First Bite

Our Latest Obsession: The Costras at La Vibra

Mexico City comes alive at this bright fast-casual Heights spot.

By Timothy Malcolm January 17, 2019

At left, the ribeye volcán taco. At right, the bistec costra.

Apparently some guests of La Vibra Tacos have already wondered about the name. It means "the vibe" in Spanish, meaning this fast-casual restaurant at a retail center at 5th and Yale—currently in its soft-opening phase—is trying to capture the dynamism of Mexico City. The color palette is magenta and yellow. It's youthful and exuberant, speedy and easy.

According to Charlie Rosales, operations officer of La Vibra, the concept has roots in Mexico City; the ownership group, comprised of Houstonians, spent eight years working in the food industry in Mexico City and wanted to bring the taco culture they found into America. Rosales is a Houston-bred family friend who was tasked with bringing the group's recipes north. That includes dishes authentic to the city. Like costras.

Essentially, costras are tortillas made of cheese that wrap around some kind of meat—perfect late-night food. Costra translates to scab, which isn't tempting, but it can also mean crust, which explains the texture of the cheese. Here, gouda wraps around a protein, and—maybe to minimize mess—a flour tortilla wraps around that. Of course, it's a match made in heaven. I tried the bistec—1855 Angus sirloin—which adds grilled heft to the lightly smoky cheese. The tortilla acts as little more than a sleeve, but it's warm and airy. There are plenty more options in costra—ribeye, pastor, pollo. Check them out for yourself.

Of course, classic tacos are available in soft corn tortillas with masa sourced from Oaxaca. I most enjoyed the rajas, highlighted by perfectly smoky poblano slices with melty oaxaca cheese and a dash of sea salt. The pastor has nice tropical flavor, and while I liked the lightly fried shell of the flounder in the pescado, that taco was a bit more of a chore to eat since the fish pieces were a bit larger. If you want spice, just add some salsa (four come complimentary), and I recommend the creamy jalapeño, which provides a tomatillo punch along with a peppery lace. 

There's also a menu of tacos in toasted corn tortillas. I tried the ribeye, whose shell may have been a little too dry. I'll have to check back on those. 

The chicharrón de queso is a fun, crumbly starter for the whole family.

With sides, you can get traditional fried tortilla chips, which were a little small for my liking and carried a generous sprinkling of postgame salt. They work well with the bright and friendly guacamole and silky refritos—refried bayo beans. Nopales (with bubbly oaxaca cheese if you want it), a paper-thin chicharrón de queso made of a seductively sweet manchego, and softly puffed Kennebec potatoes are among the other sides here. Yes, you heard right: softly puffed Kennebec potatoes.

In its beverage program La Vibra offers four aguas frescas, and they're all worthy of a try. The best of them? The fresh lime cucumber, which I could drink all day. There are also bottled beer and sodas available.

La Vibra will certainly be a hot lunch spot—especially for those of us who work 100 feet from its front door. 

Filed under
Show Comments