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Get a Rope

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

The second reason I mention this prior Tex-Mex travesty is that, for better or worse, I knew what I was getting myself into. Eating the cuisine outside of Texas is often foolish, but you can more or less count on getting the good stuff back home. Especially here in the Houston area, which prides itself on our native cuisine, as seen in such deep-rooted restaurants as Molina's Cantina, Irma's, Ninfa's on Navigation or The Original Mexican Cafe in Galveston, which opened in 1916.

Tex-Mex has been a vital part of our city for more than 100 years. The cuisine's popularity has never waned in that century. It has endured despite blows like the City of Houston banning tamale sellers from Market Square in 1901 or the closing of Felix Mexican Restaurant after 60 years in business, despite health food trends and the influx of more modern, trendier cuisines. The cultural significance of Tex-Mex as a vital touchstone between generations and an expression of our roots cannot be denied.

So to serve bad Tex-Mex in Houston is, simply put, a crime. And Vida Tex-Mex is guilty.

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


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It gives me absolutely no joy to say this. I honestly believe that Vida could do well under better guidance — it shows dazzling glimmers of promise, as seen in a recent lunch, when an expertly made margarita and a perfect bowl of queso blew me away. The chips on both visits have been fine, thin, wonderfully delicate things, perfect for scooping up the red salsa, which tastes of roasted tomatoes and warm hints of chile de árbol. When I complimented the bartender on his strong, nicely sour punch of a margarita, a genuine grin broke across his face.

Magic Schwarz himself was there at the bar that day, bent over a plate of food and looking every bit like the Mickey Rourke character from The Wrestler, a character that Schwarz claimed in an interview with CultureMap was based on his own life. He had been a charming and kind host during our lunch, as had all of the other servers. He checked on our table three times during lunch, the first time to make sure that the temperature in the restaurant was to our liking. Vida has its front-of-house obligations ably filled by Schwarz and his crew; I'm just not sure that any of them have tasted the food.

My cheese enchiladas at lunch were as sorry an excuse for Tex-Mex as the carne asada had been on that first visit: The thin amount of chili gravy on the plate was barely seasoned, with no hints whatsoever of cumin, garlic or chile powder. The cheese was stodgy and heavy, the refried black beans curiously surrounded by a viscous pool of cooking oil that contained odd black dots of some unidentifiable provenance. My dining companion's fish sandwich — one of the many odd, non-Tex-Mex items on the lunch menu — was soggy inside and out, and again suffered from a complete lack of seasoning.

But for all its sins, if the kitchen at Vida can make a great bowl of queso and the bar a commendable margarita, not all is lost. At the very least, Vida makes a good post-work destination for drinks and chips: Its cool, dark environs seem purpose-built for that, if you choose to regard the silly paintings as tongue-in-cheek decor along the lines of The Strip House.

It's possible that Vida — with a serious chef at the helm — could become the restaurant that Evie Melcher and her family had hoped for. But for that to happen, the Melchers will have to admit that restaurants don't run themselves, and that Tex-Mex is not a cuisine to be trifled with.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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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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