Mexican restaurant decor can get chintzy, but Vive Sol's hits its mark, creating a thoughtful and relaxing ambiance that is still fun. The place is adorned with colorful lanterns and lights, and its inside dining room is dimly lit for an intimate feel.
We dropped in on a warm weekday evening and opted to dine outside on the patio, which is separate from the regular restaurant. We were seated amongst a small cluster of tables on the wooden platform patio area, in front of a festive bar. Groups of diners sat talking and sipping margaritas — the tequila selection is extensive — and Mexican beer until after we finished our meal at nearly 9 p.m.
Run by Hector and Helena Sol, Vive Sol prides itself on its authentic "comida poblana," which is cuisine from Puebla, a city in central Mexico. Though some of their food is familiar enough — burritos, chalupas and gucamole — the Sols' dishes have a flavor all their own, often richer, with cream-based sauces. Diners be warned: While we found the cream-based dishes to be generally tasty, it would be wise to indulge in a lighter appetizer to avoid an overly heavy meal.
Alongside the crispy tortilla chips and a trio of delectable salsas, one good starter choice is the ceviche ($9), which is tangy with a lime-drenched onion and tomato salsa-fresca-type base. We found the fish to be slightly tough, but loved the lightness and freshness of the dish.
Mushroom fans should sample the champinones con chile seco ($8.50), recommended by our server. The dish consists of sauteed shrimp, mushrooms, onions and garlic, covered generously in thick sauce and served with small flour tortillas. Some may think its flavors stray too much from what we traditionally think of as Mexican, but straying outside the norm is among the joys of Vive Sol.
But if you insist on a more typical starter, there's always guacamole ($8).
Moving on to the entrees, our sea bass tacos ($16.50), served with black beans and rice, were flavorful and well balanced. Crisp cabbage, onions and peppers contrasted nicely with juicy morsels of fish. Topped with tomatoes and a creamy salsa nueva, the two tacos made for a good portion.
Though on the heavier side, the sabana invierno ($16), a thinly cut steak and chorizo dish, was the table's favorite. The meat was well-seasoned, with a peppery kick, and sliced finely. Pieces of mild chorizo sausage added another dimension to this carnivore-friendly plate. A fellow diner with a Latin American background said the dish tasted like something from her family's kitchen.
Our waiter raved about the rajas poblanas ($15), which are a creamy version of traditional chicken fajitas. Served with warm tortillas on the side, the sauteed peppers and onions provided a good crunch, a nice contrast to the chicken, which was soaked with sour-cream based sauce.
Traditional enchiladas ($13) are spiced up by a choice of one of Vive Sol's five house sauces. The guajillo is touted as "Grandma's" special sauce, and though it isn't your typical enchilada sauce, its intriguing flavors make it a fine, warming choice for fall or winter.
Even though our waiter forgot to box an extra taco at the end of the meal, the service at Vive Sol was excellent all evening. Our party agreed that we were well taken care of, and that our food arrived promptly but not too quickly.
On their next trip down El Camino, adventurous eaters looking for something new, or couples looking to mix up their night out, should seek out the elusive but tasty Vive Sol.
2020 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View
Lunch: Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday through Thursday 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 9:30 p.m.
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