Restaurants & Bars 2

PUERTO VALLARTA: Report (long)...

Nick | Sep 17, 200304:42 AM

I originally wrote this for epinions. Hope it helps:

Food Recommendations: I've listed out here some of my favorite food experiences and places.

Comida Corrida: One of the best deals is the comida corrida. Lots of the little mom and pop Mexican places nestled within the shops and storefronts have one. It was running 35 pesos when I was there (less than $3.50). You'll get an appetizer, usually a choice of soups, a choice of entree, and a drink, usually whatever jugo (juice) they've made that day. Options for entrees are things like moles, albondigas (meatballs in sauce), or some sort of stewed dish. The entrees are usually served with beans and rice and fresh made tortillas. And salsa, of course. I got stuffed every time. Most of the places seemed relatively clean, though I always checked it out first. My favorite place for comida corrida was Tia's on Pino Suarez and Cardenas near Playa Los Muertos. They also serve a desayuno (breakfast) special for 25 pesos with eggs any style, chilaquiles (a yummy tortilla casserole), and beans. Another good place for desayuno and comida similar in style to Tia's, but without a comida corrida, is 3 Huasteces on Olas Altas, just south of Playa Los Arcos across from A Page in the Sun. Very good tortillas and a very good mole pueblo. Few items over 50 pesos and its solid quality.

btw, there's also a little Indian place on Cardenas, can't remember the name. It serves Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Excellent. I've had some great Indian food and this place was up there. Best rice I think I've ever had. Got a sampler plate from them. Fabulous lentil curry. Vegetarian curries were only 20 pesos, meat curries were 50.

Food Stands: There are tons of food stands, taco huts, etc, in PV. If you walk away from the beach up Basilio Badillo or one of the other major streets you'll find plenty. Many serve excellent tacos, quesadillas, or even pozole. And they're cheap. Expect to pay 5 pesos for a taco. Two of my favorites were actually very close to the beach. Both were at Cardenas Square next to Daiquiri Dick's at the corner of Cardenas and Olas Altas (btw, probably the best painted bowls, platters, and welcome signs can be found here, too, by a native-Mexican woman; she'll give you a different price every time and you should give her exact change because I believe she can't add or subtract). One serves just tacos and quesadillas, 5 pesos for tacos, 10 for quesadillas. They press and grill the tortillas before you. You get choice of two kinds of meat or onion (cebollita) for filling. The other is closer to the beach, looks a bit scary, but isn't, and advertises "Pozole Rico". Yum. I had their costilla de puerco (rib of pork) with beans and rice and tortillas for 30 pesos. Rich, flavorful dish that was excellent. You can see them dutifully cleaning all their cooking equipment in purified water. They are extremely nice. There is an excellent food stand that can sometimes be found in the Parque Hidalgo just a couple blocks past the most northern end of the Malecon (you know you're at the most northern end of the Malecon when you see McDonald's, yuck; even worse, the Malecon begins with a Hooter's). They serve huaraches (means sandals, don't confuse them with the food). They are fantastic. Only place I found serving huaraches in PV. Cheap and a lot of food. A huarache, btw, is a thick corn tortilla piled with sauce and other toppings and cheese. Almost like a Mexican pizza, you might say.

Nice Restaurants: It took me a while, but the last two nights in PV, after looking at tons of menus and asking around, I found two great Mexican restaurants that a midwesterner's grandmother wouldn't be afraid to eat at. They were Los Milagros on Juarez and Pipila and Xitomate on Morelos and Aldama (both just a couple blocks away from the ocean near the Malecon). The former is traditional Mexican with a variety of dishes from a variety of regions. I had their mole rojo and my wife had their mixed molcajete. We both had soups for appetizers, me a chipotle soup, and my wife a lime soup. The mole was very good served with a tender breast of chicken, beans, rice, and tortillas. It was under 80 pesos and a fair portion. The flavor was excellent, rich, sweet and spicy. My wife's dish was impressive, served sizzling in a large basalt molcajete (large mortar for grinding foods). It had a whole grilled nopale cactus paddle, tender beef, large succulent shrimp, sausage, and chicken all in a mild tomato salsa with cheese. Very, very good. About 140 pesos. The soups were both good as well. They were a brothy soups with mixed vegetables and meat and the hint of their respective attractions, chipotle and lime. We had the orange flan for dessert, which was good. They have live music and very good service with very friendly waiters. btw, a table next to us ordered the tequila flamed lobster. They turned off all the lights and flamed it table side. Very cool. Nice Mexican garden decor with linen table cloths and napkins.
Xitomate was nueva cocina mexicana. The place looked it, too, with chic fixtures, place settings, and furniture. All very Mexican, still. This was our most expensive meal of the trip, but they more than earned it. In Portland, a meal like this would have been almost twice as expensive. In a city like San Francisco, Chicago, or New York, forget about it. My wife started with the thinly slice scallops with cucumber and jicama julienne and aguachile sauce, 88 pesos. I don't usually like seafood, but this was excellent. They served it with thin, crispy tortillas and you made little tostadas. My wife and I were practically battling with our forks over every bite. For dinner, my wife had the grilled salmon in poblano chile sauce, squash blossom, and tender corn, 126 pesos. Tasty sauce. I can't stand salmon so I didn't try it, but the sauce was great. My wife enjoyed all of it. It was served with an excellent sautee of mixed squash and root vegetables and small roasted potatoes dusted with chile powder. I had the heart of beef tenderloin with chipotle sauce, 148 pesos. It was cooked perfectly medium rare as I had asked and was very tender and flavorful. The sauce was good and again it was served with the sautee of vegetables which were excellent. The meat was served on top of some sort of tasty potato cake. We had the special, toluca ice cream cake, for dessert. Fantastic. A kalua, espresso, vanilla ice cream cake with caramal sauce and nuts on top. It really was fantastic. Also served with fresh berries. 48 pesos. Some nice touches: they served an amuse bouce before the meal, a small huitlicoche (corn mushroom) quesadilla that was quite tasty. They also served chips and four salsas. All the salsas were excellent, two red salsas, one green, and a mixture of pickled onions and jalapenos. The chips were red corn with sesame seeds baked on. Very tasty and interesting. The service was **** quality. The waiters spoke impeccable English. The chef came out and congratulated a woman celebrating her birthday. The maitre'd classily and cooly brought her dessert, putting a candle in it, and lighting it for her.

Food Warnings: At first I was a bit disappointed. There's not as much variety in the types of Mexican as there is in, say, Mexico City, especially for someone like me who is not a huge seafood fan. We first looked at places recommended in various guidebooks. eg, Cafe Ollas, a very popular place that would be better named Cafe Parrilla, because most things are grilled, came highly recommended. However, both my wife and I found it mediocre and overpriced. The atmosphere was decent, the service was good, but the food was lacking. Oily and bland tortilla soup, greasy quesadillas, mediocre fish, burnt chips, etc. I would suggest steering clear of places that obviously cater to tourists unless you really don't like food that's not entirely familiar. Places like Fajita Republic will be packed and they'll give you decent fajitas like you're used to back home at your local Tex-Mex place, but you'll be missing out on some new and wonderful flavors and be paying twice as much. Steer clear of hotel restaurants, too. They can even be lamer, serving little more than hamburgers spiced up only by being called hamburguesas. They probably won't even be as good as Red Robin or the like. I'm sure there are exceptions, but odds are... If you're paying over 100 pesos for an entree it better be some of the best food you've ever had. (btw, I checked out Oscar's, a place recommended here on epinions; it looks okay, the setting is nice, but the menu looked very boring.)

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