Part 2 – All the Rest
Having never been to Puerto Vallarta before, and not knowing too many people who had, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to find a Cancun-like instant resort or a town that managed to retain some of the “little fishing village” charm that so captivated Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
back in the 60’s. The answer was a little bit of both. No longer a “little fishing village”, the town has exploded in size, with new development happening everywhere. Even so, the main downtown area retains it stone-paved streets and quaint feel as long as you can look beyond the Senior Frog’s, Chili’s, Hooters and their ilk that have sprouted up on the main drag. Despite the appearance of the Uber-chains McDonald’s and Starbucks, Puerto Vallarta has managed to establish itself as a very worthy chow destination. They have the long running Festival Gourmet International
which had just finished its 12th run as we arrived. The food offerings were quite diverse; with food from many regions of Mexico offered as well as quite a bit of international cuisine with a heavy emphasis on French and Italian. Chef Thierry Blouet is the mastermind behind the festival and runs Café des Artistes, a high end French restaurant in an old hacienda made to look like a castle. This seemed to be the leading high end restaurant in town. We decided to forgo a visit to Café des Artistes on our first trip to P.V. in order to stick with more of the local cuisine, including quite a bit of street food but also some quite excellent Mexican restaurants.
We found that a week is not enough time to fully explore all the restaurants that seem worthwhile, let alone make it back to the really good ones for a 2nd helping. Other than the tacos from The Four Seasons that I posted about earlier, I didn’t have a bad meal the whole time I was there. Unfortunately, thanks to an overzealous hotel maid, many of my notes were lost, but I’ll do my best to remember all the details. In terms of addresses, they are mostly useless, but the cab drivers all know where pretty much any restaurant is. I never had a problem getting anywhere just by asking by name. Here’s a chow tour of Puerto Vallarta in no particular order:
We got to P.V. on a Saturday and decided to go into town to check out the scene and grab some dinner. It was a holiday weekend, with the following Monday a holiday to commemorate the Mexican Revolution. The Malecon, which is the boardwalk which goes along the ocean for a few miles was jammed packed with every kind of person you could imagine from large families ranging in age from <1 – 100 to couples and even packs of single girls, struttin’ their stuff to the sound of catcalls and beeping horns from the passing pickup trucks loaded to the gills with guys our cruisin’ for dates. It was quite a scene. After walking up and down the Malecon to check it all out, we stopped at one of the ubiquitous taco stands set up nearly all over town.
Typical Taco Stand
Our first foray to one of these stands was to this one, where 3 generations were serving up your choice of a variety of meats. The Chow Poodle had a couple carne asada tacos and I had an el pastor and a lengua. The daughter, our waitress, asked us if we wanted “beams” on our tacos. The “beams” turned out to be soupy pinto beans spooned out of a crock and put on top of the tacos in their whole state (not mashed or refried). It was an interesting take on the use of beans that I had not seen before, but I preferred my tacos without the beans as they made the taco a bit watery. I vowed never to ask for them again and I was never offered again. Evidently, this was a specialty of this particular taco stand.
There were several stands serving al pastor tacos. This one in particular was a favorite. It is located at the extreme north end of the Malecon, on the ocean side of the street.
El Pastor on the Malecon
This place actually specialized in fish, but they had this spit right out on the street. Notice that the spit uses lump charcoal for its fuel source. This was typical of all of the pastor stands that I saw. I tried pastor two or three times and while it was good, I wouldn’t say that it is a specialty of P.V.
In addition to this place on the north end of the Malecon, the south end had its attractions as well, in fact, that’s where the main stuff is going on. There is a small amphitheater where there are constant street performers doing their thing to large crowds. Lot’s of the performances are very interactive and it wasn’t unusual to see a bunch of kids lined up, getting dragged into the act to the delight of their parents and the crowd. Across from that is a more or less typical town square with a bandstand. There were musical performances there and quite a display of public dancing from young and old alike.
I could do a post with nothing more than the different food and attractions out on the street every night (but in particular during the holiday weekend). Instead, here’s a little photo montage of some types of food stands that I did not mention.
Street Food Vendors
La Palapa is a picture perfect seaside restaurant located on Playa de los Muertos. It’s a great place to catch a sunset dinner. I had some large, head-on, locally caught shrimp in a creamy chipotle sauce and the C.P. had lamb chops that she described as perfect.
