Livin’ La Pura Vida Loca

9 Dec

Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro
1236 Western Ave
Las Vegas NV 89102
702.722.0108

Pura Vida

Holy shit.

I have been to a lot of restaurants in my half a hundred years on Earth. I have seen a lot of weird things and experienced a lot of odd situations. But I have never walked into the middle of a Dali painting quite like this one.

I was in Vegas for business. If you look up Las Vegas on Happy Cow, there is only one all-vegan restaurant in the city (besides a few raw places) so I had to go. I also had to go because writing for the late great SuperVegan, my vegan pal specialneedseater raved about this place. I’ll settle that score separately.

So I drove my rental car into the near-the-railroad-tracks industrial wasteland a little north and west of the Strip and found Pura Vida. I was so excited.

The time: appx 11:30 on a Saturday. Are you ready? Let’s go.

I walked in and was greeted by a friendly server. He directed me to a nice two-top near the door. I sat down.

Before long, the owner, the famous (at least to Las Vegas vegans) Chef Mayra emerged from the kitchen and I saw her point at me and then have a conversation with the server. What did I do?!

The server came back to my table and told me that I had to move. Huh? Chef Mayra must have seen my look of puzzlement — you know, the look that any human would have in this situation — and said I couldn’t sit at the two-top because I was eating by myself and that I needed to move to a table in the back. I decided not to say anything and just comply.

But I have to say it was a bizarre request. The place wasn’t full. In fact, there was an entire section to the left of the entrance that wasn’t being used. And next to my two-top was another solo diner enjoying his lunch at a two-top. But I let it go and changed tables. To a table that not only left me facing the dirty spot where they threw table scraps into a bucket, BUT TO A TABLE THAT WAS ANOTHER TWO -TOP!

IMG_8255

Photo taken by me, sitting in my seat, of the other chair at my table, and beyond.

Why couldn’t the still-theoretical party of two get this crappy table instead of me? But again I didn’t say anything. I was there for the food and decided to go with the flow. So I sat down to look at my menu. Except I realized that when the server sat me there he never gave me a menu. That was odd. And now he was helping someone else. And not looking my way. And the other server wasn’t either. So I was left just sitting there. For quite a while. And then my server helped another party. And still I didn’t have a menu. And neither server was either within earshot of me nor in a position to catch my glance, so I sat there for quite a while menuless. Five minutes maybe? Wow, this was odd.

But then when my server finally grabbed a menu and came over to me, I realized why he hadn’t just given me a menu to start. It’s because the menus require a presentation. Or at least someone has decided they do. But first let me tell you that the very first thing the server said to me when he gave me the menu was: “Do you have a Groupon today?” And when I said no, he said, “Good.”

Now I’m not a big Yelper. I find it to be minimally helpful. So I didn’t check it before going to Pura Vida. But if you take a look at the Yelp reviews and search Groupon you will see a lot of stories. A LOT. And they are not good.

But I didn’t have a coupon, and so I was apparently allowed to order anything I wanted. So nice of them!

My server did his little presentation of the menu and I settled on the “WOW Pastry Puffs” that specialneedseater had raved about. The server then told me they would take about thirty minutes and that I should consider ordering an appetizer while I waited. Hmm, well, I do always like to try a few things at a place, especially when I won’t have the chance to get back for a while, so I said okay. He suggested the Chili Cheese Potatoes or the Salsa & Chips. I went with the potatoes. I then ordered a smoothie. “Sorry, we’re not doing smoothies right now.” Oh. Why, I asked. “Because Chef Mayra is the only one who can make the smoothies and she’s busy cooking right now.”

That seemed odd. Really? Nobody else is trained to make smoothies? No other human is capable of making one of their smoothies quite as well as Chef Mayra? But I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it and shrugged and asked for a glass of water instead.

Chile Cheese Potatoes. $9 worth of potatoes with a little vegan cheese and chili.

Chile Cheese Potatoes. $9 worth of potatoes with a little vegan cheese and chili.

Maybe ten minutes later my chili cheese potatoes came out and they looked terrific. Don’t they look amazing? Well, they weren’t amazing. They weren’t bad but they weren’t good either. They were mediocre. Solidly mediocre. I ate a little more than half of them, due to their mediocrity and to me not wanting to fill up on potatoes with my main course coming, and I settled in to wait. And I have to say, contrary to what other people on Yelp have endured, it wasn’t bad. I’d say that the puff pastries arrived maybe 25 minutes after I ordered them, which was fine. It wasn’t a problem to me.

WOW Puff Pastry. The only thing WOW about these was the $16 price tag.

