500 Tacos: Vivo

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
6406 Interstate 35 N., Suite 2343, in the Linc shopping center (map), 512-407-8302, www.vivoaustin.com
Hours: 11am-9pm Sun-Wed; 11am-10pm Thu; 11am-10:30pm Fri-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 06.19.15
Vivo made its mark on Manor Road with puffy tacos and drinks with purple orchids before closing abruptly in March of last year. It reopened in October at the Linc, formerly known as Lincoln Village, a Highland Mall satellite that’s suffered from the demise of its mothership. But a recent weekday happy hour suggests there’s still some vida left in Vivo.
The taco: Puffy beef taco
Compared to Amaya’s Taco Village less than a mile away on Interstate 35, Vivo is an interloper, a newcomer to the puffy taco game Amaya’s monopolized before the San Antonio staple began its northward exodus. My recent experience at Amaya’s tells me Vivo does a better job with the form. The shell is thicker, more jet-puffed, simultaneously more crunchy and more yielding. And the beef picadillo, while still plain in its gentrified homogeneity, brings a leaner, tastier core, backed up by roasted skin-on potatoes. It’s dressed in the standard Tex-Mex uniform of iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, pickled jalapeno, onion and shredded American cheese. Nothing challenging, but still the winner of the I-35 puffy taco showdown. ($10.50 for two with rice and beans; $8.95 at lunch)
 That flowery drink thing: Orchid or no orchid, the Viva Rio is red sangria with a mustache, fortified with tequila and juice for a flavor at once fruity, dry, high-octane hot and icy cold. ($8.95; $5 at happy hour)
 Puffy pollo: The chicken version of Vivo’s puffy taco takes a good idea and reduces it to dry, barely seasoned breast meat, a stiff and austere base for what should be a greasy guilty pleasure.
 Tortillas: The corn tortillas that give shape to Vivo’s puffy tacos are made in-house; they’re as thick and hearty as skillet bread. Flour tortillas and the thin corn tortillas used for mini-tacos are storebought.
 Happy hour mini-tacos: Vivo also makes tacos with fajita beef, shrimp, veggies, tilapia and carnitas. I tried the last two at happy hour (4-7 Mon-Fri), when mini-tacos are two for $4. The tilapia tasted even earthier — OK, dirtier — than usual for this cheap fish beneath its shroud of lettuce and chopped pineapple. The carnitas were as crunchy as hard pork candy, finished with onions and cilantro for a taco I’d order again, happy hour or not. Both suffered from limp, rubbery tortillas.
 Salsa: Vivo’s workhorse red table sauce tastes like it has pickle juice in it. No way that’s true, but flavors like dill and vinegar dominate the otherwise medium tomato-and-roasted chile pepper heat. I like the creamy, emulsified serrano salsa verde better.
 Programming note: Vivo makes breakfast tacos and migas for brunch on Sundays and Mondays (yes, Mondays) from 11am-3pm.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)