Restaurant Review #299: Viva Mexico (New Brunswick, NJ)

I suppose they have always existed, but thanks to social media and “foodies”, something called quesabirria has been thrust to the forefront of Mexican cuisine. There are people scouring Mexican restaurants for this dish, and even filming videos teaching you how to making it yourself. I only needed to see a picture of this magnificent creation to know that I wanted to try it. But what is quesabirria? Is it a taco or a quesadilla, or something completely different? We would discover the answer last month when Justin and I met his sisters for lunch at Viva Mexico in New Brunswick.

Flautas

One of his sisters, Melinda, had eaten there previously and said this was the spot to try quesabirria. The restaurant itself was on the smaller side and nondescript. Music was blasting from an outside speaker and the atmosphere was festive. It was an authentic hole-in-the-wall, the kind of place where you know the food is going to be good even without a prior recommendation. The menu was a cross-section of both authentic and more Americanized Mexican dishes. Melinda and I ordered the quesabirria with chicken. Justin had chalupas. The other sister Rahjanae had flautas.

As we waited for the food to arrive, we were brought the first of several baskets of homemade tortilla chips as well as three different varieties of salsas and a container of pickled vegetables which were crunchy and delicious. In fact, all of the salsas were fresh and flavorful. We were off to a good start.

Our entrees arrived and when the quesabirria was placed in front of me, I was excited. And now for an explanation of what this stuff actually is: a tortilla is loaded with cheese and a meat of your choice (in our case, chicken) and folded. You hold it like a taco, and its construction is similar, but it also has the mouth-feel of a quesadilla because it is soft and held together by melted cheese. What really differentiates this from either is that it is served with a side of consomme (presumably beef) for dipping. So you could also compare this to a kind of Mexican version of the French Dip sandwich. The broth is salty and delicious, and if there was not enough flavor packed into this meal due to the seasoning of the chicken, this certainly puts the experience over the edge. It was also packed with herbs including but not limited to cilantro as well as scallions. A whole roasted green onion on the side was an interesting addition to nibble on, but a bit too potent, even for me.

Quesabirria

The two of us with quesabirria were more than satisfied and neither of us finished. Actually, I don’t think anyone finished what was in front of us. You can see for yourself in these pictures how massive the portions were. Everyone loved what they had. The chalupas were crunchy but still easily foldable for holding and devouring, while the flautas were perfectly crisp, lacking any grease whatsoever, and topped with a refreshing mix of lettuce, sliced avocado, red onion, and sour cream.

Chalupas

We all left stuffed and since this was a late lunch, Justin and I were unable to eat dinner that night. I wish Viva Mexico was closer to our house, because this was the real deal. Again I wonder if quesabirria was on Mexican restaurant menus all this time (I’ve been to quite a few authentic spots over the years) and hidden in plain sight, or is this really new here in the United States and slowly popping up. Either way, the hype you may have witnessed is absolutely true. If you find yourself in New Brunswick, give this place a shot. 4 out of 5 stars.

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