Last year I blogged about almost every meal I consumed while visiting my sister in Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco on Mexico’s western mainland coast, where she was living for four months. I fell hard for their rough-chopped dorado ceviches and fish tacos, not to mention the pink beans and habanero-pickled purple onions, called curtido de cebolla, doled out by most taco trucks.
So this year, upon my return to Vallarta — as the locals call it — to research an article for next year’s travel issue, I was pleased as tequila punch (tequila’s from Jalisco, too, by the way) to be taken on the “Original Downtown Tour” by Ricardo “Lobo” Lopez, who works for Vallarta Food Tours.
They offer the real deal, nighttime taco crawls, visits to neighborhoods off the beaten path of tourist Vallarta, and the Original Downtown Tour also delivers: Street carts selling steak tacos, rustic sidewalk selling fresh coconut and chiles on little more than a folding table, posole in a backyard garden, a tortilleria by one of the seven rivers that empty into the city’s shore from the green, green jungles up on the Sierra Madres.
Here then, is a photo gallery of what I ate in Puerto Vallarta, part dos.
P.S. It’s 79 degrees in Vallarta as I write this, and I am pretty sure I saw flights advertised for $389.
1. At Mole Rosa, the specialty of the house is multiple moles, especially the famous pink version from Taxco south of Mexico City. It’s made with beets.
2. Birria was originally made with iguana, says Lopez, though it’s now made with mountain goats. They’re stewed with bay, cinnamon and other spices, often topped with a banana leaf. It’s usually eaten in a bowl, except at street carts like the Robles’ who run four always packed stands that sell out by mid-afternoon. Better still, they fry two thin tortillas in the birria fat, and you can add their curtido de cebolla, hot sauces and shredded cabbage to your liking.
3. El Cunado taco stand was Lopez’s favorite carne asada spot, in between Pino Suarez street and the beach. Those excellent pink beans I raved about last year play a serious role, along with five different Tupperware tubs of condiments.
4. I remember El Guero’s dorado ceviche from my last trip — it’s ground with carrots, Jalisco-style— it was one of the first places my sister took me. Lopez taught me that it was originally a stand, but city workers who ate there loved it so much they helped the owner procure a real space.
5. I also had to order the fried fish taco at El Guero, shown here naked before I added hot sauce, shredded cabbage and pico de gallo. Lopez says I really should have tried a burrito with smoked marlin, another Vallarta specialty.
6. It’s almost pushing it to call Cesar’s Coconut Stand a stand. It’s a table. But on that table they’ll cut open fresh coconut and top it with bright-orange chile powder, or pour you a cup of fresh coconut water for a few pesos. (I don’t need to tell you how much that costs in Brooklyn.)
7. Gaby’s is another place locals banded together to help, says Lopez. Originally it was a tiny dinner-only diner serving three-course comida corrida for $6. But workers from a nearby bank begged Gaby to open earlier, and now she turned her former apartment into a second floor. You can also dine on the patio, next to a waterfall and live trees. As my boyfriend’s mother would say, her tortilla soup is to die for.
8. Gaby’s backyard is also a fine place for La Banda: triple shots of tequila, sangria and lime juice, aka the colors of the Mexican flag.
9. No meal in Mexico is complete without tortillas. Tortilleria La Gloria near a Cuale river island crossing — Isla Cuale — is the first place I saw super-thin tortillas being made, which are used for the double-folded fried shells for eating birria. They also add a touch of regular flour to their mix as well.