If you’re visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the focus might be beach time or enjoying the city’s lively nightlife. Maybe you’ll spend time on the iconic Malecon, the 12-block-long promenade between the city and the Pacific Ocean. There are enough shops, galleries, and bars along the walk to occupy any traveler. But if you want a deeper understanding of this coastal city in the Mexican state of Jalisco, you need to find out how its people are fed. Or, more accurately, you need to eat what they’re eating. Here’s a taste.
Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
You can start your culinary journey at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa. Located close to the airport in the Marina Vallarta neighborhood, the resort is surrounded by brilliant pink bougainvillea and tall palms. A stay here will provide some brilliant culinary options, too. You can get yellowfin or red snapper tostadas at the two-story Nosh bar that sits between the pool and the beach.
Or reserve a table at the upscale Las Casitas, where they serve entrées such as duck confit gorditas and corn huarache with barbacoa. You can opt for a sensory meal out by the resort’s garden where small, sometimes smoking, boxes and plates reveal little treasures such as crispy pork belly with sweet corn puree or tuna crusted with five chiles and Mexican chocolate. You can even add a tequila tasting to the meal.
But it’s definitely worthwhile to get out of the Marina district and head into PV proper. We suggest hooking up with Vallarta Eats Food Tours, because sometimes the very best thing in the world is a taco (or a popsicle). Vallarta Eats tours start at Cuale River Island, a narrow islet where you can find a park and market.
The first stop is Birria Ricky at the corner of Aquiles Serdán and Insurgentes. It’s a small cart, but it’s been here for 44 years. The whole business revolves around a ceramic pot that holds beef birria the owner’s mother makes every night.
When you order the birria tacos, be sure to get a small plastic cup of orange-tinted beef consommé that the meat was braised in. It’s a little greasy, but full of flavor and completely satisfying. One other note: make sure you get here early. Once that pot is finished, Birria Ricky is done for the day.
Nearby, on Venustiano Carranza between Aguacate and Insurgentes, Birria Chanfay also has beef birria tacos. But don’t bother repeating your previous meal: What you want to get here are the tacos dorados. Since 1972, the restaurant grills filled tacos in a mix of corn oil and the oily broth from the birria. The result? A crunchy flavor explosion. Pro tip: The right side of the grill is where the really crunchy tacos dorados are.
Your food tour might then turn to Carnitas Lalo, a cart that specializes in pork carnitas. Your guide might tell you that the people of Puerto Vallarta try to eat heavier foods in the morning. Birria and carnitas fall squarely in this category. A cold Coca-Cola makes an ideal beverage choice to cut through the heaviness of the delicious carnitas.
As you’re walking on your tour, you might hear the telltale mechanical screech of tortillerías, the factories where machines churn out tortilla after tortilla. For a little less than $3, you can get about two pounds of fresh, delicious tortillas.
If you like fried fish, you’ll love Marisma on Naranjo, almost at the corner of Venustiano Carranza. Located in the shade of two large ficus trees, this stand has a secret batter used for its fish tacos. You won’t forget the taste of this crunchy, salty batter on freshly caught fish. Make sure to try the salsa with cucumber as well.
On the menu at Macareno (Venustiano Carranza 457) are tacos de nada, or “nothing tacos.” This doesn’t mean you get an empty plate. It means there’s nothing inside the taco. Instead, you’ll find the colorful ingredients sitting on top of the taco, like a tostada. This restaurant belongs to the same family as Birria Chanfay. The small, relaxed space is actually their former home, where the family of 16 lived for a time.
If you head to Mariscos Cisneros (Aguacate between Venustiano Carranza and Lázaro Cárdenas) toward the end of your tour, you might think you’ve eaten enough. But the stand outside its sister restaurant has a seafood chile relleno that’ll make you reconsider what it means to be full.
At some point in your food tour, you might want to tap out, but save room for something sweet. The freezers at La Michoacana (Francisco Madero and Constitución) are stacked with a colorful array of ice pops made with fruit pulp and sugar. Choose from a wide array that includes chocolate with coconut, banana, or the mango and Tajín, where the chili-lime seasoning brings some heat to the cold.
Whether you eat tostadas by the pool at the Marriott or head into the heart of town for tacos and ice pops, the food of Puerto Vallarta is worth exploring. It’s a good reminder of what experienced travelers already know: The best way to discover the heart of a city is through its stomach.