The View at La Palapa
Si Senior is located a few blocks up from the main drag. Despite the cutesy sounding name, this place offers some really solid food. In many ways, the restaurant reminded me of Sol de Mexico, with the accent on several different types of moles and food from different regions. When I expressed interest in the different types of moles that they offered, our waiter brought out a sample of 4 of them.
Si Senior Moles
Clockwise from top: Pink mole, made with beets; peanut mole; brown Oaxacan mole; traditional black mole. These were all distinctive and quite tasty. I ordered a crab stuffed chile relleno, which came with a white cheese sauce made with queso fresco, I think. The beans were made in the usual manner of refried beans but with black beans instead of pintos. The C.P. had carne asada. Both were very good, with tortillas hand made by Rosita.
Crab Chile Relleno
Carne Asada Dinner
Ley Supermarket is a local chain and I couldn’t resist a visit to see how their supermarket compared to a place like, for example, Tony’s since they were roughly the same size. All I can say is they cram much more stuff in to the same square footage. There were cases of unrefrigerated eggs stacked floor to ceiling in the aisle. The offerings in the deli sections dwarfed anything I have seen here. Here are a couple of deli section pictures.
This was the selection of crema in the deli dept. You can see part of the cheeses in the background.
This section was equally impressive, and this went on all over the store. They’ve got a full blown panderia as well as a carnicia and everything else you would expect at a supermarket. Prices were very reasonable.
Fried and grilled chicken was everywhere. Here’s the local branch of Pollo Campero
Puerto Vallarta Branch of Pollo Campero
Although I didn’t try any chicken while I was there, I think I would have preferred Super Pollo.
He’s Everywhere, He’s Everywhere
When not having the buffet at the hotel, we would head to town and get breakfast for less than 25% of what we paid at the hotel. Breakfast was usually at a place called Caesars on the main road into town.
Huevos con Chorizo
These are huevos rancheros with ham and peas, covered in melted cheese.
The best dinner I had the whole time I was in P.V. was at Tino’s, a little seafood shack in Pitiyal, a town located just inland from Puerto Vallarta proper. This town is off the beaten tourist track and is where I saw Pollo Campero.
Tino’s was evocative of Las Islas Marias in nearly every way, with the exception being that the fish they offer was caught the same day and could be cooked over an open wood fire. The meal started out with tostadas and a selection of 3 salsas.
Tino’s Table Salsas
There was a pretty straight forward pico de gallo, a slasa verde, made with jalapenos and a black chile oil that was toasted in much the same way as GWiv’s chile oil but with a huge hit of garlic. The garlic chile oil was a particular favorite of the Chow Poodle, who single handedly finished off the whole thing.
For her main course, she ordered some extra large camarones cooked with oil and garlic.
I ordered pescado zarandeado, which is a whole snapper that has been filleted so that you get the two filets, but the backbone portion is included as well. The fish is coated with a chile/achiote marinade and then cooked over an open fire. This was the single most delicious dish I had all week. Even the Chow Poodle agreed. We made a pact to return to Tino’s before the week was out, but we never made it back. If you find yourself going to Puerto Vallarta, Tino’s is a must try!
Tino’s Pescado Zarandeado
We finished dinner with an order of flan, which was very good, but a bit overcooked, and our entire bill, including all the food, 3 beers, a bottle of water and coffee came to under $50. This is the deal of the century.
We heard about a place called El Arrayán that serves very traditional Mexican food from the region. We chose our last night in town to go there. Dinner started off with an appetizer of plantain empanadas filled with black beans and cheese.
The Chow Poodle had a Mahi-Mahi filet in a sort of ranchero sauce served with grapefruit and rice.
El Arrayán Fish Filet
I had the duck carnitas, known elsewhere as duck confeit. The duck was served over a mole-like sauce that, I was told, was not a true mole because it didn’t contain nuts. The duck itself had been completely de-boned except for the leg bone and was a very large portion. This was not the stellar knockout I was hoping for, but it was more than good enough, and I enjoyed the meaty duck with the accompanying corn tortillas and the garlic infused potatoes that were served along side.
El Arrayán Duck Carnitas
In a nutshell, we ate real good and had a great, relaxing time on this trip. All in all, Puerto Vallarta was a great destination with a much greater selection of food than I had hoped for. I’ll definitely be going back as soon as I can swing it.