Puerto Vallarta is known for its International quality dining Establishments. There are International Food and Wine Fiestas here each year and with over 1000 restaurants within the Banderas Bay Area, the choices are endless.
But there are options to the restaurants listed in every Restaurant and Tourist Guide. Very few people outside of locals know about the places described here. One guide, JR’s Insider Website, touches on the taco stand facet of true Mexico in Vallarta, but there are also hundreds of small, hole-in-the-wall family-run restaurants on the back streets of every Colonia here.
This will be an on-going, constantly modified description of these places. Part of what’s here comes from my own experience and part from the VallartaScene Puerto Vallarta Forum, that I’ve moderated for several years. I’m hoping that a third part will come from readers here.
This is a work in progress…
- FRIDA Lazaro Cardenas, just east of Insurgentes. This is a neighborhood bar considered by some to be gay, but very straight-friendly, if you look at it from another angle. Good, hardy, cheap drinks and a very down-home atmosphere. A place to relax with friends. No pretensions. If you like country music, it’s got one of the best jukes around for “real” country music (and other music…).
HOURS: Open daily! 1:00 pm to 2:00 am
ADDRESS: Lázaro Cárdenas # 361 Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. México
- THE CHEEKY MONKEY: Hands down, the cheapest margarita and cerveza bar in town. 10 peso margaritas and cerveza anytime of the day. And a view of the Malécon (and, of couse, the sunset) to knock your socks off. This was originally to be a gay bar but is now a tad over-run with straights. It’s owned by the same family that owns the Italian restaurant one floor below. The parents of the owner also own the Little Italy restaurant on Los Muertos across the street from Daiquiri Dicks.
- CASA ISABEL: This is a true hidden gem in Vallarta. It is on a high hill overlooking the city and is primarily a small hotel but Casa Isabel is now open as a bar and restaurant. It’s open til’ “after the fireworks” or so. Check out this place before it becomes too popular. Casa Isabel is the only view bar in Vallarta where you are not charged humongous $$ for drinks or food. Happy hour prices apply here 5 to 7 pm: No shocks involved.
There is very limited parking at Casa Isabel but the place is easily and inexpensively accessible by taxi (recommended) from Old Town. It is near the Vista Grill, a very expensive bar/restaurant and has a better view. All taxi drivers in Old Town know how to get there.
The owners run a very successful Bar/Restaurant/Hotel in Toronto and have had Casa Isabel open here as a hotel for about 10 years.
- EL COLERA: On Lazaro Cardenas just east of the Emiliano Zapata Mercado. This is a budget Mariscos restaurant for locals. The prices are great (about half of your normal gringo mariscos restaurant) and the atmosphere is a mix between sports bar and hole-in-the-wall. Sometimes the music is loud. Always the food is fresh and great. Each day there is a special at about 20% off their normally low prices. (A clue to finding creative restaurants that serve fresh seafood is that they will have specials frequently — you never know what will be caught…) An example is a 12 mussel dinner for 60 pesos. Excellent seafood soup is from 40-80 pesos depending on size. The small size is filling, easily, for me.
- LOS MUERTO BEACH: Very few tourist guides mention this source of seafood here in Puerto Vallarta. There are vendors of barbecued shrimp (camarones) and fish on a stick on Los Muertos Beach here in Old Town, Puerto Vallarta. Several of these vendors even have make-shift “restaurants” set up on the beach with a dozen or so tables and a barbecue.
The sticks of shrimp or fish are usually around 20 pesos and are great for a snack. These sticks are carried all over the beach or you can sit at one of the “restaurants” to eat. Most of these restaurants don’t serve drinks so you can bring your own or few pesos, a kid will run up the street and buy you whatever you want. Some beach bars will allow you to buy these offerings but most discourage it because they also sell food. Occasionally vendors will also come around with plates of oysters (see my article on this). I’ve had the oyster plates and the shrimp and fish sticks often and have never had a bad experience.
