1pm: Lunch at
Viva Taqueria

blurred photo of chili pepper shaped Christmas lights

Photograph by Michael King, Ithaca, NY


Not to overtly offend any particular nationalities, but when I think “Fresh and Healthy” my mind does not immediately jump to Mexican food.

The proliferation of mystery meat wrapped in a Doritos flavored shell and smothered in “available until 4am” combined with the reality that all too many actual Mexican restaurants in our country serve a plate of melted cheese with hormone ridden chicken and a side of frozen tomatos with iceberg lettuce and slightly browning avocado has lead me to this belief. That withstanding, Ithaca’s Viva Taqueria begs to differ with the notion that burritos can’t be good for you. We’ll let you be the judge of that, but what I can tell you is this place is putting out great tasting food that certainly ranks higher in the quality of ingredients than what you’ll find in most mom and pop Mexican restaurants.

I’ve never been one to quibble over whether a particular Mexican joint is “authentic” or not. The idea that truly getting something authentic outside of the borders of the area the food is named from seems slightly impossible to me. I saw a great interview with some guys who ran what they considered an authentic Italian place in New York, but instead of going heavy with the imported cheeses, pastas and other direct-from-Italy ingredients, they only cooked with ingredients that could natively be found in and around New york City. Their argument was simply that the Italian tradition was about using fresh, local ingredients more than it was pasta dishes. I would argue that Mexican food holds a similar tradition, one ripe with using homegrown, native ingredients. Finding chili peppers and avocados locally grown in Central New York? Not to mention, Mexico is a pretty big place, so dubbing any particular style of food truly “Mexican” is like asking for a truly authentic American restaurant in Europe. Does that mean you want a fast food hamburger or a juicy steak?

So I won’t quibble over whether Viva Taqueria is authentic or not, and they don’t seem to want to do so either, referring to themselves as “California style.” What I can tell you is that we scarfed down every last bit of our steak burritos, chorizo tacos and chicken fajitas. What was left of the free salsa you can serve up for yourself ended up on every sandwich and snack plate I had for the rest of the week. Plainly put, it’s good stuff, and you can get it to go or hang out on their patio which looks across Aurora Street and into the Commons. It may be tough to get a seat though, so you might have to settle for diving into their Cantina Viva next door, where fresh squeezed margaritas and homemade sangria will help you numb away the pain of realizing that you’ll have to admit to your foodie friends you went non-authentic…and loved it.