And don’t they look terrific? I was pretty excited. And then they were mediocre. Not bad. Not good. Mediocre. Okay, I thought. I know what’s going on here. This is the only all-vegan restaurant in the city, and the Vegas Vegans defend it. They didn’t have any vegan restaurants for a long time and so they embraced this one. And maybe they find all the strange behavior to be charming, or at worst eccentric. Not annoying. The way someone like me, who lives in a city which has so many vegan options that I don’t have to tolerate let alone defend mediocre food and odd behavior, would see this place.

Dessert Menu

So I ate my puff pastry and then asked about dessert. There were three desserts on the dessert menu that day. Two contained banana and I don’t like banana. And they were sold out of the non-banana one. So I asked my server about the Peanut Butter & Banana Silk Pie since that one said it had “bananas on top” and I thought maybe they could be left off, but it turned out that one was also sold out. Two of the three desserts were sold out long before closing. And keep in mind, this is a place with the word “bakery” in its name, and which places the word “bakery” before the word “bystro” in its name. And yes, they spell “bistro” with a “y” — an affectation that should have tipped me off to to how byzarre thys joynt ys.

Anyway, I skipped dessert and asked for the check and was paying when Chef Mayra came out of the kitchen and asked how everything was. And although I wasn’t going to say anything, since she wanted to know, I said, “Well, I still don’t understand why you moved me.” And I’m not a mental health expert, so I won’t attempt to characterize the condition of the human who responded, but rather I’ll just share the response.

“I moved you because the server should never have sat you there. One person is supposed to be sat in the back and I have told them that repeatedly. I guess they need even more training.” Me: But I was already seated, and the gentleman next to me was by himself at a two-top, and there were other open tables in the restaurant, and the table that you moved me to was also a two-top. “But I can’t take a chance that I leave you sitting there, and then a party of two comes in and they have to be sat in the back and I’m not going to do this.” But why should they get priority over me for the better table? “Because this is a destination restaurant. I have people come from out of town and go out of their way to eat here. I have people who take cabs from the Strip to eat here!” I did not point out to her that she never asked me if I was from out of town, or if her restaurant was a destination for me. Because at that point I saw the look in the eyes. You know the look. The look that makes you say to yourself, “Whoa!” And like I said, I’m not a mental health expert, so I will not venture to characterize what was staring back at me from those eyes,  but if you my dear reader happen to be an expert in this field, or at least a trained professional, and have visited Pura Vida and spoken to Chef Mayra, I would love to get your official take on what we are dealing with here.

And by the way, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to trust my take on the situation. All you need to do is go to Yelp. Look up Pura Vida and then click “rating” and then click it again so it gives you all the one-star reviews first. Then read through all the one-star reviews and two-star reviews and even most of the three-star reviews and after reading dozens of these you’ll start to see that everyone felt the exact same way.

Another thing I should mention is that if you look on Yelp, there are a lot of complaints about people still waiting for their food long after the rest of their party had been served, and that when they asked their server about it they were told: your entrée was given to someone else by mistake. And this happened to a nearby table while I was there! I heard a gentleman ask where his food was – the woman he was with had her food for a while – and he was told it was given to someone else by mistake. What was strange was that looking around, there was no other table that seemed like it could have received his meal. The other tables were all finishing up, so I was confused. But now after reading Yelp, I know that this is just an excuse the servers are told to say to cover up for ridiculous wait times. And there are also people on Yelp complaining about being asked to change tables for no reason after having already been seated.

But I saved the best part for last. While I was eating, I heard one of the customers at another table tell a server that she heard Pura Vida was closing. And the server said it was true, but that they would be re-opening elsewhere and that she couldn’t say anything else about it. So after getting Chef Mayra’s “explanation” as to why she moved me to a table with a view of the dirtiest, most disgusting part of the restaurant, I told her I heard that Pura Vida was closing. Her eyes sprang from her head in pure Captain Queeg style and she said, or rather insisted,  in a loud voice, “Who told you that?!” I was vague and just said I’d heard it. She then said it was true, and that they had to move because the area was being taken for a freeway expansion project, but that she already found a new location which she couldn’t tell me about, but she proudly said that it was going to be a “148-seat location.”

Well, it’s a good thing my food was pretty far down in my belly by then or I’d have spit it out laughing. The current restaurant has 14 seats on the side that I was on, and another 12 to 16 seats on the other side of the restaurant, which was closed. So let’s take this in:  this woman can not run her already tiny restaurant effectively unless she further cuts the seating in half, and she’s planning on opening a space that’s ten times the size of what it was today? My prediction is that she’s going to go out of business pretty fast. And you know what? She deserves to. She’s a gigantic asshole serving mediocre food at ridiculously expensive prices and who seems to think she’s the vegan Alice Waters.

