Viva in Red Hook
We stopped by Viva in Red Hook for lunch today. It's at the same location as the much missed Huipil. It bills itself as Tex Mex food but seemed a lot more authentic than your self-styled Tex Mex joint. Anyway, a similar vibe as Huipil, laid back but friendly service. We had flautas de pollo and enchiladas de suiza. Both great. Well portioned, fresh, homey. Best of all, our menus advertised a free margarita with any entree, so we each had an unexpected and very delicious margarita for lunch today.
If you miss the late, great Huipil you'll want to check this place out.
Frankly we're not sure if there was any mole on the menu, wasn't particularly looking for it at the time. There was a page of authentic specialties in addition to the standard entrees. It seemed a lot fresher and lighter than most Tex Mex, even if it wasn't quite a southern Mexican restaurant either.
A friend of mine who bartends at Rocky Sullivan's (ex-Liberty Heights Tap Room) and has often heard me bemoan the state of Mexican food in New York (I'm a Chicago native) has given it her seal of approval ... one I trust more for Mexican than just about any other ethnic food group. Glad to see folks here liking it a well. I'll be trying it soon.
It took us about 4 months of driving buy their sign on Van Brunt to finally build up the nerve to try this place. Our hesitation?....the word “tex-mex”. Like most New Yorkers who have experienced real Mexican (and loathe what passes for Mexican in NYC) we avoid any place with the description “tex-mex” since it is bound to be a greasy mess of bad food. Wow, were we so pleasantly shocked when we finally tried Viva…this place is doing itself a huge disservice by using the term “tex-mex” in their ad. This is by far the best Mexican we have had in Brooklyn (and on par with the only 2 places we like in Manahattan)….and in such an unlikely location. We actually went 3 times in the last week. It is just really good solid Mexican food in a great no-frills environment with the nicest staff you could ever meet. Aside from the Red Hook ball fields we had banned every Mexican place in the Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill area. Alma: disgusting overpriced food with a great views. Lobo: greasy, nasty tex-mex. Pacifico: horrible food, decent cheap margaritas, great atmosphere, unforgivably bad servers with huge attitudes. We were really excited when Barrio opened in Park Slope, but ultimately found it to be good, but not great, and not something that you crave. I now crave Viva.
While we have liked all the dishes we tried, we tend to order the burrito the most. They are super fresh, and the meat has a great grilled taste (granted we typically only like places that have slow cooked beef, but for some reason the grilled meat tastes great here). The chips and salsa is great when you get a hot basket (1/2 time they are cold). The margarita is fantastic and priced okay (it could be a bit bigger for $6 considering you are in the middle of nowhere…..of course it is a great deal for brunch at $1.99).
Another reason that we had avoided this place for a while was that we thought prices seemed just a little high. In the end we realized they are just right since the portions our so big (my wife ends up bringing half her dish home). Only thing that I wish they had on the menu was something with mole in it (I looooove mole).
Now that we have finally discovered Viva we are so scared that not enough people know about it for it to survive. There are always a few people there but it is never filled (granted we tend to go on weekday nights). The do seem to do a lot of takeout. I definitely recommend giving it a try. While nothing fancy, it is certainly far superior to anything in a several mile radius. Of course all bets our off when Calexico opens in the old Schnack location (I work near their cart in Soho and I swear their burritos must be as addictive as crack).
My wife and I I went for "brunch" on Saturday. Horrific. There was nobody else in the place, and when we ordered coffee we were informed that they didn't serve it. If you don't serve coffee, you don't serve brunch, regardless of what your sandwich boards say or whatever else might be on the menu.
But we decided to suck it up and just get some food. We both ordered the chilaquiles. They were just plain bad. The tortilla strips were soggy, the sauce tasted like crappy green salsa from a jar and the chicken was dry and flavorless. The service was indifferent at best. In fact, we only saw the waiter when we walked in and when he set down our plates. No sign of him other than that-or of anyone else. It was awful. Maybe they're better at dinner, but I'll never know because when a place botches a meal that badly, I do not go again.