On the Street
In addition to the Fish on a Stick vendors, I did a lot of street food dining this time around. I heard about a guy named Eric Wichner from Philly that had moved to PV and started a business offering tours of local street food vendors that had been vetted as “safe”, but still offered a real local taste of the food and culture. Eric’s company offers two or three different tours that I would say are a must for any visiting LTHer. The tour I went on was called Tacos and More and was a 3 ½ hour walking tour of a bunch of different street vendors and other local food shops. Our tour was led by the lovely Chacha, a Mexico City native who moved to PV several years ago. Chacha is bilingual and, more importantly, a local who has built up relationships with most of the different vendors we visited.Chacha, Our Tour Guide
The one thing missing from this tour is any kind of map that shows you where you’ve been. Most of these places don’t have street addresses per se, let alone names, so although I was able to revisit a few of them during my visit, there were a couple of places that I never did find again, despite really looking. As a result, I’m not able to list addresses or street corners for any place we visited. Next time, I’ll pay closer attention and take notes.
First up; birria. The first stand we visited served beef birria. I thought it a little odd that they weren’t serving goat, and at first I thought it was in deference to us Gringos, but according to Chacha, goat birria is not all that common in PV. Beef is the birria of choice and there are even one or two places that serve chicken birria. Birria Tacos
After downing my taco, the proprietor of the stand ladled out some of the broth. Let me tell you, this was some excellent broth...some of the best I have ever tasted. It was very rich and flavorful, obviously made with lots of good bones and the time it takes to coax the flavor out of them, with just enough background heat to make it interesting.Serving Broth
Next up was a carnitas break from the little stand called Taqueria El Güero.Taqueria El Güero
Like all of the tacos I tried in PV, I‘ve had better, but these were pretty good and really hit the spot.Taqueria El Güero Carnitas Tacos
At this stand, I once again encountered the chili oil-like salsa similar to the stuff they serve at Tino’s and here in Chicago at Los Gallos #2
. Evidently, this condiment is common in the region, but has no known Asian connection. According to Chacha, it’s been made in this area going back a very long time and I encountered various versions of it in our travels.Taqueria El Güero Chile Oil
As we were leaving, I spotted these quietly hiding on the grill. I resisted trying one because we were only on our 2nd stop of many. In retrospect, I wish I had at least split one with my fellow tour participants, a nice couple from Albuquerque.Taqueria El Güero Quesadillas
By this time, we were getting a bit parched, so we stopped off at the local coconut stand where Senior Felix prepared a little refreshment for us.Hacking a Coconut
This guy has been using the same tree stump as a hacking table since it was at least 10” taller. If you look close, you can see where the paint is worn off the inside edge of the white support pole next to the stump. That’s how tall the stump was when he first got it. He told me that a stump will typically last him 5 years before needing to be replaced.Pouring Out the Water
Fresh coconut water is one of the most refreshing drinks I know. It has a nice subtle sweetness, but is not sweet like a fruit drink or soda pop. While we were enjoying the coconut water, Felix was scooping out the coconut meat.Scooping the Coconut Meat
The scooped fresh coconut is then finished with a squeeze of lime and some powdered chile and eaten out of hand.Fresh Coconut Snack
After that, we hiked a bit to visit a local tortilla factory. This place, Tortilleria Zapata starts with whole corn and mills their masa in house, then makes some very good 100% corn tortillas, which much to the dismay of the general populace, are getting more expensive every day and harder and harder to find. Lots of tortillerias are now making tortillas that have at least a small amount of flour added to the masa as a cost saving measure.Tortilleria Zapata Milling the MasaWeighing out 10 Kilos of MasaThe Tortilla Machine at WorkFinished Corn Tortilla
We tried these with just a sprinkle of salt and rolled up like a cigar. The salt really brought out the taste of the corn. These were a surprisingly satisfying snack, although I did buy a bag of house made totopos to take back to the apartment for later snackage with some salsa and cerveza.Totopos to Go
A number of businesses have sprung up around the tortilleria including this produce stand, called Fruteria Yoya, which features fresh from the farm merchandise every day.Fruteria Yoya
There are also a bunch of small farmer occupied stands and carts in a small courtyard in back of the tortilleria, such as this stand featuring “Freshly Killed Chickens”.Freshly Killed Chicken
When asked if her chickens are really freshly killed or if that is just a slogan to differentiate her from her competition, the chicken lady said that she really kills them fresh because if she killed them at the farm and then brought them into the city, it would be too expensive, considering the need for refrigeration on the drive in. This is an interesting contrast to Chicago where our farmers not only have to pre kill everything but also have to have it frozen solid before they can sell it to us at their market stalls.
