420 N. MacArthur Blvd, Irving
I might be tempted to call this place venerable if it weren't in Las Colinas. Restaurants just seem to have a little more staying power in that part of Irving.
Of course, that's probably impression more than reality. And the kitchen that chef Felipe Gaytan built has been going strong for two decades. So I'll say the fact that Via Real continues apace is testament to the restaurant's solid reputation--something difficult to earn and something which the kitchen tries not to undermine.
When I tried to order the tortilla soup recently, my waiter sorta shook his head. "Black bean," he responded.
Not that they were out of it, mind you. He just knew the tortilla soup didn't measure up, especially in comparison to their murky, earthen, spicy black bean. And I'll assume he was right, as the latter treats you to about as much complexity as a chef can wring out of the common bean.
Via Real first earned this reputation by turning out upscaled favorites. And you'll still find them: salmon tacos, for example, builds around a rich, fatty filet burnished with the sweet-earthy flavors you'd find in any Asian-fusion place and huskier southwestern spices. The result is beautiful--if you don't try to eat it as a taco.
Simply put, the thick, delicate slab of fish not only makes it impossible to pick up, the tortilla wrap is the only sorry element. Good salmon, horrible taco; you're better off discarding it.
My impression is that Via Real hasn't changed much over the years--but that's based upon the memory of visits past. They did slump when Gaytan left to pursue lesser projects--that's what I hear, anyway. He's checked back in, however, and food service feels about the same as in the restaurant's heyday. What I liked this time around was the loose ambiance of a recent lunchtime meal. As I sat there, the wait staff huddled behind me lamenting the state of secondary education in Texas.
Apparently, whichever high schools they attended showed Jurassic Park as an documentary.
Can't say whether that's worse than my high school baseball coach/history teacher insisting "the big one's coming, gang" every single day. We were all supposed to perish in a Soviet nuclear apocalypse.
We didn't. And Via Real hasn't succumbed to mid-cities stagnation, economic collapse or the opening of more convenient restaurants.