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Zivaz’s distinct signature undeniable

Citizen Staff Writer
Review: Zivaz Mexican Bistro



Take Suzana Davila’s Cafe Poca Cosa, cross it with Sam Fox’s Sauce, and you’re somewhere in the ballpark of this lively, easygoing midtown eatery.

There’s a commendable amount of cleverness, creativity and hard work going on at Zivaz, and more often than not, you can readily see the fruits of such labor in the bustling lunch and dinner crowds.

In addition, Zivaz has seemingly hosted one special event after another since opening three years ago, with tequila and wine tastings, fundraisers and other outreach events, which are always well publicized with ads and e-mail blasts.

They’re trying pretty hard with the food, too. The menu makes an urban, fast-casual stab at Mexican fare that walks a tricky line between accessibility and authenticity. Quite often, it accomplishes both. In a few instances, specifically with side dishes, it accomplishes neither.

We started a recent visit with the Fantastic Mini Flautas ($5.95), which despite our predilection to dislike them for their boastful moniker, were pretty close to fantastic as flautas go. More like upscale mini-chimis that tasted as though they were baked rather than deep fried, the puffy yet nicely browned tortillas enveloped notably fresh and moist chicken meat and bits of pepper and onion.

Interesting but a little less impressive was our other starter, the Patatas ($5.45) a large plate of fried-to-order potato chips drizzled with a chipotle-garlic aioli and chile sauce, flecked with fresh cilantro. I wasn’t overly enamored with the way the aioli worked with the chips until I tried one that contained a decent smattering of cilantro. With enough cilantro, the offering worked, but it was only through high-grading the plate for chips that had piles of cilantro on them that I came away impressed with the concept.

Entrees featured generously portioned, well-prepared proteins but a trio of uninspiring side dishes. The Salmon Asado ($12.95) featured a fillet that had been grilled to a good char yet was still moist and flaky beneath the stripes. The advertised achiote marinade made its presence known, as the fish had a subtle yet meaningful edge tartness and spicy heat, a nicely unique essence.

This is well-conceived dish would be more than worth its $12.95 were sides of beans, rice and salad of a little better quality. They came off as something of an afterthought to my companion and me. The black beans were rendered to a state not unlike what one commonly encounters with standard refried beans, though pinto beans seem to hold up better flavorwise than black beans do cooked to this level. Beside the flavor-challenged beans was a rather pedestrian serving of yellow-hued rice, which, aside from a saltiness imbued by either chicken or vegetable stock, were equally as unimpressive as the beans, though the two sides did work a little better when combined.

The salad of mixed greens were dry and limp, though the drizzling of sweet, tangy vinaigrette perked them up a bit. We couldn’t help thinking that this offering could be significantly upgraded if the greens could be lightly tossed in the vinaigrette to order rather than just piled on the plate as is and squirted with dressing.

The Pollo en Rajas ($10.45) was the highlight of the meal. An excellently grilled chicken breast steeped in a green poblano chile sauce and topped with cheese, corn, zucchini and pepper strips, it sang with a full-bodied ensemble of sweetness, spicy heat and earthy depth. It was tantalizing and satisfying from the first to the last bite.

On a separate visit, I ordered the Sopa Tlalpeño ($7.40), another well-conceived, well-executed teaming of flavors and textures. The light chicken broth was well studded with fine-minced zucchini, peppers and onions, garbanzo beans and chunks of chicken, then topped with avocado slices, tortilla strips and dollops of sour cream and a smokey chipotle purée. The soup provided numerous combinations of flavor profiles with the wealth of constituents, all of them pleasing in their own ways.

Desserts showed a commendable effort to please, as they were amply portioned and outfitted. The Orange Mandarin Flan ($5.95) came as an extra-large wedge of custardy flan served over fried tortilla chips dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and was accompanied by a ramekin of mandarin orange in syrup. There was enough orange flavor in the flan to make it distinctive, but the flavoring was nicely kept in check so as not to obscure the payoff from the otherwise authentic-tasting flan.

A large wedge of cheesecake came as a multicolored affair, with pink, orange and yellow regions of the moist but pleasantly airy cake giving off hints of fruitiness. As with the flan, the signature stylings made their presence known but didn’t take away from inherent appeal of the well-made cheesecake.

There’s an intriguing tweener aspect to Zivaz. Though you order at the counter and serve yourself drinks at the beverage station, the servers who bring your food are as attentive and professional as you’d expect with traditional service, and the atmosphere, furnishings and tableware are upscale without being stuffy.

This fast-casual yet upscale Mexican eatery has carved a niche that’s somewhat similar to Fox’s Blanco Tacos + Tequila and the Flores family’s El Charro Cafés but has a distinct, undeniable signature all its own.


Address and phone: 4590 E. Broadway, 325-1234

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays – Thursdays, 11 a.m .to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Prices: Appetizers from $4.95 to $8.45, soups and salads from $3.45 to $11.95, entrees from $7.40 to $13.95, desserts from $4.45 to $5.95

Bar: Margaritas, beer, wine and tequila shots

Vegetarian options: Several, including Mexican Sushi ($5.45), Ensalada de Guacamole ($5.95), and Milanesa de Berenjena – breaded eggplant with corn, zucchini, red bell pepper and poblano mix ($9.95)

Desserts: Orange Mandarin Flan ($5.95), Churros Rellenos ($4.45), Cheesecake ($5.95) and Chocolate Cake ($4.95)

Latest health inspection: An “excellent” rating Jan. 16. No critical violations were reported.

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