(photo courtesy of Maria's Cantina)
6717 Airways Blvd
So this isn't technically in Memphis. But, to be fair, the metro area includes 3 different states, and Maria's is frequented by many Memphians who work in the south and southeast part of the city (ie, FedEx and the airport, if you want to be specific). We found this place at lunch one day while looking for a different Mexican restaurant and we were so glad. While most Mexican places are either authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex, Maria's is more like a mix of Tex-Mex and Mem-Mex. What is Mem-Mex? Well, we just made that term up. Maria's uses "Mexi-Q" instead. Yes, they have a whole menu for Mexican dishes made with BBQ sauce.
Before we get to the food, let's describe the restaurant. It's big. It's got beer flags and banners all over. It' colorful. The waitresses are young, thin, cute, and wear tank tops. It's sort of like a tamer version of Hooters, but with Mem-Mex food. That being said, it is also family friendly - they have balloons for the kids, a menu for the kids, and every time we've gone we've seen a ton of kids there. (Please note - we've never been at night, and we have a feeling it gets a little more rowdy and less family friendly later at night.) Maria's is separated into two main areas - the bar area with tall bar tables, and the main eating area with booths and tables. There are TV's all over both sections. There is also a huge patio out front, they had the spray misters going when we were there at lunch this week.
I have to give Maria's props for their menu. Usually you go to a Tex Mex place and the menus are giant, confusing, and everything sounds the same. Maria's menu breaks it down pretty easily - most sections are listed with the basic item (ie, burrito) then you can pick from a list of 7 fillings (Grilled Veggies, El Diablo Roasted Habanero Chicken, Tequila Lime Chicken, Ground Sirloin, Grilled Chicken, Fajita Flank Steak, or Chipotle Lime Shrimp). We've tried several of these fillings and they are all good. Maria's also has the Mexi-Q menu which is, as mentioned, Mexican items with BBQ sauce instead of they typical red, green, or cheese sauce. They also serve a very good cilantro lime flavored rice. All items come loaded with stuffings and toppings and are packed with flavor.
At our last visit, we started with salsa and cheese dip. Note that unlike most Mexican places, the chips and salsa are not free. I believe chips with salsa and cheese dip were around $4. Not a bad price, given that it's refillable chips and a cheese dip usually runs $4 anyway. The salsa is tasty, the cheese dip is standard.
(Please excuse the poorer quality of food photos - it's a hard place to take good pics, with the giant windows with sun streaming in and the rest of the restaurant with dark lighting.)
We also got extra sides of the cilantro lime rice and refried beans.
And for good measure, a side of french fries. They actually have a pretty solid burgers section on the menu, so the fries aren't THAT out of place.
Our first entree was the chimichanga. For this one, we chose ground sirloin, a great choice. The meat was juicy and tender and tasted perfect with the rest of the dish. Comes with cheese, sour cream, salsa verde, black or pinto beans, cilantro lime rice, lettuce, pico, and guacamole.
For the next entree we had to choose a Mexi-Q item, so we picked the same in order to compare, the BBQ chimichanga. Their menu calls it "one of the single best things you will ever eat." Their menu is correct. If you like Mexican food and BBQ, imagine combining them. Boom.
The food prices are very reasonable for the quality and amount of food you get. Each chimi was about $10 which is a really good deal. You will not leave here with an empty stomach.
Maria's of course has a large drink menu with your standard margaritas, beers, and of course - the silly margarita with a beer bottle IN it. A lot of the drinks come in mason jars, which is a neat touch you don't usually see in places like this.
The service was, as always, stellar. The waitresses are all very friendly and efficient. The restaurant is always busy but we've never seen it packed (but again, we've only been at lunch). Plenty of parking in the lot out front. It's in a suburban strip mall type area, off Airways south of Goodman Road. It's actually a pretty quick drive from Memphis, either straight down Airways or the nearby I-55. If you don't have an aversion to straying outside of Memphis city limits, we highly suggest making a trip to Maria's. It's a fun atmosphere for families and friends, and a great place to grab some good food and drinks.
And YES, you get to keep the cups!