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, (2020, 2019) David grew up in Southern CA and has spent a lifetime learning, living and sharing his Mexican heritage.  David’s mother is from Guadalajara, his father from Jalisco; in CA together his parents owned a taqueria and were CA police officers.  David grew up in the family’s taqueria; cooking family recipes with fresh local ingredients, while learning all he could about his Mexican culture.  It was important to David’s parents that he appreciate his Mexican 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 s shining a bright light on Mexican cuisine, and his dishes at Vida Cantina are definitely “worth the drive” to Portsmouth, NH.


This James Beard nominated chef first learned how to cook and appreciate family recipes and local farms while working at his family’s taqueria, and then in Michelin starred kitchens like Cyrus in Sonoma County.  He met his wife Erika on a farm in CA, and they eventually headed to NH, where she was from and where they decided to raise their family. David cooked at the celebrated restaurants Arrows and MC Perkins Cove.  Then he decided to buy and operate a food truck, cooking Mexican dishes. David said it was the hardest work he’s ever done. “We almost lost everything – it was so tough. It was before food trucks were trending, and I am just so grateful that I met restauranteur Jay McSharry and we got to talking and I came in as chef/owner of Vida Cantina in Portsmouth. I am grateful Jay and I share a vision and determination to bring bright and beautiful Mexican cuisine to the region and it has just been an amazing experience.”  It was especially ironic when David welcomed and hosted Food Network’s Tyler Florence and “The Great Food Truck Race” to Portsmouth – and David was a judge, and not an operator of a food truck!

Respected for his culinary talent and creativity, community-building  and mentorship, David is honored to lead his teams at Vida Cantina, Vida Tortilla, Ore Nell’s BBQ and Lin’s Little Kitchen in the kitchens and by example, cooking acclaimed home-made tacos, pig’s head platters, daily seasonal menus, and showcasing 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.