Cheap Eats

Miami's Best Taqueria, Viva Mexico, Closes for Renovations, Possibly Permanently UPDATED

Update: Viva Mexico y Algo Mas — the restaurant by Andres Tovar, located just doors from the flagship Viva Mexico at 502 SW 12th Ave. — remains open. It is now serving only tacos. Monica Palacios is no longer affiliated with the operation. 

Little Havana's Viva Mexico has closed for renovations, according to a sign posted on the steel shutters covering the counter window where patrons usually sidle up for a trio of tacos campechano.

Yet the closure may be permanent, says Karina Soriano, who until recently supplied the restaurant with a litany of Oaxacan ingredients ranging from plump chapulines to slightly bitter Mexican chocolate. 

Last year the beloved taqueria, founded by Andres Tovar, expanded to a second location called Viva Mexico y Algo Mas, a bit north on SW 12th Avenue. Here he partnered with ex-wife Monica Palacios to expand the menu with handmade tortillas alongside sopes, paneques, and pork-skin-studded gorditas

Yet it seemed the two bit off more than they could chew. A few weeks ago, only tacos were available. "It was just too much for her," Soriano says. 
Neither Palacios nor Tovar returned calls seeking comment. And the loss of Viva Mexico is a gut shot to all Miami diners. The original spot was a favorite of locals and chefs alike. Here Tovar was one of the few, if not the only, cocinero in Miami preparing carnitas Michoacán-style. These are far different from the glossy, crisp shreds of pork shoulder found at other taquerias. The Mexican state is where carnitas were born, and former New Times food critic Emily Codik explored the process in 2013.
"It is not just a dish," Codik wrote. "The process involves layering various cuts of pork in a heavy pot: the shoulder, tongue, stomach, ears, ribs, and rind. The swine sections are stacked in order of cooking time. They are then immersed in lard. Cooked over low heat in a method similar to the French confit, collagen breaks down. Tough meats become moist and tender. After two hours, the hog's flesh oozes with the pure flavors of unadulterated swine."

The place's lone fault was that it had long used the kind of bland, rubbery corn tortillas found bagged at Publix. Yet all of that changed about a year ago as the place expanded. All the while, Miami was undergoing its own taco renaissance led mostly by Taquiza's Steve Santana. The Magic City is a far better town for tacos than it was just a couple of years ago. The loss of Viva Mexico's peerless carnitas leaves a gaping hole in the city's stomach — and its heart.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson