A few decades ago, Puerto Vallarta seemed a world away—a sunny paradise that existed mostly in our imagination. (If you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, you’ll recall it as the final port of call for the S.S. Pacific Princess in The Love Boat, always on the horizon but never quite reached.) These days, that’s changed. Puerto Vallarta is easily accessible from Denver, with United and Southwest running nonstop flights from DIA to PVR, the “Jewel of Jalisco’s” central airport. Hop on a plane right now, and you can be there in just over three hours. And then the fun—and food—begins.
Vallarta Eats food tours
You’ll find plenty of options for food tours in Puerto Vallarta, many of them focused on the town’s abundant street taco stands, which populate nearly every city block in the busiest districts. Vallarta Eats is particularly notable for the knowledge of its guides, who don’t just feed you an unholy quantity of meat and tortillas (though that happens, too), but also offer advice on how to separate good taco stands from bad, how to avoid illness, and other tips for travelers eating their way through the city. (Hint: if you come across a restaurant where the food and the money are handled by the same person, avoid it.) The company has been around for eight years and claims to have fed and educated more than 23,000 people, always imparting the following lesson: “In Mexico, no matter who you are—regardless of class, age, religion, or anything else—you eat tacos.”
The Signature Taco Tour ($55 USD, 3 1/2 hours) stops at half a dozen stalls around the city’s historic district. You’ll visit places like Carnitas Lalo for spicy simmered pork and Mexican Coke in scuffed glass bottles; Marisma’s for pescado capeado, or fried fish tacos, with a batter recipe so coveted that the owners of the stall refuse to give it to anyone—even their cooks; and Birria Chanfay, for tacos filled with birria, a Jalisco dish made from long-stewed goat or mutton. You’ll try tacos served blandito (soft) and dorado (pan-fried and crispy) while sipping agua fresca—a refreshing fruit-water blend—with infusions of tamarind and soursop. You’ll try off-the-wall dishes like the stingray taco at Mariscos Cisneros and the sweet corn paleta, or milk popsicle, at La Michoacana, and hear the history of the eateries you visit, like the fact that one has occupied the same courtyard for 30 years, passed from a grandmother to her daughter and granddaughter. Finally, you’ll stop by an open-air tortilla factory, where your guide will point out the rhythmic squealing of the factory’s machines and say, as you munch a fresh corn tortilla, “Listen. That is the sound of Mexico.”
“Jalisco at Your Table”
If food is your goal, you could do far worse for accommodations than the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, which has five restaurants, one of them right on the beach. The highlight, by far, is a specialty dinner called “Jalisco at Your Table,” served in the resort’s private herb garden. To try it, you’ll need to come with a group and book ahead. The seven-course tasting menu is designed to mimic the resort chefs’ memories of childhood meals eaten in their grandmothers’ kitchens. Offerings include a warm cup of atole, a creamy, corn-based drink served with a tamale; wood-fired and heavily seasoned zarandeado fish; and tacos filled with guajillo chiles and spiced birria.
While the town offers no shortage of eateries and bars, the single most imperative stop is Café des Artistes, where chef Thierry Blouet plays on local Jalisco traditions as well as global influences, like shrimp seared tableside (with lots of fiery pyrotechnics) in a Jalisco-specific spirit called raicilla. The space is elegant and tucked away from the chaos of the downtown’s busier streets, with a second-level garden terrace that catches the sea breeze as it rolls in.
El Arrayán is another favorite, set in a tiny cobblestone courtyard and specializing in highly traditional fare—Yucatán pulled pork leg, duck carnitas, mole, and barbacoa. La Palapa Restaurant, located on the city’s most popular beach, Playa de Los Muertos, is the place to go if you want to dig your toes into the sand as you dine. Here, you’ll find white tablecloths and romantic candlelight mixed with the informality of a beach meal—an appealing combo, especially as the “Purple Breeze” and “Black Magic” margaritas start to flow.
Above all, you cannot come to the state of Jalisco without sipping your way through mucho tequila. (It was invented there, after all.) Common advice from the locals: Treat each glass like a lover. Rather than quick shots, sipping the glass with “little kisses” works best. And take it slow. That, they say, is what Mexico is all about.