Really Reliable

Viv's Café isn't fancy, but it is the sort of place where you feel like family

Viv's Café is tucked into a far corner of a shopping center at Tanque Verde Road and Catalina Highway. Despite its hidden location, plenty of people have discovered this tiny, neighborhood diner.

No doubt they come for the inexpensive, decent meals and the camaraderie we witnessed during our breakfast and lunch visits. The servers knew customers' names and the customers knew one another.

One wall is crammed with photos of customers wearing Viv's Café T-shirts during travels across the world. Jerseys from nearby high schools hang alongside Elvis memorabilia, pics of other American icons and thank-you letters. On the tables, vases of red, white and blue silk carnations sit alongside tiny jelly packets. There's a small patio out front that would be ideal in cooler weather.

Service was friendly, as we expected at this all-American diner. We got refills on coffee, iced tea and, surprisingly, soda. The morning server even stopped by to see if we needed more gravy on the biscuits.

The breakfast special was impossible to pass up. For $5.50 (tax included) you get two eggs, two pieces of bacon or sausage and your choice of two pancakes, two biscuits and gravy, or hash browns and toast. The biscuits—with a dousing of the smooth gravy—were the high point. Good-sized and fluffy, they easily could've been a stand-alone meal. Otherwise, there was nothing truly remarkable about the plate. But it was hearty diner fare.

There were choices when it came to French toast ($3.39), too. The thickly sliced bread—three pieces­—comes plain or with cinnamon, and you have a choice of plain syrup or several fruit-flavored options. I choose the cinnamon and was happy that I did. It's how we make French toast at home. I opted for plain syrup, though, which allowed the cinnamon to shine through.

Lunch at Viv's was just as busy as breakfast.

We ordered the "classic" club sandwich ($6.45) and the lunch special ($6.90), which that day was Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes, gravy and corn. (I ended up with canned mixed vegetables, but I think that had to do with the fact that I had one of the last of specials that day.) We also had a cup of the soup of the day ($1.75), which was split pea with ham.

The soup came to the table quickly. I asked the server if it was made in-house and she said yes. The soup was tasty and chock-full of tiny bits of ham.

It took an inordinately long time for the other food to arrive. In fact, people who ordered after we did got their meals long before ours arrived. Then there was a mix-up with the sandwich, but the problem was remedied quickly and with no fuss.

The sandwich was filled with plenty of ham and turkey packed between three pieces of lightly toasted rye bread. But the macaroni salad disappointed.

The Salisbury steak was a good-size ground beef patty flecked with plenty of chopped green pepper and onions (too many, for my taste). The roughly formed patty (a good sign) was crisp on the edge and covered in a plain brown gravy. I doubt the potatoes were made from scratch but they were a nice accompaniment to the beef.

Oddly, for a diner, desserts are few. All we saw was a single brownie ($1.50) at the checkout counter. I couldn't tell if it was made from scratch but it was moist and sweet and satisfying.

Let's be honest: Diner food is as basic as it gets. People don't expect fancy. They just want reliable. And that's exactly what you get at Viv's—solid, reliable food. If I lived out this way, I'd return to Viv's, as much for the warm, friendly vibe as for the food.

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