After the Round – UnaVida

After the Round – UnaVida

UnaVida in Dallas’ West Village opened late last year and quickly became a much-discussed new addition to the culinary scene in Big D. UnaVida’s menu features familiar staples to those craving authentic Mexican fare, but almost all of them have a unique twist by award-winning Chef Matt McCallister and his team. If you peruse their website, you will see that their kitchen boasts a lack of seed oils and other processed ingredients that are used so often in other restaurants. UnaVida also is committed to their international menu, with the caveat that they cater to all diets and those committed to clean eating without sacrificing flavor profiles that will dazzle the palate, while offering a different take on entrées that are familiar from other menus. 

If you’re like me, then you like to check out the menu of a new restaurant you are going to be dining at ahead of time to see what they offer and think about what you might want to order. When I did this ahead of my visit to UnaVida, I was surprised at the variety of options that were available for not just those with a standard diet, but the multitude of options for those who might be vegetarian, vegan or have other dietary restrictions. It’s truly a place where no matter how you choose to dine, you will find something that will accommodate you and the rest of your party alike. 

As you near UnaVida, you will find plenty of parking near the restaurant. If you can’t find something directly in front, there is a free garage just around the corner that is a quick walk to their location off McKinney Ave. 

The interior is bright and vibrant, with colorful booths lining the walls and tables down the middle with bright pink seats that really pop. Wood accents add some warmth, and a large mural and some artwork really make this a cozy and fun environment to dine.  There is a bar for those just wanting to pop in for a drink and apps, and there is a patio area for outdoor seating, although inside may be better for the next couple months as temperatures climb. 

Our server Armando was friendly, attentive, and despite only having been with UnaVida for a few weeks, really knew the menu well and was able to suggest not only drinks but also some appetizer and main course options based on what we mentioned we were in the mood for. He made the experience great, from the time we sat down until we were walking out the door. 

If you are in the mood for a cold drink on a blistering Texas summer day, then you are in luck, as the bar at UnaVida comes fully equipped with a solid selection of beer, wine and a wildly unique cocktail program. 

The UnaVida margarita is a strong choice to begin your experience, made with tequila, gran gala, lime and some grilled serrano pepper for a little tickle on the back end. If you aren’t a tequila person, then the guava cooler is a hit, made with vodka, lime, grapefruit and some pineapple guava juice. It’s cool, refreshing, and the tart grapefruit balances out the sweet pineapple and guava, making this cocktail as delicious as it is dangerous. If you are in the mood for something to pair with brunch fare, then a classic mimosa is available, or you can pair your bubbly with cranberry or pineapple juice for a little something different. 

If you aren’t a drinker or you are looking for something during your business lunch, then one of their agua frescas is the way to go, with flavors like coconut cantaloupe, strawberry watermelon or the splendid pineapple orange lime. Any of these are a breeze of refreshment that won’t get you buzzed up like the drinks with the hard stuff.

Of course, the cocktails at UnaVida are unique, but as you peruse the food offerings, that’s where things really take a wild turn. They are unique, interesting and whimsical from top to bottom. The first item I highly recommend is the fresh guacamole. This guac is anything but typical. Sure, it has your standard avocado, but there are a couple interesting additions to this appetizer that sends it to the moon. This smooth, silky avocado has some ginger pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and dried blueberries in it. Yes, you read that right … dried blueberries. The pumpkin seeds add some crunch for a great textural element, and the dried blueberries add a subtle hint of sweet tartness to the guacamole. It’s simply spectacular and some of the best guac I have had anywhere in the city. The warm chips that come with it are salty and crisp, making this a great opener to your meal, or a fantastic little tidbit to pair with a cocktail for a happy hour with friends. 

There is also a queso on the menu that you need to give a shot. The poblano queso that you will find on the appetizer menu is definitely something you won’t find at many other places. This queso is cashew based. Yes, that sounds weird, and believe me, as a Texan, I fancy myself a bit of a queso connoisseur, but it’s not bad at all. Sure, it’s absolutely different from your normal cheese and dairy-based dipping sauce, but it’s still very good and will change the way you think about how gluten-free and vegan folks dine. 

