Ray Garcia, the acclaimed chef who created modern Mexican marvels Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria in Los Angeles, is opening a restaurant in Las Vegas. So we should start by discussing the chicharrón.
¡Viva!, Garcia’s 235-seat stunner at the new Resorts World Las Vegas, a $4.3 billion casino property that debuts June 24, will serve the chicharrón from Broken Spanish. It’s a gloriously crispy hunk of pork belly: juicy meat and beautiful fat with garlic sauce, radish sprouts and pickled cabbage. This showstopping dish is also a statement of purpose.
“In a lot of cities, Mexican food isn’t well represented in quantity and variety,” Garcia says. “There’s this very generic scratching-the-surface approach to rice and beans and melted cheese. Anytime I can open up a restaurant that showcases and highlights what Mexican cuisine is and can be, it’s an honor to represent. It’s great to be able to bring my Angeleno brand of Mexican food to Las Vegas. Broken Spanish has always been Mexican food as seen through the eyes of an Angeleno, a Mexican-American one at that.”
But Garcia also wants to stress that he’s creating something brand-new at Resorts World.
“I didn’t just want to cut-and-paste Broken Spanish,” he says. “Las Vegas deserves more than a carbon copy.”
The vast majority of the dishes on both the lunch and dinner menu at ¡Viva! are new. Garcia has been playing around with different birria preparations for crunchy quesabirria tacos. ¡Viva! will also serve crudos, heirloom tomato salads, wood-fired quesadillas and hefty communal plates like short-rib barbacoa and whole snapper zarandeado that you can use to make your own tacos. ¡Viva! is nixtamalizing Mexican heirloom corn from single-origin specialist Masienda for tortillas that will be cooked to order. The restaurant is also getting flour tortillas from Mejorado, a new company from Alberto Bañuelos of L.A’s Burritos La Palma and L.A. chef Eduardo Ruiz.
Having a big new kitchen allows Garcia to cook with open fire in different ways. He’ll grill steaks atop mesquite and also use his wood-fired setup to roast pineapples. He’ll serve California-grown produce like Girl & Dug squashini, which is a snappy summer squash that’s native to Korea.
“It’s kind of walking that fine line of familiar and comfortable with challenging and progressive,” says Garcia, a chef who’s long proven that a tortilla can be a canvas for anything. “We’re exploring the variety and diversity of ingredients, of cultures, of regions and of techniques while continuing to be modern and finding new ways to amplify the story of the heritage.”
At ¡Viva!, Garcia will slowly cook mushrooms, rubbed in black garlic adobo, over binchotan to concoct a meaty dish that doesn’t involve actual meat. That’s another communal dish that you can break apart for do-it-yourself tacos.
“It’s in the spirit of having fun and shared moments in Vegas,” Garcia says.
But Garcia also wants Mexican food to be taken more seriously. He wants guests to know that Mexican food can be as elegant, thoughtful, transporting and contemporary as any other cuisine. He wants to crush stereotypes. So he’s also using Masienda heirloom corn for ¡Viva!’s chips, and he’s making a point of charging for chips and salsa.
“There’s a tendency to assign a lower value a lot of times to Mexican food and other ethnic cuisines,” he says. “People walk in, expecting to have free chips and salsa until they want to vomit. For us, it’s not about filling you up with salty chips that make you want to drink more margaritas. We want to express how tasty those chips can be and how special that salsa is and how fresh it is. We treat it like any normal dish. It’s not a throwaway or a freebie. It’s something we stand behind as much as anything else on the menu.”
Resorts World is a massive platform for Garcia and many other high-profile chefs and restaurant operators. The dining collection here includes, among many other options, Brezza and Bar Zazu from former Carnevino chef Nicole Brisson; Carversteak from veteran scene-maker Sean Christie’s new Carver Road Hospitality; Genting Palace, a Cantonese restaurant with both dim sum and banquet-style dining; an outpost of Beverly Hills hangout Wally’s Wine & Spirits; and the Famous Foods Street Eats food hall with Asian hawker-stand stars (including Singapore’s Geylang Claypot Rice) as well as Marcus Samuelsson’s Streetbird and Mozz Bar from Vegas chef James Trees.
It has been a roller-coaster year for Garcia. He closed Broken Spanish during the pandemic (after shuttering B.S. Taqueria in 2019) and then resurrected it as an L.A. pop-up that will end July 31. His primary focus for now is ¡Viva!, and he believes that opening in a huge Vegas resort means he can build a new brand that could expand around the world.
“I’m just not the type of person who limits myself or an opportunity,” Garcia says. “I think ¡Viva! clearly opens the door for potential conversations in other markets.”
But he’s also still a chef who feels deeply connected to Los Angeles and the modern Mexican food he’s cooked there.
“I’m not done with Broken Spanish,” Garcia says. “I’m still looking to find a new home for it back in Los Angeles because I think it is an L.A. brand for sure. I want to reestablish and fortify its place in the L.A. dining scene.”