Vida Cantina’s Scallop Tacos with Avocado Salsa

By Yankee Magazine

May 05 2020

Photo Credit : David Vargas

I hope the regulars at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, New Hampshire know how lucky they are. They can, after all, score some of the best tacos in the region on any given Tuesday. And some of them probably know that chef David Vargas is a repeat semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Award. But they may not all know how much work goes into creating those coveted tacos. And it’s not just the fillings, which run from the innovative (confit port belly with mango habañero salsa) to the classic (batter-fried local catch with Baja slaw and guac). The tortillas themselves are incredibly special, as we learned on a recent visit for Season 4 of Weekends with Yankee.

When Vargas took over the reins at Vida, after stints in California, New York, and Mexico, he knew he had to raise the restaurant’s tortilla game by making them fresh each day using store-bought masa flour. The tortillas were a hit, but as a passionate locavore, Vargas knew he could do better. Flint corn, after all, was a staple food of early New England. So he partnered with the Cox family of Tuckaway Farm in nearby Lee to grow the indigenous heirloom flint corn that now gives his tortillas such distinctively rich, nutty flavor. His team produces the tortillas in a separate facility, a converted mill building in Dover, New Hampshire, under the Vida Tortilla label, and sells them wholesale to restaurants and at select stores and farmers markets in the Seacoast region.

Vargas is looking to expand the tortilla business throughout New England and beyond. In the meantime, you can enjoy some of his signature flavor with the following recipe for scallop tacos. – Amy Traverso


4 servings

For the Tacos:


1 pound sea scallops (about 24)
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons salted butter
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups stemmed, chopped kale
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, diced
New Mexico Vinaigrette
Avocado Salsa
8 corn tortillas


Season scallops on both sides with the salt. Set aside.

Set a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the oil. Add half the scallops to the skillet, then add the butter. Cook the scallops, basting with the melted butter, until nicely browned on one side and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, then add the remaining scallops to the skillet and cook as above. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl,  toss the kale and zucchini with the New Mexico Vinaigrette. Set aside.

Wipe out your skillet and set over medium heat. Warm tortillas in the dry skillet until soft. Set four plates on your counter and put two tortillas on each plate. Top each tortilla with some of the kale mixture. Divide the scallops equally among the tortillas. Spoon Avocado Salsa on over each taco. Serve warm.

For the New Mexico Vinaigrette:


1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons New Mexico chili powder
1 teaspoon agave or honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Salt to taste


In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, chili powder, and agave (or honey). Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking as you go. Season to taste with salt.

For the Avocado Salsa:


2 avocados (skin and seed removed)
1 serrano chili ( stem and seeds removed)
1 small bunch (about 4 ounces) cilantro
2/3 to 3/4 cup vegetable stock
Salt to taste


Combine avocado, serrano chili, cilantro, and 2/3 cup stock in a blender and puree until smooth. If needed, add additional stock to loosen the puree. Season to taste with salt.