- The Oyster and Pata de Mula Street Stand:
On the Bullfight road heading east away from highway 200 north of Walmart and the Marina is a small fresh osyter and pata de mula (clam) stand alongside the road that has some of the freshest and, definitely, cheapest oysters in the area. For 35 pesos a dozen you can have either oysters of clams opened for you to eat there or to take with you. I prefer to take the unopened oysters, but that’s just me. Eating there is fine, also. Not a gourmet setting, on the road to the Mojaneras dump and almost next to a Pemex gas station and across the highway from the city slaughter house. Sounds a tad rough, but it’s good. Most gringos won’t go for this (you know how some of them are… afraid of anything that isn’t sterilized in Walmart) but the ones that do will be richly rewarded.
This stand is open Friday to Sunday and is on north side of the bullfight road just after the intersection and stop light at the Pemex station. It’s easy to miss. If you get to the Charreada (rodeo grounds), you’ve gone too far.
- SUPER MERCADOS: I hate to put steam table, cafeteria-style places in a “restaurant” listing but some of the SuperMarket food counters here aren’t bad. If you go for Gringo-type food, only one is ok, and that’s Sam’s Cafe out at Walmart. Good pizza and hot dogs — forget anything else….
But if you are considering sampling traditional Mexican dishes, especially meat dishes, the take-out counter of Leys Market is great. Nice variety and well-flavored foods are sold by weight. This counter isn’t for gringos. It’s for working Mexicans and contains many national dishes that you won’t find in any regular tourist restaurants. Leys also has the best fried chicken in Vallarta. The food counters at Gigante, Mega and Soriana are ok for snacks, but they are pretty white-bread in character.
For bakery goods, Gigante probably has the best bolillos (French bread-like rolls) and sweets. Soriana, Walmart and Mega (Commercial) come in second and Leys is last, with the exception of their flour tortillas which are superior to almost anyone’s.
- COCINA ECONOMICA:
- CELIA’S (POZOLE)
- MUNICIPAL MERCADO (UPSTAIRS)
- I’m not going to recommend any taco stands because there are 100s of good, even great, ones here in Puerto Vallarta. There are some bad ones, also, but very few because a bad one will go out of business quickly.
The rules for finding good stands are simple: Look for stands that have lots of people eating at them (not the ones with lots of tourists eating at them). The good stands have regular customers and attract new customers rapidly. The farther away from downtown you get, the fewer people will be at stands but it’s still easy to tell which are the popular ones.
Each stand works off of family recipes if they are off of the main streets. Main street stands have probably been through several owners and are more like small scale formula or chain restaurants, with employees who don’t especially care and food shortcuts. Not all, of course, but this happens in any business.
The smaller stands will specialize in recipes from a particular area or style. There’s birria, carnitas, lingua, carne, etc. The salsas are usually the key to a good stand with the better stands having many varieties of home made salsa. That a stand makes its own tortillas isn’t important, although it’s advertised as such, since there are excellent tortilla factories all over town.
You can’t eat much better than off of a street taco stand if you want authentic Mexican food. Most restaurants don’t even come close.
- The Video Diva taco stand reviews in Banderas News
- Ah, the Pollo. If you like chicken, especially roasted chicken, Puerto Vallarta is as close to heaven as it gets. All around town are small hole-in-the-wall roasters. Most of these are rotisseries with many chickens heated on a revolving set of bars. Some writers warn about the rotisserie chickens because drippings from the uncooked ones can fall on the cooked as they rotate. I suppose that this could be a concern, but if it is, just wait until most of the chickens on the machine are near completion, with no raw chickens in sight. Most of the street roasters close by late afternoon. One of the larger chain roasters will deliver meals.
There are also grilled chickens and I do admit that I like these better, independent of the health benefits. My favorite is the chicken man across the street from my house (mostly because he is across the street from my house). There are “Super Pollos,” “Happy Pollos,” “Pollo Brujos,” etc. All are good. Some have more of a restaurant atmosphere and many have specials on certain days, most often Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
The chicken here is very flavorful and a more yellow color than that from up north. It’s very much like the chicken I used to have when I lived on a farm.