Kindler, Gentler Burritos

dining vivasVivas’ taqueria menu employs local, organic produce

Offering a different twist on Mexican food, Vivas uses organic produce and beans in their south-of-the-border specialties. Adjacent to the Rio Theatre, it’s a convenient place for takeout before securing a spot in the theatre’s queue.

Tiles are used extensively in the décor, from the Spanish-style stone floor, to the rustic tabletops and wall— mounted boxes in which grow leafy plants. The bench seating is attractively upholstered, and the corner location allows plenty of sunlight throughout the day, while a small fountain delivers soothing sound.

The wall-mounted menu includes staples such as tacos ($2.75), cheese quesadillas ($3.99), meat quesadillas ($6.25), and tostadas ($3.50 to $5.75). The Tostada Salad ($6.95) is served in a tortilla shell bowl, and the unusual Mexican Salad ($6.95) includes beans, corn, tomato, red onions and avocado.

Numerous meats are available including lean pork cooked with spices (carnitas), al pastor BBQ pork, and bistek ranchero which combines beef, tomatoes, bell peppers and jalapeños.

The plates ($8.95 to $11.95) include choice of rice and beans. Choose from cheese-stuffed and battered Chili Rellenos, flautas, enchiladas, and tilapia.

Vivas serves two kinds of salsa in squeeze bottles. One is a thick, green tomatillo-based condiment, which is smooth and spicy. The red one has lovely smoky accents. We enjoyed them on red, white and blue thin, crisp tortilla chips. One of the pitchers of ice water was flavored with cucumber slices and very refreshing.

The Basic Burrito ($4.95) contains organic beans with either cheese or rice. The Vegan version (6.95) with rice and beans adds avocado, onion, cilantro, lettuce and tomato.

On the advice of a friend, we ordered a couple of Regular Burritos with choice of tortilla, beans, rice and meat. One, on a whole wheat tortilla with whole black beans and brown rice, included strips of romaine lettuce and flaky chunks of lean chile verde in traditional green sauce. The other, on a spinach tortilla with refried beans and Spanish rice, held tender pieces of chicken in a savory, brick red mole sauce. I could only eat half of mine, but I didn’t experience that heavy feeling that normally accompanies similar meals.

I was less enamored of the Carne Asada (grilled steak) whose aroma reminded me of pot roast, and in which I found more than a bit of gristle. But the platter of nachos ($6.25 without meat, $8.24 with meat) underneath the beef was very nice. The same colorful tortilla chips were heated to melt the cheese and then topped with tender, whole pinto beans, a scoop of fresh, mashed avocado, sour cream, and pico de gallo salsa which was loaded with crisp jalapeños.

Vivas serves breakfast burritos daily, and on weekends breakfast plates including Huevos Rancheros made with cage-free Glaum Egg Ranch eggs, and three scrambles served with tortillas, beans and potatoes.

Vivas, 1201 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 425-8482. Open weekdays from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., and weekends 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.

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