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Get a Rope

Serving bad Tex-Mex in Houston is a crime — and Vida is guilty.

The plate of fish tacos in front of me at Vida Tex-Mex one recent evening looked so abysmal, I was loathe to even try them. I sat and stared at them, head down, anger building in my chest. It was all I could do not to simply get up and leave. Inside the row of tacos — two with grilled snapper flanking a center taco with a piece of fried snapper — I could see melted cheddar cheese quickly solidifying and melding to shreds of red cabbage. The tempura-battered red snapper in the middle taco looked as over-battered as the tempura-battered oysters on the plate of "Naughty Nachos" that I'd just finished lamenting.

A few bites later, my fears were confirmed: These fish tacos were gnarly, nasty abominations not fit to be served to a dog in the street. The batter around the red snapper was thick, gummy and completely unseasoned; the grilled snapper versions fared a bit better, but were bogged down by the baffling application of melted cheese to the red cabbage underneath, with nary a hint of the menu-promised "mayo" or guacamole to be found anywhere.

"I wouldn't serve these to anyone," I fumed to my dining companion. "They should be embarrassed to even send these out of the kitchen." She nodded her commiserations from across a plate of tough, tequila-drenched steak that Vida is trying to call carne asada. We couldn't decide which "Tex-Mex" dish at Vida Tex-Mex was worse.

Not all is lost: Vida serves great queso and margaritas.
Troy Fields
Not all is lost: Vida serves great queso and margaritas.

Location Info

Map

Vida Sexy Tex-Mex

4224 San Felipe St.
Houston, TX 77027

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Greenway Plaza

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Queso: $5
Naughty Nachos: $8
Ceviche: $12
Cheese enchiladas: $9
Fish sandwich: $11
Fish tacos: $14
Carne asada: $20


READ MORE
BLOG POST: Vida Tex-Mex: Sexy or Not, It's Just Plain Bad


Vida Tex-Mex recently dropped the "Sexy" from the middle of its name — but not the adults-only club vibe, which prohibits anyone under 16 years old from entering the restaurant. Nevertheless, the attitude has remained: Vida is like a swinger's club that happens to serve really bad Tex-Mex.

The paintings of mostly naked women on the dark purple walls and the occasional, confusing use of black fringe come off as desperate and cheesy, the restaurant equivalent of a divorcé in his late fifties wearing head-to-toe Audigier while trying to talk his way into a Washington Avenue club. I certainly understand the vibe that owners Yvonne (Evie) Melcher, her husband Magic Schwarz and her son Trey Melcher were going for — no swarms of noisy kids and their clueless parents knotting up tables à la Lupe Tortilla.

But the execution of Vida Tex-Mex went horribly awry from the very beginning. The restaurant was conceptualized as a Houston extension of Vivo, an Austin-based restaurant with a "sexy" vibe that apparently does very well for itself. I can't say personally; I've never been, although I'm still questioning whoever thought to apply the adjective "sexy" to a cuisine that's decidedly not. Rootsy, yes. Authentic, rugged, comforting, yes. Sexy, no.

But the deal with Vivo chef Paul Petersen fell through, and plans for Vivo quickly turned into Vida as Evie Melcher and company decided to go ahead with a sexy Tex-Mex concept to anchor the renovated Melcher Crossing strip center on San Felipe. Melcher owns the shopping center — along with many others in Houston — but has no restaurant experience, and nor does her son or husband.

In a recent interview with the River Oaks Examiner, Evie Melcher explained her reasons for going ahead with the restaurant despite a lack of experience in the industry: "We thought, 'How hard can it be?'" Melcher said. "We thought we'd just open it up and it would run itself."

Her dismissiveness read like a slap in the face to anyone who's ever owned and operated a restaurant of their own.

Melcher did admit that it hasn't been an easy road, however. The kitchen is currently chef-less, and Melcher claimed to the Examiner that the line cooks make food based on old family recipes, although I am just as loathe to believe that as I was loathe to eat my fish tacos or my Naughty Nachos.

I seriously doubt there is a Mexican family tucked away somewhere in Texas frying oysters in clammy tempura batter and serving them atop stale chips and a few pieces of diced mango. I also have a hard time believing that any self-respecting home cook would have a recipe for carne asada that includes a "tequila demiglace"in which the tequila isn't cooked off, and is instead poured on top of a piece of rubbery steak and left to pool disgustingly all around the meat.
_____________________

Until that first dinner at Vida, the worst Tex-Mex I'd ever eaten came in the form of a ketchup-topped "chicken enchilada" filled with nothing but dry, shredded chicken and lettuce, served on a bed of white rice and salsa. It came from a garishly decorated, tourist-saturated restaurant in Manchester's city center. I ordered it because — to be honest — I masochistically wanted to see just how bad Tex-Mex food in England could be. As you may imagine, it was abominable: a dish that both looked and tasted like an abortion wrapped in a flour tortilla. I was giddy with the horror of it all. But I knew what I was in for when I ordered it.

