Viva Mexico: Uniquely Wellington, undisputedly Mexican
Authentic. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot when talking about food. But when it comes to Viva Mexico, it’s the first word that springs to mind — for very good reason
In a world in which a new taco chain seems to crop up on every corner, there’s something refreshing about a huge, steaming plate of beans and cheese.
You won’t find a neatly-packaged, anglicised, bland burrito here. Instead, the tacos are soft and made of maize and the hot sauce and mole are homemade. The tortilla soup has a cult following with Wellingtonians, who tend to acquire a glazed, dreamy expression whenever it’s discussed as a lunch option.
Viva Mexico has grown from humble beginnings. Childhood friends Antonio Gonzalez and David de Orta Jimenez opened their Leftbank taqueria in 2010. The two chefs hail from Mexico city, and grew up with close family connections — their grandmothers were friends, and are the inspiration behind the flavours served at the restaurants today.
Over time the team expanded to include Chilean chef Luis Alberto Guerrero, and now each chef heads up one of Viva Mexico’s three eateries: Leftbank, Newtown and Petone.
Each of the four eateries has a unique feel, though all boast bright, colourful decor and a sense of lively energy. The original spot in Leftbank is an intimate space, with tables spilling out into the street on warm evenings. Any Friday night out around Cuba Street is vastly improved by a plate of steaming jalapeno poppers and a mezcal margarita — if you’re in quick enough to get a table!
The Newtown eatery is an eye-catcher, with its bright yellow, flame-covered exterior, complete with a hot-sauce mural. Their Petone, is a large, more modern space that still retains the Viva Mexico flare and they've opened a branch in the foodcourt at 18 Willis Street St - perfect for your lunchtime Mexican fix.
I feel like I'm in Mexico
One of the signatures of Viva Mexico is its generosity. Every main is enormous, practically swimming in cheese and toppings. And while it’s almost impossible to do, it’s worth saving room for dessert, or at the very least a steamy chilli hot chocolate.
What really makes the restaurants sing is the sense of community that has grown around them. Each has become a local gathering place, drawing in a diverse range of people seeking out an energising dining experience, including members of Wellington’s Spanish, Hispanic and Latin American communities. On each eatery’s Facebook page, the owners share information about traditional ingredients and Mexican culture. Children and adults eat side-by-side, knocking back either Jarritos soda (for the kids) or an agave spirit (for the rest).
There’s a sense that Viva Mexico has grown with Wellington itself, and locals who have been coming for ten years still can’t get enough. One taco in, anyone is bound to feel the same.
Find your favourite Viva Mexico
Newtown | 161 Riddiford Street, Newtown
Petone | 93 Jackson Street, Petone
Willis Street | 18 Willis Street foodcourt, Te Aro