Restaurant Review: Buena Vida
Our critic checks out the new Mexican spot in Silver Spring
Tacos, of course, are front and center. The tortillas, made in-house with a blend of three kinds of imported organic masa (corn flour), are of excellent quality. But the fillings often don’t sing, and the wow factor that’s so important with that first bite of a taco is often missing. Strips of meat sliced from a large cylinder of layered, then spit-grilled, pork in the al pastor taco are chewy and dry. Another taco is filled with battered skate that spent too much time in the fryer. Redemption comes in the form of a taco loaded with cubes of braised beef tongue and dressed with tomatillo salsa, a perfect acid counterpoint to the meat’s lushness. I’d return also for the fried shrimp tacos with avocado salsa, lemon garlic mayo and pickled cabbage.
A section of the menu called “Chef’s Creations” is hit or miss. What is billed as “ribeye steak fajita” turns out to resemble the queso fundido with some dry strips of steak on top. Seafood meatballs made with shrimp mousse, crab and lobster have a pasty, unpleasant consistency. There is good news for vegetarians though, who have many options at Buena Vida, including spinach, chard and cheese enchiladas, and mushroom, corn and smoked cauliflower enchiladas.
If you have room for dessert (not included in the $35 experience), go for the requeson (a creamy cheese similar to ricotta) gelato perched on a pool of cornmeal pastry cream and topped with sweetened strawberries and a drizzle of lemon sauce. Flaky, warm apple and goat cheese empanadas served with caramel ice cream spiked with tequila do double duty as a dessert and a digestif.
TTT, the 60-seat (plus 12 outside) taqueria on the first floor of Buena Vida’s building, has an inviting beachside look, with whitewashed wood plank walls and whitewashed plywood floors.
The menu overlaps with Buena Vida’s. Most of the 12 tacos here are on the upstairs menu too. Unique to TTT are six tortas, enormous sandwiches chock-full of delicious goodies piled on a soft roll that Bartlett gets from Canela Bakery in Gaithersburg. The Cubano is rife with Broadbent’s country ham from Kentucky, rich carnitas (braised pork), a split hot dog, Gruyere cheese, peppers, avocado and mustard—it’s a delightful mess. So is the crispy breaded chicken breast cutlet torta teeming with black bean purée, avocado and chili peppers, the last adding a jolt of heat. I’m also a fan of the ahi tostada, a deep-fried corn tortilla spread with guacamole, topped with cubes of pristine tuna and dressed with chipotle mayonnaise and black sesame seeds.
If you opt for Buena Vida, achieving the “good life” is an entirely attainable goal with careful ordering.
David Hagedorn is the restaurant critic for Bethesda Magazine.