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    Viva Mexico: A Slice of Mexico.

Off Turner Road, first turn left and on the way to Pali Hill, two little restaurants sit together, a Thai and a Mexican, like a married couple from two nationalities. The Thai is Thai-Ban, it has the former head cook of the President's Thai Pavillion. About this, I will write on another occasion. The Mexican is Viva Mexico, it has a cook from Pancho's in Dubai, Salvador Noronha. This piece is about the Mexican, about tacos and enchilladas and fajitas and salsa and cheese and hasta manana.

The two have the same proprietor, Richard Dias, also a former chef with The President, and they share the same porch, a raised platform in front of their entrances, where customers have al frescoe meals in the late evenings, as traffic turns around the Daewoo Showroom and moves towards the hill. But they have separate kitchens and separate staff, and you stick to your chosen nationality for the day.

I chose Viva Mexico because it is new. And Mexican food is still in the process of being accepted in the city. Though the New Yorker at Chowpatty is astonishlingly popular, but that is among vegetarians. It is one of the things I have noticed, if you are invited to a vegetarian house for dinner, and the hostess is a little fancy, her international dishes will invariably be Mexican. Second choice is Italian. Viva Mexico is strictly non-veg, including beef, though there are enough alternatives for vegetarians.

And the food is Tex Mex which means tortilla and beans, and re-fried beans. For those who like them, there is no other food. Be a cowboy, ride the range I began with nachos, nicely crisp corn tortilla chips, re-fried beans, lots of melted cheese topped with bell pepper and tomato slices. For the fillings, I had a choice: ole (veg), carne (beef), pollo (chicken) and camerone (prawns). I had the chicken, Rs. 70, and I asked for more melted cheese. It tasted cheesy, all right, and the tender meat of the chicken stood out against the crispness of the tortilla chip.

The tortilla is like our roti, only it is made of corn, maize, or, as they would appropriately call it, Indian corn. It is the full grain and occasionally it is corn flour. You get it is an accompaniment or you get the filling rolled into it, like a roti roll. The quesadilla, which I next ordered, was a much larger roti, almost pre-folded. The stuffings were identical, except that instead of prawns there was cheese (Rs.55 for a cheese quesadilla). After the stuffing is put in the roti, it is tava fried. The chhese runs out rather messily. But there's fun in that. Next, the tacos, which were crispy like papads, shell shaped. Normally, in Mexican restaurants, the tacos are large, but atViva Mexico the chef had specially kept them small. The price range is the same throughout, Rs.55, 65, 70, depending on the stuffing or accompaniment. As Richard Dias, who did his catering from Manipal, says, the concept is VFM. He and his cooks work in an easy partnership, they work out the costing of the food and see that the final price does not include too big a profit margin. A person can have a good meal in Rs.150, in fact, Rs. 100, he tells me, and there is no question of drinks extra, because they serve no alcohol. They are too small to have a license.

The restaurant is small. Twenty covers, plus the porch, where another 20 can sit. But it is nicely laid out, decor by the talented Monica Vazirani, sombreros on tables as ash trays, cowboys on walls, music, customers talking to one another from acros their respective tables.

They serve a lovely soup, worth going all the way to Bandra only for that. There is a clear soup and a thick soup, and I am refering to the clear soup. Ask for tortilla soup, that's easy to remember. It's a-light broth, chicken or vegetable, there are vegetables inside and strips of crisp tortilla. Cheese is added to it, giving it a slight burnt flavour, though I am corrected the flavour is of the oregano not the cheese. Chef Salvador knows best. His soup, if it is chicken costs Rs. 50, only vegetable Rs.40.

The main course again has large flour tortilla, with grilled strips of meat or prawns, topped with salsa and cheese sauce. There is extra salsa on the table for you to add to. These are the burritos, Tex Mex, and they cost the same, between Rs.70 and 100. There is a fillet of ravas, marinated in lime and pepper, and done in a lemony sauce, served with black olives and cheese on the side. All the main course dishes come with complimentary red Mexican rice and pico de frallo. If you do not know what the last-mentioned means, don't fret, it is only a salad, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers in a Mexican dressing of vinegar, oil and oregano. The proprietor-chef is very big on oregano at Viva Mexico. The red rice is our basmati tossed in a barbecue sauce. It tastes lovely, mildly spiced, tomato flavoured.

Finally, the fajitas. These are sizzlers, Mexican version. They don't have steaks of meat, instead they have shredded meat, beef or chicken. But they are served on sizzler plates, with a cabbage at the bottom to stop the smoking. Since smoke can be a bit of a nuisance in the little restaurant. And they are accompanied with grilled onions, peppers, re-fried beans, Mexican rice, shredded cheese, plus hot flour tortilla. The beef sizzler costs Rs.120, chicken Rs.125. And I must mention the Tex Mex pizzas. The base is a tortilla, not pizza bread. Try it.

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