Recreate chef Raul Sanchez's carne asada recipe by using the right combination of citrus juices and spices. | Image by Ruta Smith

Chef Raul Sanchez of Maya del Sol Kitchen in North Charleston takes his culinary inspirations from his family and their shared love of cooking traditional Mexican cuisine. 

Chef Raul Sanchez. | Photo by Ruta Smith

“I’ve been cooking all my life, and I was raised by two parents that are both chefs,” Sanchez said. “When I get a brain freeze, I call my mom. And she will mention something like, ‘Have you served tamales this way? Have you made pasta this way, or have you made pork this way?’ And then my wheels start turning, and talking with her — it just opens up new doors to better ideas.

“So the inspiration really does come from family — what I cook is food that I grew up eating.”

In 2020, Sanchez opened Maya del Sol Kitchen on Reynolds Avenue, where he offers multi-course chef’s table dinners Thursday through Saturday and lunch Wednesday through Friday. Sanchez said the menu changes daily or weekly to reflect seasonal ingredients. Dinner reservations are required, but the menu remains a surprise until your arrival. 

Maya del Sol isn’t Sanchez’s first solo venture — he opened Raul’s Taqueria and Mexican Grill in 2011 at Rivers Avenue and Remount Road. One year later, he moved into Park Circle with a restaurant called Raul’s Maya del Sol, which closed in 2016. From those experiences, Sanchez grew a following, especially in North Charleston, and opened the current Maya del Sol Kitchen. 

He initially offered only the chef’s table experience, but started receiving requests from his old customers who missed lunch items from his previous restaurants. So in 2021, he started offering lunch, no reservations required, serving customer favorites like tacos, enchiladas, carne en su jugo, Mexican fried chicken and more.

But what Sanchez really wanted to focus on with his new restaurant was the chef’s table experience, he said, which is a five-course authentic Mexican meal. 

“It’s a different menu either every day or every week, depending on what I find. It could be a taco, could have an enchilada, could have a guisado, could have a pozole, could have a mole plate. The possibilities are endless.”

Sanchez also previously worked at R Kitchen, which operates with a similar chef’s table approach with rotating chefs. Unlike R Kitchen, though, Sanchez said he does not cater to dietary preferences or restrictions, with the exception of allergies.

“We ask the customers if they have nut or seafood allergies, and then the rest is up to us. When you start taking a list of likes and dislikes from people, it’s no longer a chef’s table meal anymore.”

Sanchez said the “biggest compliment” he receives from chef’s table guests is that he’s pushed them into trying something they might not have tried otherwise. 

“People who know my food and come in for the chef’s table will say, ‘If I would have seen that on the menu, you know, like pork in the way that you served it, I would have never ordered it. But with the chef’s table experience, you’re making me try new things.’”

He said his restaurant-goers are often pleasantly surprised, not only by the delicious flavors of Sanchez’s food, but also by the diverse offerings of Mexican cuisine.

“Sometimes we’ll make Mexican-style macaroni and cheese. The cheese is infused with tomato sauce, peppers and spices. That takes it to a whole new level. And customers are like, ‘I would have never thought Mexico would make macaroni and cheese. But this is the best I’ve ever had.’”

Sanchez’s Carne Asada

In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, Sanchez shared a carne asada recipe with the Charleston City Paper. It’s simple to make at home, Sanchez said, especially when using the carne asada seasoning he creates and sells at Maya del Sol. 

“The classic Mexican carne asada is a piece of skirt steak or any type of marbled fatty meat, usually cut thinly,” he said. “Depending on where you are in Mexico, it could be marinated with beer, lemon and lime, sour orange. So I came up with a seasoning that has all the flavors, plus a little bit of dried lime and lemon mixed in there.”

Marinate the steak in lemon and lime for a couple of minutes. Season it heavily with spices like salt, cumin, garlic and cayenne pepper, or save time and use Sanchez’s seasoning mix. Place the steak on a flat top or grill, or cook it in a cast iron pan. Serve the carne asada with rice and beans, tortillas, caramelized grilled onions, jalapeños and salsa.

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