Often the words “Colorado mountain resort” and “modern Mexican cuisine” are found far apart on the cultural zeitgeist.  Resorts might be places to sip coffee and enjoy typical slopeside fare, but to find a culinary gem with the spirit a foodie could love would be nothing less than extraordinary. As it turns out, Maya at the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain turns out to be just that slice of extraordinary among the breathtaking vistas afforded by this little alpine bit of heaven.

The Maya concept-one that confronted head on the beloved Tex-Mex conventions popular throughout the nation in favor of a more organic, inspired menu paying homage to its namesake civilization-was launched by Chef Richard Sandoval in New York City and later in Dubai. The Beaver Creek location opened in June. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Chef de cuisine Radames Febles after the restaurant’s Bottomless Brunch to discuss some of the challenges of presenting such a unique concept high in the Colorado Rockies, in addition to sourcing and provisioning issues that are unique to the area. It’s not as easy to find some of the more unique Mexican chiles in such a remote location, and some of the chiles are imported directly from Central and South America via Denver, although the mountain pass closures that punctuate a Rocky Mountain winter can certainly hamper efforts. Chef Febles also spoke with great enthusiasm about the restaurant’s on-site garden, where he’s been trying some new growing techniques and learning the nuances of the local soil to make certain herbs, vegetables and lettuces thrive. He’s also been working with some local providers for foraged mushrooms and local meats, and the results are impressive. Food scientist Michael Pollan once theorized that food that has to fight to grow produces much deeper flavors, and the food grown in this low oxygen mountain region doesn’t fail to impress.

Chef Febles recalls the very involved relationship with food across families throughout hispanic cultures, pointing to his own youth on his grandmother’s farm in Puerto Rico. The foods of Mexico and Central America are very connected with the land and the people who work to make it thrive, requiring maximum engagement from the cook to ensure perfection. Making corn masa and tortillas in-house were something of an initial challenge with the altitude, but we found the corn tortillas that accompanied our meal were high flyers by themselves – mealy and comforting, imparting the satisfying starch of the corn with just the right amount of “stretch” and “give” – like a beloved pair of cotton pajamas worn in front of a roaring fire.

Speaking of corn-that most Mexican of ingredients-Chef Febles and his team seem intimately familiar, deploying the versatile legume in all manner of spectacular ways, from the base for Maya’s take on the eggs benedict to the house made chips that serve as vessels for luscious house made salsa and sinful tableside guacamoles. Guests can enjoy watching their tortillas made in house on a camal, before being shaped into unbeatable taco creations for all meals, as well as the restaurant signature happy hour. Everything that comes out of the kitchen, from the favorite standby tacos and enchiladas to some of the more adventurous squash flower and huitlacoche concoctions, has one thing in common: they’re each like tiny, edible plenipotentiaries of the fine ingredients and complex yet individually distinct flavors that typify the master class of Mexican cuisine.

The bar, of course, is not to be left out. Whether it’s a selection from the over 100 tequilas on hand, or a nip from your own bottle (the restaurant offers storage lockers for rent for frequent patrons), the beverage offering doesn’t disappoint with a variety of inspired bespoke cocktails. Check out our slideshow for an unbeatable example made with serrano-infused tequila, passionfruit juice, and hibiscus foam.

The dining room is an homage to Spanish influence in the Americas with all the rugged comfort of a remote outpost on the frontier of what was once one of the world’s largest empires. The company was a mix of local folks and resort-goers, and there were notably several multi-generational tables from toddlers to grandparents, all seeming to very much enjoy the superb food, fine scenery and friendly, familiar service. The high-energy staff were eager to guide unfamiliar diners through the menu with expert insight and thoughtful suggestion.

The Takeaway: Stylish and comfortable in a grand manner with gracious, unassuming service delivered with plenty of warmth and friendliness, and meals that lull even the most jaded of diners into a food coma, Maya is destined to conquer the local dining scene.Open Daily for Dinner 4 – 10. Bottomless Brunch Sat/Sun 10:30 – 2:30. Reservations available via Open Table. Complimentary Valet Parking for Maya patrons. 970-790-5500

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