Maya Café Lounge & Gallery

Doctor Professor Ma’am and I recently visited Maya Café Lounge & Gallery (, located at 1980 Howell Branch Road, at the edge of where suburban Casselberry blends into Winter Park.  The pink building beckons, promising beauty and hope in the midst of suburban sprawl, like a rose stretching sunward, strong and tall, from a crack in a concrete sidewalk.  Maya Café opened in December of 2022, so it has been around for six months now, but we only recently learned of its existence — late bloomers for life.

You have to love any restaurant with a handwritten chalkboard sign outside, advertising its specials.

Inside, another chalkboard listed some of the sweet coffee drinks available at the cafe, accompanied by a golden maneki neko (lucky cat).

Those waving cats, ubiquitous at so many Asian restaurants, are supposed to be Japanese bobtails.  They are supposed to bring good luck and fortune, but I love cats so much, if I meet any cat at any time, I consider myself lucky.  Just to clarify, this adorable maneki neko statue was the only cat I glimpsed at the restaurant.

And yet another chalkboard listed the hot coffee drinks and several other menu items. 

We were immediately dazzled and overwhelmed by the stunning surroundings.  Maya Café is an eclectic, eccentric, artsy space with strong feminine energy, which makes sense, as it is run by three generations of women.  After we sat down and placed our orders with Celeste, we took in the beautiful, unique décor that elevates this family restaurant above others.All these flowers on the fall behind us?  Actually three-dimensional, with petals popping off the wall.

Behind this counter, around this woman’s beckoning glance, were song lyrics like “How deep is your love,” “I wish I was special,” and “The winner takes it all.”

On the other side of the dining room we saw a beautiful chandelier made of ropes and hanging light bulbs, a ceiling of leaves, a gorgeous classic Corvette, and lots of art and some clothing for sale.  

There is so much to look at here, and it doesn’t feel like those corporate chain restaurants that say “Hey, look at all this crazy crap on the walls!” like Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag.  Everything is one of a kind, and much of it is for sale. 

The Corvette actually forms unique booths surrounding glass coffee tables.

I can no longer drink coffee at all, for multiple reasons, but this was my wife’s beautiful iced mochacchino, served in a mason-style jar.  She loved how rich and chocolatey it was, and how good the whipped cream on top was.

She ordered the eggplant dip for herself, but it was so much food (especially with all those pita bread wedges), she ended up taking most of it home.

It was nothing like babaganush (which we love so much from Zeytin Turkish Cuisine), but still really good.  This eggplant dip contained balsamic glaze, pomegranate seeds, sesame seeds, olives, walnuts, and Greek yogurt (I think), among other things.   

I ordered the Maya burger, which I was a little skeptical about, because we were in such an artsy, hipstery, vegetarian-friendly café and not what I think of as a burger joint, but it was such a pleasant surprise.  I was blown away from the first bite, and I quickly devoured it after giving some of the patty and the perfectly cooked bacon to my wife to try.  I will go out on a limb and say it is one of the best burgers in Orlando, and almost certainly the most underrated and slept-on burger.  The patty is a blend of beef and chorizo sausage, and they cooked it to an ideal medium rare — juicy, not smashed flat.  It was topped with lettuce, cheese, unobtrusive pickle slices, French’s fried onions (I love these things and eat them as a snack sometimes; they aren’t just for green bean casserole anymore!), and that great bacon, all on a brioche bun.   
That Maya burger was a beautiful combination of flavors, textures, and colors, not unlike the Maya Café itself.  Perfect in every way.

The burger came with fries that were just okay, but some seasoning or even some more salt would have improved them a lot.

We were all in at that point, so I ordered fried chicken tacos for us to share.  We got two in our order, and they came with flour tortillas and street corn dip, which you can also order as a dip of its own.

Close-up of the street corn dip, which included bacon, sour cream, cotija cheese, jalapeños, red onion, garlic, and cilantro.  We both thought the chicken tacos were just okay, but the street corn dip was the standout.  I would order it separately in the future.

After staring at this glass display case of Argentinian-style empanadas throughout our meal, I couldn’t help but ask about them.

I ended up ordering a beef empanada:

It had seasoned ground beef inside, similar to Cuban picadillo, but less tomatoey.  The shell was flaky baked pastry, rather than fried like the Cuban empanadas I grew up eating in Miami (okay, Kendall).  I’m very glad I tried it.

This was a guava empanada.  I love guava, but my wife usually doesn’t.  Still, she was so intrigued by the beautiful, golden pastry crust, she ended up eating most of this one, and she really enjoyed the guava.  All I wanted was the tiniest morsel, just so I could say that I also approved.  I do.  

For dessert, my wife wanted to try a Nutella-filled croissant.  I didn’t even think she liked Nutella, but she did that day!  I didn’t have any, but it sure looked and smelled good.  She took a bite at the restaurant but enjoyed most of it for breakfast the following day.

And after all that food, normally I would never have ordered dessert, but they had lemon pie on the menu, and that is one of my favorite desserts of all time, particularly the version I make — a creamy filling of fresh-squeezed lemon or other citrus juice, swirled into sweetened condensed milk, chilled and set in the fridge, in a buttery, salty-sweet Ritz cracker crust.  It’s the perfect summertime dessert, and I am obsessed with it.  The version at Maya Café was very similar to mine, except it had a soft, yielding graham cracker crust instead of my saltier Ritz crust — perfect with this pie, as it would have been with key lime pie or cheesecake.  It was less tangy than my pie, but it was still wonderful.  It was the perfect end to this eclectic, multicultural meal full of surprises and wonders.

We will definitely return to Maya Café Lounge & Gallery, especially because it is so close to home, and so damn cool, and that Maya burger is a modern masterpiece.  I want to spread the word and boost the signal to support such a unique, woman-owned business, also because it is in an area people may not venture to.  But it’s really not that far out of the way.  It is just around the corner from some local favorites like Kai Asian Street Fare and Bagel King, and people drive all the way to those from every corner of Orlando (as well they should).  Well, here’s one more stop for your next trip to Casselberry, stalwart Saboscrivnerinos.  You heard it here first… or at least you heard it here.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a super-cool taco trailer right outside Maya Café: La Patrona, run by Celeste’s stepfather.  I have every intention of trying that soon as well!


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