VIVA MEXICO CANTINA AND GRILL REVIEW
By Zephyr Goza
As a die-hard Providenzien (Has anyone used that? I’m going to make that catch on and we’re all idiots for not using it sooner) and a lover of Mexican food, a visit to Viva Mexico on Washington Street was, like gravity and taxes, inevitable. Seriously, whatever genius thought up burritos* deserves a medal. I’ve had days where I eat, I kid you not, a burrito for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m also a sucker for a good chile relleno.
*some folks say a fellow named Juan Mendez in the 1910s, but that’s almost certainly not true; according to this website, burritos have been around since the 1890s at least. Sorry, Juan.
So there I was, wandering around downtown Providence with an hour to kill on a Thursday night and hungrier than Eric Booker at a Cheesecake Factory, when the sudden and intense hankering for Mexican food overcame me. I had an hour or so to kill band I was in the general neighborhood of
The Strand Lupo’s The Strand when it occurred to me that I had yet to actually drop by Viva Mexico, a spot I’d been meaning to check out as part of my unyielding and Quixotic quest to visit every local eatery to exist; I say Quixotic because as soon as I crown a new establishment my favorite restaurant, it is almost straightaway obliterated by a metaphoric meteor and goes the way of the dinosaur. (Looking in your direction, McCurdy’s Junction House.)
After passing by the colorful front several times in one of my trademark fits of millennial indecision, I eventually decided that yes, this was where I was going to eat tonight, and upon entering I was immediately greeted with the hallmark resplendent kitsch that usually accompanies Mexican restaurants: wooden sculpture of a mustachioed man in a sombrero, check. Cobalt blue wooden chairs with a little floral pattern on the back, check. Dimly lit bar in the back featuring a healthy(?) dose of tequila-related options, check. Also, an extremely loud and ever-present soundtrack banging out modern Mexican hits that felt a little out of place with the old-world-South-of-the-border vibe, but were fun and upbeat nonetheless.
I was immediately greeted by my hostess, who showed me to my seat right next to the kitchen and was super nice by not addressing the fact that I was going to a restaurant by myself on a Thursday night. Without a doubt, one of the highest points of Viva Mexico is its attentive and genuine staff. No less than three people checked on me during the course of my meal, and every single one of them seemed extremely genuine. I got the sense legitimately cared about their guests, in more than just a cursory way, and their service was nothing short of exemplary; though, I do find myself wishing they had agreed on which overly loud song they would play.
The front page of the Viva Mexico website proclaims “great food and excellent service.” I am happy to proclaim both are true. The menu was another high point, and I noticed a section titled Mexican Breakfast. Breakfast is my second favorite kind of food, so I immediately made a mental note to return and check it out. Tonight, however, I went for vegetable fajitas, and they were out from the kitchen quicker than you can discredit Juan Mendez for inventing the burrito (I know that’s a weird tidbit to double down on, but I’m going to get as much mileage out of it as I can.)
The presentation was decent, if nothing to write home about: sizzling hot skillet heaped with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini, and topped with a little tomato wedge that seemed out of place and I’m not really sure added anything, although I appreciate the gesture. Incongruous tomato wedge aside, this was everything I love about a good fajita, and it felt like a mini build-your-own bite-size burrito buffet with all the staples.
I made it a point to sample each of the elements individually, and I’m happy to report each one passed inspection. The rice was flavorful and perfectly cooked (it’s easier to botch than you’d think,) vegetables were tender and not over saturated with oil, beans were well seasoned. Solid foundations all the way across the board. I didn’t imbibe in a cocktail while I was there, but I hear good things about those as well.
Is Viva Mexico fine dining? Not quite. Is it a good, robust go to? Absolutely. The food was well prepared, the staff was friendly, and the atmosphere was fun, although better suited to larger, louder parties than solo diners. I’d certainly add it to my rotation of “go to” Mexican on the local scene.
Overall, this place gets a well earned 4 out of 5 hands, and an extra accolades to its wonderful staff. Their site can be found here.