it — but if I tell him it's 'hamburger bites' or a beef kebab, he loves it. We plan to take this approach for all but the most recognizable dishes."
Presentation matters, and he expects that a big chunk of his business will come from to-go orders. "I don't like cafeteria-style service for fast-casual restaurants where you move along and they put food on your plate," he says. "For me, it gives the appearance of a lack of freshness."
His air-baked technique is a way to get items such as chicken and falafel crispy without being greasy. As for the dessert hummus, it will come in three flavors: chocolate, chocolate-peanut butter, and a rotating flavor such as white-chocolate strawberry.
As testimony to Maya's family focus, Birk named one of his signature items, the "Big O's Hummus," for his son Oren, and the restaurant itself is named for his daughter.
The neighborhood was important, too.
"When I decided I wanted to to this, the first thing I said was that I wanted to be in Casa Linda," he says. "I know that area so well. I run and cycle at White Rock Lake and I'm over there often. This will be affordable, and I think that price point fits the area. But for me, everything matters — location, service, food. When people dine out they want an experience better than, or equal to, their home. If I do my best, I know I can get it right."