Mayan Kitchen: Where Celebrating Culture Meets Sustainability

Written by Robbie Brown
 · July 20, 2023

Not far from one of the entrances of Historic Murphy Avenue — a long walkway lined with bustling restaurants and local businesses catering to Sunnyvale residents and tourists alike — is a hidden gem. Inside, the bright colored branding, food filled with spirit and expression, and a welcoming aurora will make you feel right at home. Katie Voong and Chef Ed Correa joined forces to create a restaurant that celebrates and integrates various cultures and lifelong memories. In 2022, they put down their roots and have quickly established themselves in the Sunnyvale community as an eclectic and lively business. Welcomed by many, Mayan Kitchen was a restaurant I was enthusiastic to learn more about.

Katie Voong, Owner and Co-Chef of Mayan Kitchen, sat down with me on a lovely Wednesday morning as we chatted over Earl Grey tea. Having dined in Mayan Kitchen a few times prior, to my surprise, I noticed the interior of the restaurant was drastically different. As part of the business’s renovations over the summer of 2023, the inside had a new wall mounted waterfall, repurposed booths, newly painted walls and art, and more space for dining. The revamped decor, Katie explained, was one way of encouraging customers to feel as if they were at home. At the same time, another major project was underway, focused on creating an even more inclusive and inviting dining experience. 

Photo provided by Mayan Kitchen

She and the Head Chef, Ed, worked diligently over the past year to launch a new plant-based menu that complements the existing vegan and vegetarian options at Mayan Kitchen. Part of the philosophy behind their new menu stems from Katie’s belief that they are food doctors, and play a role in their community to encourage people to eat healthier. Katie says they are pursuing the “root and tradition of cooking,” by preparing and serving housemade, fresh food varieties that serve as medicine. Their food is meant to represent “clean eating and zero-waste.” The latter we will get to in a moment. Katie and Ed’s goal is to separate their business from the stereotype of American food that we commonly see today: Cooking that is quick and commercial, using foods that are heavily processed. 

While they have staples such as their plant-based hibiscus calamari or king oyster mushroom “scallop” paella which can be ordered year round, they also update their menu every quarter, to follow the seasonal changes of which vegetables are available. Their unique dishes are a married blend of Chef Ed’s Mayan and Katie Voong’s Southeast Asian roots, and their new plant-based menu is no exception. On June 8, Acterra had collaborated with Mayan Kitchen as part of our Climate Friendly Kitchens program to host a menu launch party, where we among 34 other guests were some of the first to try their new offerings. 

Photo provided by Mayan Kitchen

The restaurant was packed with enthusiastic guests as we tried dishes such as: Sesamia cauliflower — cooked cauliflower and in a roasted sesame and pumpkin sauce, containing veggies, and a delicate blue corn polenta cake; jicama ceviche — a medley of corn, jicama, and tomatoes, that are marinated in beet juice and served with housemade chips; and grilled napa cabbage — cabbage topped with topped with fermented tea leaves, crispy squash chips, edible flowers, and a pomegranate glaze.

That special evening exemplified community, sustainable eating, and inclusivity. Mayan Kitchen’s menu is now about 80% plant-based and 20% animal ingredient-based, with options that are accommodating to most common dietary preferences and needs. Growing up with an accommodating mother that had a tremendous passion for cooking,  Katie learned early on about the importance of serving food that all can enjoy. She thrives off of the feedback and energy radiating from customers, thanking her for providing exciting inclusive food options and making their dining experience one that is unforgettable. Last year a vegan couple visited the restaurant for their 30th year anniversary, having a hard time finding a restaurant with options that catered to their needs. They were so happy with the variety of vegan options, that the customer approached Katie, thanking her for creating a memorable day. Katie realized at that moment how she can “touch people with food.”

Photo provided by Mayan Kitchen

As someone who works in the sustainability space, I was even taken aback, as I was seeing first hand, a prime example of how restaurants can successfully celebrate culture while ingraining sustainability into their business model. Adopting a menu that is heavily plant-forward is worth celebrating in and of itself. But I also admired their sincerity around preventing wasted food.  

At Mayan Kitchen, the head to stem of produce is used. Katie started elaborating some of their ingenious ways of using all parts of their ingredients, such as how their hibiscus leaves leftover after brewing tea are then incorporated in their calamari batter, the ends of tomatoes are used for sauces, the peels of oranges are put in water to flavor it, and that any remaining parts of mushrooms are put in stock. Katie says that this style of cooking comes from “how my mom cooked. We didn’t have much. She would have to figure out how she could feed so many people with $20.” Any excess food is donated to a local nonprofit called Peninsula Food Runners, an organization that picks up donated food and delivers it to community organizations that then feed their clients or community. 

Mayan Kitchen is a pivotal example of a positive direction in which the restaurant industry could go. Their wide-reaching menu of plant-forward options centered around culture, their waste-minimizing kitchen practices and food donations, and their welcoming environment was truly inspiring and a rare sight to see. As I type this, I am already eagerly looking forward to my next trip there, as I feel I have only scratched the surface of their menu. 

Mayan Kitchen is located at 139 S Murphy Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94086. To learn more about the restaurant, their hours, or to view their menu, you can visit their website here, or follow them on Instagram.

Robbie Brown

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