Viva Zapatas Fine Mexican - North Las Vegas, NV
Viva Zapatas knocked my socks off. The restaurant is small and oddly shaped which only adds to its charm. High strong sturdy back chairs, booths, a bar and pretty old Mexico bathrooms. The walls are filled with Mexico's rich history - from sepia toned turn of the century family photos to horse saddles, wood wagon wheels and leather goods, spend a few minutes admiring the historical tributes on display. Lorenzo, the hip host extraordinaire in square framed glasses, delicately guided me through the extensive menu with finesse. He introduced me to the owner, a person of grand stature only to match his grand food standards. The chef is from Mexico City (D.F.) and makes specialties only found there. This is REAL Mexican food. Yes, we've all had tacos, burritos (burritos are an American invention), enchiladas, tostadas and dreaded taco salads before. But none of this is good Mexican food. Does it satisfy? Yes. Is it tasty? Sure. But is it my mother and my grandmother's cuisine? No.
We started with sopita de fideo (similar to pasta fagioli for Italians). It's the chicken soup for Mexicans. A mild tomato broth with miniature noodles. It's purposely a very plain dish - served to whet the appetite and as a cure-all in Mexican households (given to children all the time!). Then came the table-side guacamole, made to order with coarsely cut onion and tomato. After everyone ooohing and aaaahing at the table - a woman who said she did not care for avocados or guacamole tried one small bite of the guacamole which led to many more. Viva Zapatas managed to convert an avocado-hater to a guacamole lover! This is a testament to the freshness of their avocado and the fine hands who make the guacamole here. It's unlike any you've ever had before in your life. For our vegetarians, we had nopalitos cactus salad, rectangle cut. Most people shy away from cactus due to the slimy nature of the plant. Here, the nopales are tender without any slime and have only a dash of lime to enhance the cactus. Cheese enchiladas came out piping hot, resembling a lasagna with lots of cheese. These were the first to go, a crowd-pleaser through and through among the veggie table. Then the chile rellenos, the chiles hearty and the batter light; a perfect marriage. The super mild chiles were enveloped in a light fluffy batter (think: very soft pleasing tempura) filled with cheese and served accompanied by refried beans made with OLIVE OIL (no animal fats or lard ever used at Viva Zapatas) and spanish rice. Sizzling veggie fajitas served with in-house HAND MADE flour and corn tortillas. You can literally watch your tortillas made right before your eyes! The vegetarians in our group were crazy happy. The real stars of the show were reserved for the meat-eaters in our group though. Oh My God. Can Viva Zapatas please just stop? This is going to haunt me for days, this food. This revelatory experience of "what I have been doing at Lindo Michoacan for the past 4 years when Viva Z. is SERVING IT UP?". A storm of plates came out, fast and furious, one after another, all equally mouthwatering with audible gasps and moans at the table. It felt like a collective orgasm. Immediately, the pollo con rajas de crema took me straight back to my childhood. My grandmother and my mother both made this. It is not easy to find. I have searched high and low. Most Mexican restaurants just look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. It was brought out, in all its glory, the heavy cream sauce had an aroma one could only describe as heavenly. Home. They did not miss a beat on this dish except for one. My mother would top the cream sauce with pomegranate seeds. Next, Mexico's long-held secret recipe for blackened chicken, Pollo Sarandeado, brushed with creamy mayonnaise, well-seasoned and braised. Rib eye thick cut medium rare steak cooked al jerez, Chicken mole poblano, the perfect blend of chocolate and aztec spices topped with sesame, filete relleno fish filled with octopus and shrimp (outstanding)!, camarones, shrimp tierra y libertad (land and liberty) their trademark dish of bacon wrapped shrimp - oh trust me, it's as good as it sounds, fajitas de marranito (little piggy fajitas) tender carnitas, succulent juices, lengua slow cooked tongue in milk, sugar, cinnamon and raisins (must try, even if you think you can't do tongue, trust me cooked like this, YOU CAN AND YOU WILL) steak al cognac - the Mexican answer to French country cooking brimming with mushrooms and liquer. Showstopping dessert of flaming fried ice cream surrounded by caramelized bananas and wafers of caramel.
Wow. I'd dare call this the Lotus of Siam of Mexican restaurants. The service and hospitality were above reproach. Our waiter Jesus handled our table of 18 without a hitch. The pleasant keyboardist played both my song requests immediately (Amor Eterno and Mujeres Divinas). A+++++
It's a trek especially from the Strip but more than worth it. If I lived out of state, I'd fly in for this.
3826 E Craig Rd
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
Reservations strongly suggested unless you want to wait at least an hour. Word is out amongst the locals and even though the location is way out there, there is always a wait.
btw, if you are heading north on I15 (say, on your way to the southern Utah National Parks or the Valley of Fire) then Viva Zapata's is right on your way. A good place to fuel up....and there are two (relatively) cheap gas stations nearby so I mean that literally! Take the Craig Road exit off of 15....
I haven't eaten there yet, but I finally figured out where it is when we stopped for gas there on our way to Valley of Fire. I glanced across the street and there it was!! I instantly regretted having eaten just before we left, foolishly thinking there was no good place to eat on the way out of town.
And if it wasn't for the need for gasoline, I never would have known. We take 215 down from the Northwest to get to I15 north, but had to backtrack to Craig to find gas.....It really isn't that far from our house when you consider good Mexican food is involved, so I think we'll be back this weekend.......
Wow, lengua cooked in milk, sugar, cinnamon and raisins? Can you describe the taste a little more? That sounds so unusual.
But how are they doing homemade flour tortillas without lard? What kind of fat are they using? Do the tortillas break apart into those horizontal flaky layers the way the ones at Lindo Michoacan do? Personally I think lard gets a bad rap. Frijoles taste best with lard, IMO.
re: Debbie W
Debbie, I'm a lard lover, too. I'm Mexican - both of my parents are from Mexico City (my mother from the richy part and my father from the dirt poor areas - typical Mexican soap opera material) so I've experienced both Mexic City street food and high end, sit down meals prepared by in-house chefs at guarded estates for family dinner in an exclusive neighborhood called Bosque de Las Lomas and Polanco.
Viva Zapatas comes closest to the lattter. They use olive oil for everything. It's true. You can watch them make it right before your eyes. I don't know how - I don't know if they're using an extra special type of flour (a fatty flour, does such a thing exist?) or another ingredient to keep their tortillas intact but their tortillas are among the best handmade tortillas anywhere. Wait a minute! BUTTER! I think they use butter but please don't quote me on that!! I seem to recall a friend of mine mentioned she saw sticks of butter near the tortilla making area. I could be wrong though.
The lengua is NOT sweet. How to describe it? Soft, subtle, it starts as a very smooth, even taste with cream and the hints of sweetness only come as an afterthought. It's very ... smooth and not overt. I wish I could wrap more words around it. It's the most sophisticated lengua I've ever had!