clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Buena Vida’s Menu Gives D.C. a New Roadmap for Traditional Mexican Dishes

The annotated sheet is full of history lessons and riffs from Mexico City-based chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Buena Vida shrimp mojo isleno
Shrimp in mojo isleno made with olive oil, garlic, guajillo chile, thyme, and bay leaf.
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

The grand scope of the menu at Buena Vida becomes apparent in the annotations.

At the newly opened restaurant in Clarendon, part of three-level Mexican food complex from Ambar owner Ivan Iricanin, notes from chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo single out dishes for geographic loyalties, historical significance, and personal ties to his family’s legendary Mexico City dining room, Restaurante Nicos.

The dry soup with three chiles is an old family specialty, mixing fried vermicelli noodles with anchos, guajillos, and chiptoles along with avocado and cilantro. The guacamole — made with olive oil and no lime juice — follows the recipe at Nicos. The tropical ceviche (tuna, chia seeds, pineapple, cucumber, and lime juice) is noted as a Vázquez Lugo original.

There’s Acapulco-style grilled fish with aioli and guajillo sauce, seafood pozole from the state of Colima, and slow-cooked duck from the Yucatan. The recipe for bean soup with avocado leaf comes from Michoacan, and mango salad with watermelon and jicama is “a favorite of Mexico City.

Buena Vida tropical ceviche
Tropical ceviche from Buena Vida.
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

When Iricanin got Vázquez Lugo on-board to develop the menu, he took the chef to eat at around 15 or so Mexican restaurants in D.C. Those meals informed the state of the market while also giving the pair confidence that they could take the local Mexican food scene in a totally different direction.

For instance, there won’t be black mole at Buena Vida, at least to start. Everyone else serves it, and Vázquez Lugo has a deep well of other dishes to draw upon.

“We have recipes for 150 moles,” Iricanin says. “We don’t need to do that.”

Other dishes will speak to the slow, patient cooking that Vázquez Lugo favors for proteins, including a drunken chicken, a rabbit barbacoa, and a Jalisco-style lamb birria with dried chiles and spices. Juices from the spit-roasted lamb will be combined with water and more spices to fill cups with sipping broth.

Take a look at the full menu below:

Buena Vida menu by on Scribd

Buena Vida (2900 Wilson Boulevard) is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner is Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Brunch, to be added later this spring, will be Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.