sabor de mexico: memories of puerto vallarta

Thinking about a getaway to warmer weather?  Yeah, me too.  One of my favorite places to visit is Puerto Vallarta, and the little towns next door of Bucerías and Sayulita.  The standout attraction?  The food, of course.

My last trip to Mexico was a few years ago, with a group of friends.  Though our resort was all-inclusive, the hotel’s food was only okay, and we really wanted to eat “real” Mexican food – you know, the kind that the locals eat, the kind that brings the possibility of a raging case of Montezuma’s Revenge. Our first venture was out into a town called Sayulita, located about half an hour away from Nuevo Vallarta on Highway 200. We decided on a little cafe called El Costeño, situated on the beach, and ordered a few dishes. Tacos de pescado (fish tacos), coctel de camarones (shrimp cocktail), quesadillas, ceviche, and fish. The two standouts were the Ceviche de Camarones – shrimp marinated in lime and chiles, and the Huachinango Frito – two whole red snappers, deep fried. Our bill total was about 500 pesos – a little less than $50 (that’s $10 a person with our group), including beers, soft drinks, and tip.

El Costeno ‘s Whole Fried Red Snapper (Huachinango Frito), Shimp Ceviche (Tostada de Ceviche de Camarones)

Our next stop, that evening, was the town of Puerto Vallarta, located in the state of Jalisco. By some divine stroke of luck, we found a parking spot right on the main drag, in front of TWO taco stands. We picked the one nearest to the car, Tacos Arturo, and ordered a few tacos each. These were probably the best tacos I have ever had in my entire life – little rounds of fresh corn masa, grilled, topped with your choice of meat (I had ‘adobada’, also known as ‘al pastor’, and chorizo), cilantro, onions, and salsa. Tacos cost 8 pesos (about 75 cents) up to 12 pesos for Cabeza de Res (Lengua – toungue, Sesos – brains, etc.). We washed our tacos down with Coca Cola (made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup) and then walked down the street towards the pier.

Tacos Arturo, A plate of tacos (Photos courtesy of Grace Malvar)
First stop: The Casa Cofradia factory store – a tequila shop. They let us taste whatever we wanted to – and each “taste” was a little less than a full shot. About five “tastes” later, and I was a little buzzed. Time to get more food.

Left to right, Casa Cofradia Factory Store, close up of a tequila bottle, many many tequila bottles (Photos courtesy of Grace Malvar)
As we approached the square, the amount of people doubled – it seemed as if everyone and their mother was out that night. At the end of the pier, the five of us stopped and stared: stand after stand of street food – aguas frescas, maiz (corn), hot dogs and fries, ceviche, plantains, tamales – it was like finding Mecca. We started spending our pesos on whatever our hearts desired. The average cost for everything was about 20 pesos per item (just a little less than $2). The ceviche was amazing, the roasted corn was nice and smoky, and I think I had the most delicious horchata EVER that night. After our binge on food there, we headed back towards the car and ordered a bunch of tacos to take back to our hotel. I got all bold (I think it was the tequila) and ordered a taco de sesos – cow brains. I ate half of it and gave the rest to my friend, who laughed at me when she saw the expression on my face. Sesos are not for everyone.

Top to bottom, Puerto Vallarta Pier vendor, Fried Plantains, and a giant serving of Ceviche de Camarones (Photos courtesy of Grace Malvar)
Our last taste of real local food was our breakfast in Bucerías. I’d heard of this town in the Los Angeles Times, and it was close enough to our hotel for us to go there and make it back in time to return our rental car. We went to a little cafe in the back of a sort of ‘food court’ (several restaurants sharing a patio). We ordered Huevos al Gusto con Chorizo – a plate of chorizo with scrambled eggs and a side of beans, Birria de Res – a beef soup with lime, cilantro, and onion, and a Machaca burrito – shredded beef and eggs in a flour tortilla. The wait was a little long, but the food was worth every second. You could taste the richness of the beans, which meant they were made in the traditional way – with lard. The corn tortillas were fresh and handmade (you can tell by the irregular shape). Our entire table of five had breakfast (including coffee and aguas frescas) for around $22 USD. I definitely want to visit Bucerías again, since we didn’t get to see much of it except for the cafe.

Top to bottom, Huevos al Gusto con Chorizo, Birria de Res, and a Quesdilla con Carne Asada (Photos courtesy of Grace Malvar)
After this trip, I couldn’t eat SF Mexican food for a while – just because it would ruin the authentic and delicious flavors I had just experienced.  I recommend anyone going to Puerto Vallarta to venture out of the resort areas and go into the lesser known places where the locals hang out – it’s where the real food lives.  Safe travels!

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fiendishly fond of cooking, SoulCycle, Pilates, green smoothies, and Korean spas.

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