Buena Vida - Arlington

4.4
97 reviews
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$30 and under
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Mexican
At Buena Vida the cuisine featured is traditional, indigenous fare incorporating recipes that have been handed down through generations. One will have an authentic experience, tasting a Mexican cooking that transcends what one expects from most Mexican restaurants in America. For example, there is no flour used in any savory dish as seeds are ground and incorporated, as is the tradition for authentic cuisine from this country. The restaurant takes pride in using fresh, seasonal ingredients as well as sustainable and socially responsible cooking methods. All items are made from scratch including organic corn tortillas, house-made sauces and made-to-order salsas.
What 97 People Are Saying
Overall ratings and reviews
Reviews can only be made by diners who have eaten at this restaurant
4.4based on recent ratings
4.3
food
4.4
service
4.5
ambience
3.9
value
Noise · Moderate
84% of people would recommend it to a friend
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OT
Washington DC
1 review
Dined 3 days ago
Overall 3food 1service 3ambience 5

Food was super bland, portions small and very expensive.

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a
Washington DC
50 reviews
Dined 4 days ago
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Food was delicious, service was very good. The lower and upper levels are extremely loud; the middle level dining room is quieter but still mostly hard surfaces and as it filled up it got loud also. However, at our request they seated us in a corner in a room off to the side of the dining room, and we were able to have a conversation. The decor is light and airy, very attractive. Margaritas are terrific. We will definitely be back. My only complaint is the menu advertised queso fundido with oyster mushrooms, and when it came, while delicious, I am pretty sure they were cremini mushrooms and not oyster. This would not have been an issue had they told us, or just said "mushrooms" on the menu, but if that's my only complaint, it's obviously a great experience!

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PM
Washington DC
36 reviews
Dined 7 days ago
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Great experience.

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CS
San Francisco
1 review
Dined on June 9, 2019
Overall 4food 5service 3ambience 4

Our group of four sampled seven different items on the menu ... and all were excellent! We look forward to returning and sampling several other very appealing menu items.

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OT
Louisville
9 reviews
Dined on June 9, 2019
Overall 3food 3service 2ambience 3

We had the unlimited brunch. The food was good, but a number of times orders were forgotten about leaving gaps in time we were just waiting for food. It was a nice enjoyable experience but think our server was new.

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N
Washington DC
7 reviews
Dined on June 9, 2019
Overall 2food 5service 1ambience 4

The food was very good, when it actually arrived. We did the bottomless brunch option, and had to ask numerous times for our orders, after waiting more then an hour for several dishes to arrive. This was compounded as the plates are tiny, so it takes several to be full. It took a long time for anything to show up, and several things just never did. It is dissapointing because the food was tasty, and usually hot when it arrived, so it makes me think our orders were lost or never put in the first (few) time(s). We have been to Ambar (Barracks Row) several times and have never had issues with the service like there was here, so hopefully it will get better with time. For now I would maybe come back to the regular menu option downstairs, but be wary of the brunch, especially as it wasn't very crowded when we showed up. The drinks were very good and they came a bit faster, but we usually had a different server help with them, who seemed to know what was going on more. It was also a nice light airy space, so it was dissapointing, and I am hopeful it improves, but on our visit, it took what should have been a relaxing lesuirely meal into a stressful event chasing down a few tiny plates.

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P
Washington DC
2 reviews
Dined on June 8, 2019
Overall 4food 4service 4ambience 4

Great, fun atmosphere. Terrific margaritas and guacamole. Loved the shishito peppers, not so much the zucchini side (undercooked and boring). Shrimp entree was great. Will definitely return and try other dishes on the menu.

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A
Washington DC
56 reviews
Dined on June 8, 2019
Overall 3food 3service 4ambience 5

Buena Vida is relatively new and is definitely going through some startup issues. Upon arrival were taken up to the rooftop bar which was not officially open, but doing a soft run through. Service was terrific and the staff obviously were enjoying their first day. We had margaritas which were nicely prepared. We had a reservation for dinner on the main level downstairs and were seated in a relatively quiet location off to the side. Our server was attentive and very pleasant. The menu is varied and interesting. We found the food to be decent but lacking in flavor. The fundido melted cheese appetizer was excellent as were the salsas. Both the duck carnitas and lamb rib entrees were underwhelming. Blithering had any zip or depth of flavor. We appreciate that this is supposed to be more “sophisticated” Mexican cuisine and thus not just green chilies and cheese with beans. However, we were surprised at the lack of seasoning and flavor in both dishes. Can it be that the restaurant’s Ambar-Serbian origins doesn’t translate into Mexican spices and flavors? Are they trying to make the food bland to appeal to gringo palates?
My first take based on this initial experience is Buena Vida has promise, but it has to be more assertive in its spices and flavors. Thus, despite the attentive service for the price we found it to be lacking.

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C
Philadelphia
5 reviews
Dined on June 8, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Buena Vida’s unlimited brunch is a great value for the price. Fair warning, the plates appear/are small, but they constantly keep bringing food from the menu so you will certainly leave stuffed. The fried chicken and the chicken enchiladas are a must!