I mention this incident for two reasons, the first being that no matter what you may have heard, it is indeed exceptionally easy to screw up Tex-Mex food. It aggravates me to hear people describe Texas's natural-born cuisine as something that any asshole with a cheese grater can make, and make well. This simply isn't true: The best Tex-Mex is made with slavish devotion and attention to detail, with spices ground by hand in molcajetes and masa spread meticulously into corn husks, with hours of cooking barbacoa or carnitas before they end up in their final dishes.

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39 comments
B. J.
B. J.

Though I'm no food critic, I do have print journalism experience and as such, must comment that "abortion" has absolutely no place in a restaurant review.

Inappropriate, unnecessary and mean-spirited.

OK
OK

"extension of Vivo, an Austin-based restaurant with a "sexy" vibe"============================================What else would we expect from America's douchiest city? Austin - disgusting food, delusional yet pretentious population, no culture, college town. Thanks for the review. Another place to avoid.

Hankstout
Hankstout

I agree that this restaurant is not good. I went a few weeks ago and the service and the food were not good. The waiter brought me the wrong food and when that was pointed out to him he did not offer to fix the problem. I was in a hurry so I just asked for the check and left. Disappointed to say the least.

Estelle711
Estelle711

my co-worker's make about $500-$1,000 a month online. It's enough to comfortably replace my old jobs income, especially considering I only work about 10-13 hours a week from home ,read more on this web site... makecash16.comONLY

Estelle711
Estelle711

my buddy's make about $500-$1,000 a month online. It's enough to comfortably replace my old jobs income, especially considering I only work about 10-13 hours a week from home ,read more on this web site... makecash16.comONLY

Brouilly1
Brouilly1

Gary,

Katharine can't be 'proved wrong' on this: her review was an honest impression of her time spent eating there, a snapshot in time. What happens in the future has no bearing on her piece above.

Vida Houston
Vida Houston

Katharine - We realize not every review can be a good one. As a partner in family-owned Vida, we’re glad you liked our ambiance, service, salsa and margaritas, but we obviously wish other elements of the menu had been more agreeable to you. As with many new business owners, this has been a learning process for us, and we have and will continue to take feedback to heart in order to enhance the guest experience. We have been steadily growing a repeat clientele, who might disagree with you on your assessment of our food. From input we have received, they are not benchmarking it against more classic Tex Mex fare. I guess the hardest pill for me to swallow is the quote you pulled somewhat out of context from the Examiner article - and that your readers might be misinterpreting this quote too based on posts I've seen. That story painted a broader business picture with some very honest remarks from our end about the highs and lows of starting a restaurant. My mother grew up in the market business with UtoteM stores, so our deciding to pursue a restaurant venture with established operators didn’t seem as ominous at the time. It might have been interesting for readers if you had explored what happened with Vivo that landed us in the operator position. I am sure you can understand that it’s not very easy to walk out on a major investment in time and money that it took to bring the space to fruition. We also had staff jobs to protect with employees, ranging from cooks to dishwashers, already on payroll. As was evident in your article from your positive comments about my father Magic’s role in your meals, we don’t take this endeavor flippantly. We have made a lot of sacrifices and are on site day in and day out with the goal of making this a success. Our attitude has never been "Gee, let's open a Tex Mex restaurant - any idiot can do that" as somewhat implied. We hope you will give us another taste in the future, as we continue to refine our concept.

Respectfully,Trey Melcher

Penny
Penny

The whole article sounds pretty personal! I'm wondering if Katharine can sleep at night with this much resentment!

Guest
Guest

"We thought, 'How hard can it be?'" Melcher said. "We thought we'd just open it up and it would run itself."

This explains everything.

Even someone who has never even thought about owning a business, let along a restaurant, can't be this stupid.

Blan D
Blan D

You have to believe it is.... Magic...

Bry
Bry

Woah...an abortion wrapped in a flour tortilla. Brutal.

Snowman1
Snowman1

Katherine, the only time I ever questioned your judgement was over the salsa at El Real. The day that my sister, my mom, and I visited there, (all native Texans) it tasted like soap. I have heard of that issue and chalk it up to some kind of weird cilantro thing, and I can eat cilantro by the fist full. Judging by your review, I would say that Vida will be long gone before the mercury hits 95 this year. Whether or not fish tacos are Tex Mex or Mex Tex, if you cannot figure out how to put fish on a corn tortilla with cabbage and onions and make it edible, like John McEnroe said after a bad volley," Get out of the business!" Thanks for the support of former and current restaurant owners about the difficulty of the business. Magic and Evie are in for a rude, expensive, and deserved awakening. No ill feelings intended.

Marco Torres
Marco Torres

"nasty abominations not fit to be served to a dog in the street."

wow. brutal. and awesome.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

If Tex Mex were easy to make, it would be great everywhere. Instead, only Texas does it right. Just about every Houston transplant that I know laments that the thing they miss most is the Tex Mex. I'm guessing that folks who say that crap have never had it in Texas.

Craigley
Craigley

Fish Tacos aren't exactly "Tex Mex".

ec
ec

Reminded me of El Real. Just BAD.

Corey
Corey

Tex mex in the UK, for shame, should've gone to a curry house in Manc City, say Shere Kahn..

