FIRST TASTE: Universal CityWalk Hollywood serving up new takes on classic Mexican and Italian concepts

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As part of the continued Universal CityWalk enhancements in Hollywood, two new restaurants are now tempting the palate with familiar tastes and updated takes. Helmed by seasoned executive chefs, Universal CityWalk’s newest restaurants, Antojitos Cocina Mexicana and VIVO Italian Kitchen expand the culinary options at the popular destination with menus targeting both locals and out-of-towners.

While neither location is exactly destination worthy outright, they do make a robust offering to the existing lineup and are a great option for dinner on nights when Universal Studios closes early or a nice escape from the craziness of the parks during the day. MouseInfo was invited this week to sample some of what each location has to offer.

Antojitos Cocina Mexicana

  • Antojitos-9WHO: Executive Chef Gian Caterina who hails from Brazil
  • MENU HIGHLIGHTS: 
    • Guacamole Trio and Chips (including signature guacamole, pomegranate guacamole with queso fresco and pepita guacamole with jalapeños and lime salt)
    • Carnitas Nachos (crispy pork carnitas)
    • Queso Fundido (melted Oaxaca, Chihuahua and cotija cheeses)
    • Chicharrones de Pollo (crispy chicken bites, chili lime salt)
    • Elote (street corn)
    • Sopa de Tortilla
    • Flavorful tacos, made from hand-pressed tortillas, include Carne Asada (tequila marinated steak), Al Pastor (tender pork), Pollo (achiote braised chicken), Chorizo con Papas (ground chorizo with crispy potatoes), Birra de Res (six-hour braised beef), Baja Snapper (crispy fish) and Vegan Chorizo, all served with Mexican crema, refried or black beans and Mexican red rice.
    • Enchilada sampler that includes Molé (braised chicken), Rojas (braised beef) and Verdes (three blended Mexican cheese) flavors, or they can opt for any of these as a standalone entrées.
    • Desserts include such decadent sweets as Chocolate Hazelnut Cream Bar; a trio trio with Coconut, Pear & Mango Sorbet; traditional Flan and Churros.
    • Menu can cater to dietary restrictions including vegetarian options.
  • BAR: A large centerpiece bar serves as a new trademark of the restaurant and features over 150 tequilas from around the world, a variety of spirited sampling flights, a selection of handcrafted cocktails and margaritas and cold cervezas served on tap.
  • LOCATION: Open space seating, private dining rooms, and an outdoor patio where guests are serenaded by live musical performances from local Latin artists and mariachi bands. Eye-catching traditional Mexican décor in bold hues of oranges, greens and pinks, and complemented by striking, hand-painted murals.

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Thoughts

While both locations bring exciting flavors to Universal CityWalk, there was a clear frontrunner in our eyes and it was here! Antojitos had an upbeat vibe – live music was playing on the patio, and head chef Gian Caterina was walking around meeting with guests. When I mentioned a shellfish allergy, he retreated to the kitchen and brought me out a plate of allergy-free baja fish tacos.

The mixologist was giving tequila tastings, and explained to us the ideas he used to create Antojitos’ unique cocktails. The flavor, the ambiance, attention to detail, and the friendly staff gives Antojitos the edge. We can’t wait to go back.

MORE INFO: Antojitos Cocina Mexicana official site

Vivo Italian Kitchen

  • Vivo-9WHO: Executive Chef Cyndi Tran, whose culinary training translates to the creation of fine Italian cuisine
  • MENU HIGHLIGHTS:
    • Tuscan kale and white bean soup, creamy garlic mushroom sauté, mussels marina, house-made meatballs, a variety of Paninis, tempting hand-tossed, hearth baked pizzas and a selection of innovative twists on classic pastas favorites.
    • Warm homemade Italian bread with its crusty exterior and soft, chewy interior, grace each table as diners peruse the menu.
    • Decant homemade desserts include such tempting treats as Chocolate Zucotto Vasi, Ricotta Cheesecake, Tiramisu and homemade Gelato, accompanied by signature rosemary infused homemade butter cookies.
  • BAR: A full bar featuring a variety of Italian-inspired cocktails, conceptualized by an expert mixologist, can be enjoyed at the bar or with dinner in addition to a broad wine selection to complement every meal.
  • LOCATION: Both indoor and al fresco dining. Situated within a sleek, modern setting, with open expo kitchen.

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Thoughts

After such a positive experience at Antojitos, we were excited to see what the this location had to offer. Unfortunately, during our visit, VIVO felt unwelcoming, with inattentive staff and a rude server who complained about us to a coworker when we asked for water.

Our negative experience here did not exactly encourage us to stick around for long, but we did sample some of their pasta dishes and desserts, which were great despite the service. I’m always on the hunt for a great cannoli – and VIVO’s did not disappoint and came very close to memories of my Great Grandma Marino’s recipe (a high compliment).

MORE INFO: VIVO Italian Kitchen official site

See it for Yourself

Antojitos Cocina Mexicana and VIVO Italian Kitchen are open now.

Both locations accept reservations, and cover a percentage of valet parking at CityWalk.

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Author: Emiliy Marino

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