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.