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ZJ
Washington DC
12 reviews
Dined on June 7, 2019
Overall 3food 3service 3ambience 4

Not bad but not fantastic, especially at that price point. Some vegetarian options but no actual entrees, so our table ended up covered in small plates. Everything was okay, but nothing special enough to justify the price tag. You are paying for the pretty venue and the location, not the food itself. Grilled onions were undercooked and very greasy, chickpeas and Chile relleno were both soupy making the flavorful part hard to eat, mango salad was pretty simple, plantains were the same that you get everywhere except they had a simple syrup on them. Mushroom quesadilla was great.

Cocktails were tiny and intentionally served as partial glasses which is a weird choice. We thought that meant they were extra strong but nope, just tiny and expensive. And the classic margarita was too sweet.

Service was fine enough too, but the segment where we were sitting was completely empty, and they sat a couple immediately next to us. I almost said bye to them when we left because we were so much up in each other’s business. Those people now know a lot about my marriage!!

Huge plus — love that they have organic masa for their tortillas. I would go back to try TTT downstairs and might trek to Silver spring to try that location (where there seems to be more veggie options), but don’t see the need to return to this Buena Vida.

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MD
Washington DC
5 reviews
Dined on June 7, 2019
Overall 3food 3service 2ambience 4

Nicely designed space, but food was overpriced and service was super slow. Server just kept walking by us without saying anything. Won't be going again.

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m
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on June 5, 2019
Overall 3food 4service 3ambience 4

I wasn't blown away by the second floor restaurant, Buena Vida. The tropical ceviche was really yummy though and the guacamole/chips were good. I would say service has some kinks to work out and could have been better, but there is really no excuse to eat at Mexicali Blues anymore. I am much more interested in TTT downstairs and the rooftop option once it opens up.

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PS
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on June 5, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 4ambience 4

Food was excellent. Nice salsas with the chips, good guacamole as a starter. Three of us had shrimp, lamb and duck carnitas, all very good. The bunuelos dessert was good, but not outstanding. Main complaints: a) noise level which made conversation difficult and b) we barely had our drinks and starter when the main courses arrived. Hate to complain of speedy service, but this was a bit too fast. We will definitely be back, though.

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OT
1 review
Dined on June 4, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 4ambience 5

Great meal, cool atmosphere!

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m
Washington DC
9 reviews
Dined on June 4, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 4ambience 3

Creative interpretation of Mexican dishes makes Buena Vida a standout in a sea of bars and pizza joints. the guacamole sets the mood for an interesting meal. There's a surprise in every dish. This is a very special place.

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OT
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on June 1, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 4ambience 5

Best meal I've had in years

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RH
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on June 1, 2019
Overall 4food 4service 5ambience 4

Service and food were very good. We appreciated being seated in a quiet area seperate from the louder parts of the restaurant. The cocktails were excellent. I would recommend to others.

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MB
Washington DC
2 reviews
Dined on June 1, 2019
Overall 2food 2service 1ambience 4

We made a reservation thinking this was going to be like the other TTT location where you pay a set price for unlimited small plates. I know we all would've had a much better experience if that had been the case. The chips and salsa were the best part of our meal. It was unfortunate because the cost of every dish is so high, which is just entirely opposite of what Mexican food truly is. The food itself wasn't exciting, and how each dish is crafted and plated makes no sense. Our plates were large but the portions were small for the cost of the entree. Suggest updating the website to reflect that this location doesn't have an unlimited small plates option, but really suggest implementing that option at this location, or I would highly recommend the mexican restaurant (Mexicali Blues) across the street .

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A
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on May 31, 2019
Overall 1food 1service 3ambience 3

Food was bad all around... went with 5 other people. Food itself was bad tasting but also TEENY portions for the price. We each paid $60 for some of the worst Mexican food I’ve ever had. They missed the mark on authentic Mexican food in every way. Service was okay, drinks took almost 20 minutes to get to our table and we had to ask for chips and salsa. I never complain about restaurants and am not a cheap person/am in no way a picky eater. It simply wasn’t good food. The space itself is beautiful and the drinks were decent. I can see it being a popular bar once the rooftop opens but would never return for food.

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TD
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on May 31, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Great new restaurant in the Clarendon area! Creative twists on Mexico City-themed food, delicious drinks, and overall great ambiance.

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NC
Washington DC
4 reviews
Dined on May 30, 2019
Overall 4food 4service 4ambience 3

Interesting menu, good food, good choice of restaurants. We will return.

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SK
Washington DC
9 reviews
Dined on May 30, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Great service, fresh food, authentic and unique. Wonderful ambiance!!

