Cantaloupe and cured meats may not go together in most people’s minds, but it only takes one imaginative chef to create that dish that you’re still talking about weeks later.
For some reason I wasn’t expecting the beach resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to be a top-notch food city, but during my visit I found excellent restaurants ranging from upscale establishments to local dives, from Mexican cuisine to ethnic foods of all kinds. With apologies to the other fantastic restaurants in PV I may have missed, these are the dining experiences I can recommend based on my recent visit.
Let’s start with the bacon cantaloupe. This came from Trattoria Michel, an Italian restaurant in the Zona Romantica. It’s juicy cantaloupe topped with cured meats and cheese. The strange combination worked due to the contrast of the sweet and salty.
I also loved the fish topped with a veggie slaw.
One of the most unique places I ate was La Leche, which is considered one of the best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, based on its reviews. La Leche utilizes a striking, entirely white color scheme. And I love that every chair in the restaurant is different – they were all collected from different places. These odd touches add to the cool vibe of the place.
The menu is written on a chalkboard because it changes every day. On this day, the most interesting item on the menu was the escargot quesadilla. Many in our group had never eaten escargot. After trying it, I discovered that it may be a little too refined for my average-joe taste, but I loved the creativity in the dish. Any place where I can get something I’ve never had before is a winner in my book.
Though La Leche feels upscale, the owner makes sure to keep several dishes under 200 pesos (roughly $17) each night. The dessert platter was fun and the margaritas were inventive, too – I couldn’t decide which I liked best between lychee, mango and guava.
Another unique dining experience came at Ocean Grill, a restaurant located on a private beach south of the city. The only way here is by boat, which immediately makes the meal a fun adventure.
Day cruises and water taxis are two ways to arrive here. Eating lunch here on a glorified pier in a hidden beach alcove made from a memorable meal. The menu ranged from basics like hamburgers to more interesting selections like octopus with salsa.
The beach is very close by, so those who fancied a swim after dinner (*raises hand*) made sure to take advantage. Here’s another cool thing about Ocean Grill: The outdoor bathroom is located up a flight of steps, which means that the best views in the entire area come from the john. This is the view from a bathroom in paradise:
Mexican food in Puerto Vallarta
Probably half my diet back home in Chicago is comprised of Mexican food, so I wasn’t going to come all this way and not sample the local cuisine.
We had a great dinner at No Way Jose, which really has it going on from a visual perspective, with colorful dining rooms and interesting artwork on the walls.
I like that the salad was prepared at the table. It’s always more fun when you can see your meal being prepared.
I tried the chiles en nogada, a classic Mexican meal consisting of rice and poblano peppers stuffed with ground beef and topped with a pecan cream sauce and pomegranates. Although I’m not a huge fan of the pomegranate – I still haven’t gotten used to the texture, which reminds me of uncooked corn kernels – the dish was very satisfying.
Another Mexican restaurant worth visiting is El Arrayan. The garnachas pork, banana flan, and coconut-flavored cocktails were excellent.
Besides the food, another reason to visit El Arrayan is to see artwork from the indigenous people of the area. The Huichol still live in the mountains in the northern part of the state (Jalisco). They are known for their hand-crafted art, such as bead sculptures and yarn paintings.
Several of these pieces appear on the walls of the dining room. They look like vibrant paintings, until you walk up close and see they’re made from string. The Huichol use bees wax to make the board sticky, then affix the yarn into images that represent their myths and beliefs.
On my last day in town, I found another Mexican place near my hotel called Fajita Republic. What I most remember about this restaurant was the giant appetizer serving of guacamole, presented on a massive wooden spoon. I’ve never seen that much guac in one place, and even though I love guac, it was a struggle for two of us to finish the entire thing.
Especially since I also had a meal consisting of steak, enchiladas, quesadillas, rice and beans. If you want a big bang for your buck (or peso), this is a good place to find it.
Street food and vendors
I saw lots of other restaurants of all types in Puerto Vallarta, from pizzerias to Chinese food to local mom and pop taquerias.
Another option for those who are hungry is to head to the beach, where vendors and other enterprising folk are eager to sell whatever food item they might happen to possess.
An entire grilled fish, anyone?
For coffee and refreshments, there are Starbucks locations in PV, but why patronize the evil corporate giant when you can try something more local?
Sidewalk seating is big here, as you’d expect in a climate like this. That creates entertainment opportunities for the “guys with guitars” demographic.
There are lots of taco stands to be found, and even a hot dog stand or two. The ones near the bars are open very late, which may have come in handy for me after an evening of bar hopping (though I admit to nothing!)
Note: During my visit to Puerto Vallarta, I was a guest of the local tourism board.