We also sampled the duck sope, which is also phenomenal. I must admit, I am a sucker for sopes, so I immediately knew this was going to be something I would love. The warm, pillowy sope serves as a great base for the shredded duck, herb chutney and red cabbage slaw on top. The duck was moist and tender, and the cabbage adds some great crunch. The only problem I found with the dish is the order only comes with three, so if you are with a party of two, you may be fighting over who gets the third one. 

There are plenty of main courses to choose from, and as I mentioned before, they can be fairly exotic or more traditional, depending on what you may be craving. Everything on the menu looks great, as we watched multiple dishes coming from the kitchen as we worked on our appetizers. Being a more traditional guy, I went with the stacked enchiladas, which come in three carnivorous varieties, adobo chicken, steak or crab. I chose the crab, as I was feeling like something sea-foody. This version has blistered corn, charred avocado and a white enchilada sauce. The dish is creamy, succulent and covered with melty cheese, just the way enchiladas should be. If you are a seafood fan, it’s hard to go wrong with this order. As you will find frequently on this menu, there is one additional choice on the stacked enchilada menu that is befitting a person who sticks to a vegetarian diet. The butternut and goat cheese enchilada is perfect if you don’t eat meat, or if you are just looking for something a little more non-traditional. 

If you love tacos, then UnaVida can scratch that itch, too. There are four different options, which can be served on corn or flour tortillas, or if you are a low-carb dieter, there is a lettuce wrap option, as well. The mushroom version comes with pipian verde, green cabbage slaw, fried shallot and Manchego cheese. There is also a chicken, barbacoa and a carne asada, each with different variations on toppings, from chipotle aioli, to pico de gallo and fermented cashew crema. The carne asada version was ordered at our table, and the steak was juicy, tender and came with some great salsa macha, pico, lime and cilantro. 

The ”Los Favoritos” portion of the menu has some additional items that are worth checking out, including a great burger, of which the patty is made with a blend of grass-fed beef and heirloom mushroom and served with picked red-onion, rajas con crema, romaine, lime aioli, on a oxaca cheese-crusted brioche bun. 

Another one of those items you may be hesitant to try if you are a carnivore is the smothered burrito. This bad boy is filled with tri-colored quinoa, refried lentils, black beans, peppers, onions, mushroom and zucchini and then covered in some of that cashew queso. It may sound a little odd, but we tried this out and agreed that you don’t miss the meat at all. It’s hearty and delicious with plenty of great texture. The best part about it is that it’s delicious, even without the proteins you may be used to. 

Other main courses include a great arrachera asada, a pollo asado or even a salmon a la plancha that is served with a pipian mole, pickled red onion grilled avocado or cilantro rice. 

The dinner menu at UnaVida is great, but they also serve breakfast items all day, like their better morning bowl, served with quinoa, sweet potato, arugula, radish, hardboiled egg, avocado pickled red onion and some of those ginger pumpkin seeds. You can also add chicken or tofu chorizo to make it a little more substantial. 

Despite the fact that UnaVida is a great place for those eating clean, they are clearly aware that everyone loves dessert, even if you might be watching what you eat. There are a couple items that will satisfy your sweet tooth as you prepare to get your check. The arroz con leche is a rice pudding served with spiced apple and is very good and not overly sweet. Their other option is the Mexican chocolate brownie, which is described on the menu as “the best darn brownie ever.” I can’t say I disagree as it is packed with chocolaty delight and topped with some ice cream that slowly melts atop the warm brownie, making a sticky concoction you won’t be able to stop eating. If you are at UnaVida to eat clean and healthy, this may not be for you, but I wasn’t, so don’t judge me for disposing of this dessert in short order. 

I have seen many restaurants in the Metroplex over the last decade, and UnaVida is without a doubt one of the most unique. A lot of deep thought went into this menu to make it inclusive for all, while still being absolutely delicious. In an age where so many are particular about dietary concerns, this is a homerun where anyone can find something they will enjoy, whether you are in for more traditional fare or something that fits your lifestyle. Regardless of what you choose, you’re going to love it … I guarantee it.