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JW
Nashville
1 review
Dined on May 26, 2019
Overall 2food 1service 2ambience 2

Despite many of the reviews, we decided to give the place a chance and unfortunately it was a less than stellar experience - which is surprising as we have enjoyed Ambar many, many times. I could name many details, but cutting to the worse one, was the entrees. In reverse order of details, it should have been noteworthy to our server, Andrew, who was trying, but training that evening, that were were returning nearly full plates and adamantly refusing to go boxes that something was amiss, but he just grabbed them and scurried off. The Chicken enchiladas were soaked... completely soaked in vinegar making them inedible . Not against my tastes, inedible. I cannot imagine a person in the building thinking otherwise - I can see where they wanted to go, but the sauce was almost clear - clearly someone thought it was a good idea to try to stretch what they had made earlier with white vinegar. Bad idea. Not to mention that it is extremely overpriced. I am well aware that prices for retail in Clarendon is expensive, but we all make choices - $24 for enchiladas? No. Drunken chicken. That one was only 1/2 inedible, the other was 1/2 not to my taste. I can't image it being to anyones tastes but being a former executive chef, I can build flavor profiles. This wasn't one I would build, or send out of my kitchen. I would hope that my service staff would check on my diners though especially if my floor manager could not, and neither did. Surprising especially for such a new place, and for especially for a place with an experienced background.

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OT
1 review
Dined on May 26, 2019
Overall 1food 1service 1ambience 1

Tables are way too close to each other

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VG
1 review
Dined on May 24, 2019
Overall 5food 4service 3ambience 5

Very authentic food , got the real taste of home made Mexican food

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OT
1 review
Dined on May 24, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Great food, amazing staff!

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GE
Washington DC
8 reviews
Dined on May 24, 2019
Overall 4food 5service 5ambience 4

Amazing food! Fantastic service. Would have given 5 stars but for the non-working toilets that night. Still, got to see a preview of the third floor as a result and am excited to return!

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BH
Washington DC
14 reviews
Dined on May 24, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

We had a great meal, and our waiter was fabulous! This is not your usual Mexican restaurant - I loved my rabbit dish! The shared appetizers were also really good. Both this place, and Ambar which is across the street are keepers!

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F
Washington DC
28 reviews
Dined on May 24, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

FUN TIMES in Clarendon - craft Mexican-Spanish flavors.

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MD
Baltimore
1 review
Dined on May 19, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Visited w our 10 month old son. Very accommodating even during Sunday brunch midday. Food was delicious. Drinks were strong. Service was perfect. Nice little view of Clarendon from almost every table. Will be back.

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M
Washington DC
10 reviews
Dined on May 18, 2019
Overall 1food 2service 4ambience 2

there’s no kids menu and the food is not to good for the price.

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KA
Washington DC
3 reviews
Dined on May 17, 2019
Overall 4food 5service 4ambience 4

Great new restaurant. Accommodated gluten free without batting an eye!

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KS
Washington DC
2 reviews
Dined on May 12, 2019
Overall 4food 4service 4ambience 5

Came here for dinner Mother's Day. Food was very good and space is beautiful (guac was awesome!). Only wish we could have had also option to get some of the tacos from the downstairs menu....

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a
Washington DC
20 reviews
Dined on May 12, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

A terrific new place in Arlington. It has two floors with different cuisines. The top floor serves authentic Mexican dishes and does them very well. Service was attentive. Ask for a table for two by the front windows or a booth for four. The bottom floor serves the more traditional Mexican/American comfort foods - enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, etc.

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MB
1 review
Dined on May 12, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Went there for Mother's day brunch and i have to say i was impressed. All of the dishes where so good and super tasty also, the service was great too! I can't wait to come back and hopefully by then the rooftop will be open for service, just in time for the warm weather.

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NG
Washington DC
5 reviews
Dined on May 11, 2019
Overall 4food 4service 4ambience 4

Great new addition for Clarendon to try if you have not already! We have eaten here twice now- once for lunch on lower level TTT, food and drinks are very good- reminds me of street tacos. The prices are good for drinks as well. We had a birthday dinner with friends upstairs at Buena Vida. The Staff is very helpful and responsive even when busy. Managers even gave us a complimentary drink since we had to wait a few more minutes for our table. Overall great experience with the food which was delicious, the staff was great, chef was accommodating to a person in our group who can not tolerate any spicy food- which can be tough with AUTHENTIC Mexican food. We will be back and hope every experience is as good in the future!

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JB
Washington DC
2 reviews
Dined on May 11, 2019
Overall 3food 3service 2ambience 5

Kind of meh. The food isn't great, and the service was lackluster. It's a pretty space, though. But I don't plan on returning.

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OT
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on May 10, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

Amazing dinner, amazing food and drink!

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OT
1 review
Dined on May 9, 2019
Overall 1food 3service 5ambience 4

Wish they told us upstairs was different than downstairs menu wise. Food was okay and definitely not worth the price.

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S
Washington DC
1 review
Dined on May 9, 2019
Overall 5food 5service 5ambience 5

My wife and I had a wonderful experience, the food was authentic with new and interesting layers of flavors. Sound absorbing panels on the ceiling made the space very pleasant, with ambient noise but not super loud like their sister restaurant Ambar across the street can get during peak hours. The cocktails and deserts were also top notch.

If you're looking for super spicy familiar Tex-Mex standards go elsewhere, Buena Vida captures the subtleties of Mexican regional cooking.

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