A few years ago, I read about “frico,” a dish wherein one heats cheese in a pan until it becomes toasty, caramelized and golden—it’s also a strategy that can be applied to dishes like grilled cheese. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find a taco shop serving up frico as the intermediary between taco filling and a tortilla.
La Vibra, the minimalist yet stylish joint that's serving up the cheesy tacos of my dreams, opened in the Heights at end of January. Its vibe is “inspired by Mexico City taco culture,” thanks to its informal style (order at the counter) and minimal menu (a concise menu focused mainly on three categories of tacos).
As a Mexico enthusiast (but not an expert in the cuisine by any means), I was reminded of the street tacos I ate during my first visit to Monterrey when my friend ordered a platter of clásico tacos—simply meat placed on a tortilla, maybe garnished with a little salsa. The housemade corn tortillas, by the way, use native Mexican corn from Oaxaca and are the best I've had in Houston. The fish taco came dolloped with a tiny spoon of coleslaw, but I could have been satisfied with just the golden-crusted fish, freshly fried, wrapped in that pliable, flavorful corn tortilla. (Though if you're not feeling simplicity, the La Vibra team recommends a number of #tacohacks via its Instagram account to spice up your tacos such as using a spoonful of the frijoles de la olla (black bean soup) or jugo de carne (a slow-cooked beef stew) to top off a taco.)
But back to the cheese. There are two other taco types, volcán (adds a blanket of melted Oaxaca cheese) and costra (wrapped in a layer of melted Gouda cheese). My favorite tacos so far have been the champinones volcán (mushroom) and the rajas costra—the simplicity of tender poblano chiles and onions wrapped in salty, melty yet crispy cheese is the stuff of incorrigible cravings. (Meat eaters, try the best seller: the clásico pastor topped with cilantro, onion and pineapple.)
The five housemade salsas, served in tiny ramekins, come in flavors like creamy jalapeno and mole in varying levels of spice (though we didn't find any of them overly hot). I found it hard to place a favorite combo with my taco order since they're all so fresh and accommodating.
My only qualm? I went into this Mexico City-inspired joint expecting Mexico-esque prices, but this is not the case. Tacos range from $3.50 to close to $6—on par with some other tacos around town that, as a standalone taco, are substantial enough for a meal while these tacos probably require 2-4 to fill up, depending on the style and your appetite. We also encountered a kink with our order of guacamole, which was served with two meager crispy tortillas rather than the standard bowl of chips pictured online.
But the quality and attention to ingredients (even in drink options like the housemade, not-too-sweet horchata) can, for the most part, justify these prices. For those who crave a taste of Mexico City, appreciate a menu that can accommodate a fairly wide spectrum of diets, and are looking for a casual yet stylish atmosphere, La Vibra is just the ticket.