Maybe if you’re a vegan who lives in Las Vegas you don’t want to head down to the Strip for lunch any more than a New Yorker would have wanted to head to Times Square for lunch in 1985 but trust me, there is much better food to be had at the Wynn and elsewhere for similar or not much higher prices. Pura Vida is what vegan food USED TO BE. Mediocre, expensive and served by a weirdo. We don’t have to live like this any more, folks. We are everywhere now. But if you’re a defender, and I’m sure I will hear from many of them, then my suggestion is to go now and go often because with a 148-seat establishment, you’re going to have to wait about seven hours for your $9 pile of diced potatoes and that might be about as long as that spot will stay in business.

13 Responses to “Livin’ La Pura Vida Loca”

  1. Anonymous December 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    Excellent storytelling as always. I also enjoyed Red Velvet Cafe for lots of excellent Vegas vegan dessert options. Not to mention the huge Whole Foods Market on the way into town. Or Ronalds Donuts of course. Wynn buffet is great. I could tell the Chef was a weirdo at Pura Vida so I luckily avoided a conversation with her. This was a few years ago. They had a lot more desserts at that point. I think they have a bit of the Elderberries Hollywood syndrome where their menu online lists a plethora of desserts (or in Pura Vida’s case at least photos of a plethora of desserts) but when you ask them for their current selections you are lucky if they have one item (pumpkin chocolate chip muffins are the current stand-by at Elderberries which are nowhere on their menu). The Elderberries owner is also semi-weird and overcharges, but nowhere near the level of Pura Vida crazy from reading your story.

    • insufferablevegan December 9, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

      I tried to go to Elderberries once, a few months ago. I called in the early afternoon and they said they’d be open till 10pm. I got there at 7 pm and they were closed. It was very odd. I made it to Red Velvet Cafe and had a vegan buffalo chicken wrap and the red velvet cake. I found the cake to be a bit too dry but maybe I picked the wrong thing to get. I wanted to try more but didn’t have a chance to get back. I checked out the Wynn Buffet but there weren’t too many vegan choices. A few different people told me the buffet has less vegan offerings than it used to have. I went to Ronald’s and enjoyed it very much but didn’t make it to the giant Whole Foods even though I heard good things about it. And thanks for your kind words — much appreciated!

      • Anonymous December 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

        Yes Elderberries has hours in constant flux so I always call first. Too bad about Wynn buffet – I heard Steve Wynn dumped his vegan diet so that might have something to do with it.

  2. special needs eater December 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    oh geez. I swear when we went it was nothing like this, but then again, we were a destination party of 2.

    • insufferablevegan December 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

      It also surprised me that you’d like a place that was so DFHS.

      • special needs eater December 9, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

        I know. I’m a pretty forgiving DFHS hater.

        • insufferablevegan December 9, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

          I’m starting to wonder if the other half of your destination party of two felt more like I did about Pura Vida than like you did.

  3. Josh Latham December 9, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    I was laughing out loud at your review. By looking at the pics of your food, it looks TERRIBLE. If I was served that I would have thrown it in the chefs face.

  4. Gwen December 9, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    This place had such a weird vibe!! The owner acted as if her food was the most decadent on the planet. None of the dishes stood out to me, but I remember the owner making a huge deal about the French toast. It has been a good 3 years since I had lunch there, but I remember Mayra’s apron (I can’t bear to call her a chef) being incredibly full of food stains as if she used the same apron for 3 weeks without washing it. When I want vegan food I head to Terrace Pointe Cafe at The Wynn. Great food, decent prices and no weird atmosphere!!

  5. LaughingVegan January 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    Your post was spot on. I live in Vegas, and was met with the crazy train my first time. About 18 months later I decided to give it another try, and was once again disappointed. She’s a basket case. Even her loyal followers lament that she’s nuts. It’s too bad too, because I really want to support an all-vegan business, but she’s making it impossible. And besides that the food really sucks.
    Thanks for writing this. I’m usually pretty vocal about it as well. Feel free to email me if you come back, I’d love to redeem Vegas Vegan food for you.

    • insufferablevegan February 10, 2014 at 9:42 am #

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry I didn’t notice it till now. I did have some other vegan food in Vegas that was great. Vegan drunken noodles at Wazuzu, meatball pizza at Slice of Vegas, Ronald’s donuts of course. There are a lot of photos on my Instagram @insufferablevegan but you’ll have to scroll back to early and mid-December. Thanks again for reading!

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