Chef/Owner: David Vargas
David Vargas, Chef/Owner, Vida Cantina brings his Mexican heritage and appreciation for local seasonal New England product to every plate at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, NH. A James Beard nominated chef, David grew up in Southern CA and spent time in Mexico as an exchange student. His mother is from Guadalajara, his father from Jalisco, and it was important to his family that David appreciate his heritage. Appreciate it he does indeed at Vida Cantina, where with each dish he is “elevating our understanding of what Mexican food is or should be, while elevating our understanding of what New England cuisine is or should be” The Portsmouth Herald. According to The Boston Globe, David prepares “the best Mexican food north of the MA Border” and is “nearly evangelistic about using local ingredients.” In August 2019, Boston Magazine declared “David Vargas, a James Beard award-nominated chef is making some of the best Mexican food on the East Coast at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, NH.” Locally, regionally and nationally, the critics agree that Chef David Vargas and his Mexican cuisine is worth the drive.
David’s mantra at Vida Cantina, and in all his endeavors, is “Community To Table.” Recognized as one of the most compassionate, generous and talented chefs in NH, David works with the Kittery school system training the administration and staff, and teaching the students about healthy cooking and eating. He leads them by growing vegetables in the school gardens while preparing healthy, sustainably sourced, and most of all fun and delicious food for school lunch and breakfast programs. With two children in the school system, David knows what gets kids excited about food and he brings it to the school cafeteria regularly with home-made taco specials featuring school-garden-grown tomatoes and more. David also is co-creator of Chefs After Dark, a friendly (raucous!) chef rivalry night among friends in the NH/MA/Maine chef community with hosted events raising funds for deserving local charities. David is also a leader in the region supporting NH Community Seafood, creating “Catch of the Day Tacos” with whatever fresh fish the collaborative hauls in. “It’s all about the community we live in” shares David. “We all have to do our part.”
David first learned his craft in his family’s Mexican restaurant, and then in the kitchens of Chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier at Arrows and MC Perkins Cove. David chose to stay in New England and became Chef/Owner of Vida Cantina in 2014. He earned a cult-like following for his home-made heritage corn tortillas, sourced with his own blend of local organic corn grown for him at Tuckaway Farms, resulting in David opening his own tortilla business, Vida Tortilla. These specialty tortillas are available at the popular Dos Amigos restaurants, Vida Cantina, and select New England restaurants. Superstar chefs Ken Oringer, Jamie Bissonette and Tony Messina discovered Vargas’ tortillas and masa and immediately became huge fans. They now serve Vida Tortillas and masa at their nationally acclaimed restaurants. Consumers can purchase Vida Tortilla at local seacoast farmers markets. “I am so very grateful that chefs and consumers love our product and are seeking it out. It’s humbling, gratifying, and mind-numbing” shares Vargas.
Known for his array of home-made heritage blue corn tacos, pig’s head platters, daily seasonal menus, and his deep respect for local and sustainable sourcing, David is one of Portsmouth’s most talented chefs creating a vibrant restaurant revolution catching the attention of the national food scene. Follow: @dvchef
Best Chef Northeast, semi-finalist nomination, The James Beard Foundation
The East Coast’s Best Mexican Food, Boston Magazine
Best Mexican food north of the MA border, The Boston Globe
One of the best, most authentic Mexican restaurants in New England, The Boston Globe
Exceptional house-made tortillas with freshly milled local corn…prompting the kind of gut-deep, intangible warmth, Boston Magazine
One of the Top Ten Restaurants in the Greater New England Region, The Portsmouth Herald
Top Portsmouth Restaurants Worth The Drive, Eater Maine
Hot New Restaurant, NH Magazine
Best New Restaurant, Taste Magazine
Best Mexican Brunch, NH Magazine
Best Chef, Seacoast, Nominee, Spotlight Awards
chef de cuisine: Linda Theth
Chef de Cuisine, Linda Theth grew up in Seacoast NH thanks to her immigrant parents for settling here. As a first generation American, her culinary tastes and inspiration spans more than borders; Vida Cantina was her key to discovering not only Mexican food, but also the passion it takes to be part of a restaurant family.
She found her way to the Cantina as an intern via her alma mater, Johnson and Wales University of Rhode Island. This opportunity could not have been paved without Chef Joe Pirkola of Dover High School’s Career Technical Center. His lessons in basic kitchen skills and commercial cooking would help secure her upward mobility in a singular location: intern in 2015, to prep cook, to line cook, to Sous Chef in 2016 alongside Chef “Dad” Dave Vargas - the mentor of all mentors.
Fast forward to March 2018, where her official promotion to CDC flourished in light of the continuous growth this company continues to bring. Chef Linda excitedly contributes to the Vida Fam’s progressional success with her Southeast Asian roots, her “no-nonsense” attitude, and willingness to never stop learning.