Photo Credit: Porter McLeod
VIVA! VIVA!: When Viva! Argentine Cuisine opened, in spring 2011, in the former Taco Stand on the Eastside, who knew that it would still be around a few years later and thriving? It’s not that the food wasn’t good. It was, and fairly reliably so. The people were nice and the business model well thought out. But good restaurants run by nice people with solid financial plans go under every day.
So, it’s nice that Viva! is still with us and, in fact, now much closer for some of us, having moved quarters from the east side to the west, in the Bottleworks on Prince Avenue. The former Quiznos space has been much brightened up, with a coat of pale blue paint evoking the flag of Argentina. Seating options abound, with a small bar near the entrance and more tables than you would expect stretching to the very back.
The menu hasn’t changed much, and though beer and wine had been available for a while in the previous location, the restaurant is going through it much faster these days, which has to be a good sign. The service is friendly, as always, but could be more detail-oriented; both of my visits resulted in a forgotten item, and one included the wrong kind of soup. I still think the empanadas pale in comparison to those at Cali N Tito’s (fried beats baked any day), but the fillings seem to have improved somewhat, and the prices at dinner can seem a little high relative to portion size.
But that’s it as far as complaints go. The food is impressively good on a regular basis, which is not to say it is vastly creative, but that it is surprisingly hard not to overcook shrimp, and many places do. The chimichurri sauce is zingy and tasty, a great option in which to dunk your fries. The proveleta (a plate of melted smoked provolone flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and served with sliced baguette) is awesome. The Argentine sausage is delicious stuff, and the veggie version of pastel de papa, a kind of shepherd’s pie, does not suffer for being short on ground beef.
Vegetarians in general will find many options. All the sauces will make you want to lick their containers, from citrus butter to a creamy red hot sauce. The french fries are nothing innovative, but they are perfect every time. Even little things like a side salad are well executed. The black bean soup is flavorful, with a good texture. Are the cupcakes still available? They are, in a case next to the bar, along with other desserts, and they remain both a good deal and a favorite of many.
Viva! Argentine Cuisine is open Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m.–9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.–10 p.m. It does take-out and accepts credit cards.
HALLO, HI-LO: If you were to find an Athenian who had been on, say, Mars for the past year, having no contact with anyone here, and plunk her straight in the middle of Hi-Lo Lounge (1354 Prince Ave., 706-850-8561), there is little doubt that the first words out of her mouth would be “Oh? Joey Tatum opened a new bar?”
Technically, the new place is run by veterans of Tatum’s other businesses, but if you’re familiar with Manhattan Cafe and Little Kings Shuffle Club, you know the deal: darkish surroundings, crazy crap on the walls à la Applebee’s but in a far more organic and less annoying way, chill but not too-cool-for-school attitude. Plus, it has a great little kitchen that opens at 4 p.m. most nights and serves brunch 11 a.m.–3 p.m. on Sundays.
You can get, for example, three-way chili served Cincinnati style (i.e., over spaghetti, with cheddar), which is beefy and maybe a bit too heavy on the cinnamon. The Czechwich (a fried hunk of Muenster or eggplant on a ciabatta bun with roasted red pepper puree, horseradish, parsley and romaine) is a great innovation. There is a long list of hot dogs, such as the 1908 dog, which comes topped with an entire kosher pickle spear, onions, peperoncini, chopped tomato, mustard and celery salt. All of this stuff can be made veggie or vegan upon request.
The snacks section contains two of the highlights: salchipapas (fries plus sliced hot dogs, red onion and plenty of cilantro) and marvelous housemade caramel corn, served in a pint glass and easy to suck down within a couple of minutes. To drink, you can pick from a small but well curated selection of draft beers (the Mama’s Little Yellow Pils is a nice light option), some good stuff in the bottle (from $2 cheap beers to Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale for only $5), a handful of inexpensive wines and a selection of fun cocktails that includes a solid Old Fashioned and something called a Clementine (Svedka Clementine vodka, elderflower liqueur and Blenheim’s).
Boxes of Trivial Pursuit cards sit on many of the tables, a great way to spark conversation or, possibly, discover just how dumb your date is. Hi-Lo is open every day but Monday and takes credit cards.