Mama Juice
Mama Juice

Thanks be to God for the defenders of Tex Mex. It seems like forever that I have had to defend the food of my people fiercely. Some of my California,Arizona and Mexican born coworkers and customers think it's not "real Mexican" food. I would love to sit there asses down at my or my mama's house and shove some carne guisada up their tortilla holes....On a lighter note. I saw that they are going to be opening a Mexican restaurant on Fairview and Taft. I think it's going to be called Chuchara. Any one got the "scoop?"

Jack_Around
Jack_Around

I was wondering how this survived into the Valentine's Day print edition last week. As if this shopping center booting my beloved Roll-N wasn't enough...

Fuegodelgraton
Fuegodelgraton

Stopping by Vida I once saw a manager from Da Marco/Dolce VIta whom I respect... Isidero something or other. My spirits were buoyed. A couple week's later he was gone, and I knew it was a bad omen.

Gotta admit, one thing they're right about though: running a restaurant is somewhat easier when you own the property and don't have to cut a check for rent or mortgage.

Fiddlesticks
Fiddlesticks

I knew this place was going to abysmal from the day I saw a banner plastered on van in front of the restaurant a while back. My feelings have been confirmed. But with strange curiosity I am drawn to trying their margaritas and queso!?

BT
BT

Soooo...don't go there for an anniversary dinner? ;)

Something tells me you're not on their christmas card list...

Lily
Lily

Wow - I went a few months ago when it first opened and the fish tacos were amazing! I suppose it has fallen from grace- too bad. But I see that the kitchen is "chef-less" and when I went there was a chef, he even came out and introduced himself. They need to get that guy back!

MadMac
MadMac

"her husband Magic Schwarz "

Really, that was all I needed to read. The husband calls himself "Magic Black." Un huh and the food is bad you say? Surprise, surprise, surprise. I'll be passing this joint up for more respectable food. Where's that Taco Cabana locator app again?

Charles Calthrop
Charles Calthrop

Hipster-infested, sure. Douchiest - no Wash Ave has far more (the Ed Hardy/Affliction/Jersey Shore types). And on the hipster count, Portland is far, far worse.

In terms of douche factor, Houston trails only NJ and LA

Freddy Snakeskin
Freddy Snakeskin

Meanwhile, we're supposed to waste our money eating rubbish while "...we continue to refine our concept"? I think not. Get it right or get out of business.

Bob123
Bob123

how much does it cost to buy the place, again?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

This is honestly one of the most considerate, reasonable and mature responses I've ever received to a negative review, which I think speaks volumes about Vida and its management. It's commendable of you to come and comment publicly (and civilly) over here at the Press, and I think it shows a lot of class. I really do hope that things improve, as Vida as a concept (no children, upscale Tex-Mex, etc.) shows a lot of promise. It seems like you and your family are invested and eager, and I sincerely wish you all the best of luck in your continued endeavors.

Dell
Dell

Welcome to the Houston Press Penny. Glad you were able to read your first review because you've obviously never read one.

Pennyjean57
Pennyjean57

NO ILL feeling....Please! Sounds Personal!

Maggie_Mae
Maggie_Mae

Plenty of Tex-Mex places serve food beyond the Original Combination Plate. If the food is good, that's just fine. The Berryhill in my neighborhood has pretty-good Tex-Mex & killer 'ritas. They realized they could make tacos with fried oysters rather than fried fish--& they are excellent. Let's hear it for diversification!

Vida was featured on Channel 11 news this morning--supposedly because of their "No Kids" policy. But it looked like a PR piece--& the food looked good on TV. Then I read this. Boy, Katharine is good at slamming a place! But she convinced me the owners deserved it.

If I hear they hire a good chef, I might venture in. Otherwise, there are about 9,000 places in Houston to get good-to-great Tex-Mex, Mex-Mex or Mix-Mex.....

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Neither is a fish sandwich, yet here they were on a Tex-Mex menu... I think a lot of people mistakenly think that fish tacos are Tex-Mex because the word "taco" is in their name. I'd say they're far more Baja California and/or coastal Mexican than Tex-Mex.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

It was the one throw-away meal of the trip. :) Had some fabulous meals in and around Holmes Chapel, Crewe, Alderley Edge...all throughout Cheshire, really.

Jim Ayres
Jim Ayres

Spoon? Yes very interesting indeed. Glad something's going in there.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

In the old Hyde Park Supermarket? Innnnnnnnteresting...

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Honestly, I'd go back for the margaritas and queso if I didn't think I'd be strung up upon entering... Hazards of the job and all.

Dan D
Dan D

By all means, please go for your anniversary... if you don't love your partner. =D

Pennyj
Pennyj

I just read over negative comments, which obviously you enjoy.

Mama Juice
Mama Juice

Yes. The entire building is an empty canvas right now. One of the business owners in the area told me they are going to open a Mexican restaurant. Chuchara means spoon in Spanish and I am wondering if it will be a Gran Malo-esque type of place. I am sure the cost of renovating and decorating the interior is going to be pricy so I am sure it will be more high end than taqueria. Either was I look forward to checking it out.

 
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