Like many local suburban residents I have an open preference for city dining — largely due to lack of enticing options in my neighborhood, Takoma Park, and the neighboring community of Silver Spring. While I can always get my Ethiopian and Salvadoran cravings satisfied in the area, there is little else.
At least, until the opening of Buena Vida last month. While the owner, Ivan Iricanin, couldn’t hail from a country further from Mexico (Serbia; he also operates the popular Eastern European joint in the District, Ambar) it turns out he actually knows a thing or two about Mexican fare and even runs multiple Mexican-themed venues in his home country. His experience, combined with Chef de Cuisine Graham Bartlett’s background in working with Latin flavors, means that the menu at Buena Vida features the trifecta of success for a Mexican venue: strong margaritas, fresh guacamole and damn good tacos.
With any good Mexican meal, you must start off with guacamole. It is a proven fact that you can never have too much guacamole and you will never get sick of guacamole. At Buena Vida, the classic guac is the best: creamy, with a hint of lime, served with a pile of salty tortilla chips. For other appetizers, the queso fundido is a whole lot of melted cheesy goodness, the corn empanadas are a sweet-smoky-garlicky experience and the tomato ceviche is super fresh and seasonal.
Next: taco time. The mushroom taco is meaty and hearty, while the cheese taco is uber savory and satisfying. My favorite however was the tofu taco with hunks of battered and fried tofu doused in a spice-infused mayo and then topped with cool avocado and tart pickled chilies. I love the texture of the crispy tofu, the heat from the chilies and of course the creamy avocado.
Sweet potato tostones are delectable, baked and then fried and served in a puddle of spicy hazelnut salsa. Be sure to get the esquites, which is corn blended with lime, cilantro, mayo and queso as well as fragrant the Mexican rice and creamy black beans. For something light, the asparagus and corn salad or the jicama and grapefruit salad are both bright and refreshing.
Dessert is as essential to your meal as an endless parade of margaritas. You’ll never be able to choose between churros, queso ice cream, or a Mexican chocolate mousse bomb, so just get all three. You will finish them. Believe me.
The menu operates as it does as Ambar, small plates, which you can purchase a la carte, or unlimited for $35. At lunchtime, the unlimited option is offered for $20. At brunch, you can also do unlimited brunch beverages for an additional cost. My recommendation: do the unlimited option. Always.