Next up, Taqueria El Moreno, another taco cart, for a quesadilla.Taqueria El Moreno
Taqueria El Moreno was the only street stall I visited on this trip that featured tortillas hecho a mano. Each one was made to order beginning with pressing out the tortillas using an old manual tortilla press, and then laying them out on the plancha to cook.Taqueria El Moreno Tortillas Hecho a Mano
Though they don’t offer al pastor, this stand came the closest among any pace we visited by cooking their meat over charcoal.Taqueria El Moreno Charcoal Grill
After a bit more walking around, we visited a couple of really interesting businesses owned by the same family. First, we visited a butcher shop called Carniceria Colon.Carniceria Colon
This was one of the better butcher shops I saw on this visit, and would certainly be my butcher of choice if I lived in PV. The overall quality of meat wasn’t quite up to the standards of a Paulina or Joseph’s, etc. but the quality of service was. They did custom butchering as requested and their prices were pretty decent.Carniceria Colon Specials
Keep in mind that these are prices per kilo so, for example at the exchange rate in effect while we were there, steak was going for $2.56/lb. and hamburger was going for $1.78/lb.
That’s not the real story of Carniceria Colon, though. They carry a motherload of carnitas.Carniceria Colon Carnitas
There’s a big serve yourself section of carnitas sorted by type of meat and you can mix and match to your heart’s content. And, for the crunch lovers, there’s an equally impressive selection of chicharrones available. The chicharrones were some of the tastiest I have had in recent memory…especially the pieces with nice bits of meat still attached.Carniceria Colon Chicharrones
All of this porky goodness is cooked up in the back in three massive cauldrons. Although you always hear that copper is the traditional metal of choice for carnitas cauldrons, these seem to be aluminum or steel and are really big. Bigger than any I have seen in Chicago.Carniceria Colon Cauldrons
To give you an idea of the size of these cauldrons, here is a shot of a couple plastic bags full of large pieces of chicarrones. Each of these bags is the skin of an entire pig in a single piece. The cauldrons are large enough to confeit a while pig without having to cut it up.Carniceria Colon Whole Pig Chicharrones
After the carniceria, we walked down the block to visit the family’s bakery, Panaderia Collins “El Casa de Baguette”. This is a large scale commercial bakery that turns out several types of bread and Mexican cookies every day. We got there too late to see anything actually being baked, but we did get a chance to check out their massive oven that had to be at least 20’ square.Panaderia Collins Oven
I wish we had gotten there earlier in the day to see this beast in action. It had been shut down for a couple of hours by the time we got there, yet you could still feel the heat radiating from the oven’s massive tile face from 10 feet away.
By this time, we had been on our feet for quite a while, so Chacha took us to a little sit down place whose name I never even saw (if it had one). This place served us some seafood tostadas and a pineapple flavored drink.Seafood Ceviche TostadasPineapple Drink
This no-name-place also served a version of the chili oil salsa that really packed a lot of heat; and in addition to that, had a similar onion based habanero salsa that packed even more heat than the chili oil version. I wish I could have found this place again because I wanted to explore the menu further.Chili Oil SalsaOnion Salsa
I have one more place on the tour to talk about. This place, called Mariscos Cisnaros, served up chile relleno tacos with a twist. Instead of using traditional poblano peppers, they use jalapenos that have been prepared in much the same way as an ABT and stuffed with a mixture of cheese and shrimp. The heat level on these really varies from pepper to pepper, so you never know when you’re going to get a really hot one. Mariscos Cisnaros Jalapeno Chili Rellenos
These were great. The one I was served wasn’t all that hot, but one of my tour mates got one that seemed to pack a bit of heat. Here, too, we ran into some of the chile oil style salsa, but also the green creamy salsa that has been discussed here on LTH Forum with ingredient guesses ranging from avocado to lettuce. This version, and possibly the versions served on Lawrence Avenue, is made from the seeds and pulp from the hollowed out jalapenos and some mayo or crema. It’s creamy but packs a subtle heat and really good taste.Mariscos Cisnaros Salsa
By this time, nearly 3 ½ hours had passed and I was stuffed to the gills. We even visited a couple other places that I didn't post about. I had a great time on the tour, but it could have been even better if I wasn’t alone, so go with a friend. There were two other people on the tour with me, but even so, it would have been nice to have had someone else there with the same type of LTH Forum sensibilities to share some of the food and possibly to help me eat a few extra things that I just couldn’t manage by myself.
I’d say that taking a Vallarta Eats tour is a must for any serious foodie’s Puerto Vallarta visit. Next time, I plan on taking one of the more elaborate tours in the evening and maybe doing this one again just to find out for sure where some of the places we visited are located. If you end up on one of these tours, make sure you say hola from me.
Aquiles Serdan 375
Puerto Vallarta 48380, Mexico
(215) 966-116 (US)
(322) 1520224 (Mexico)firstname.lastname@example.org://www.varrartaeats.com