- Joined: 5/9/2003
- Location: Mission Viejo, CA
Roadfooding Tour in Puerto Vallarta Mexico
Tue, 10/29/13 2:36 AM
Recently, I did another cruise of the Panama Canal. Being the Roadfoodie that I am, I looked for some neat places to eat. During my research, I found a food tour in Puerto Vallarta that looked really interesting. On board the ship I met several others who had booked the tour also with Vallarta Food Tours and we took a few vans to get to where the walking tour started. It was awesome, to say the least. Our guide, Ricardo was a blast. He grew up and lived most of his life in Los Angeles, moving to Mexico a few years ago to enjoy life with much less expenses. The food tour company itself was started by a couple from Colorado who fell in love with Puerto Vallarta and moved there. We started the walk, seeing some of the non-touristy streets in Puerto Vallarta, exactly the type of area that is a Roadfooder's delight. Soon enough we came to our first stop, which Ricardo explained was the best carne asada taco cart in Puerto Vallarta. Tacos el Cuñado has been in the family since 1968. Unlike most taco places in the U.S., they specialize in only the beef carne asada and marinated pork tacos. They are prepared fresh and served on soft corn tortillas. On the side of the counter are 4 types of fresh-made salsa, from mild to habenero hot. To accompany them, there is a small salsa bar which has sliced radishes, a terrific pineapple habernero salsa, fresh pico de gallo, onions and fresh chopped cilantro. Ricardo introduced us to the owner and told us about the place. It is a medium sized trailer, big enough for two people to work in. The aroma from it was amazing. As we watched, he prepared our carne asada tacos. The meat was delicious, nicely seasoned and cooked so it was still moist with a nice crispiness on many of the pieces. On the side I had the radishes and the pineapple habanero salsa, one of the most delicious salsas I have ever had anywhere. This was a great start to the tour and exactly the kind of place I wanted to see. We walked a few blocks further, listening to stories about a restaurant that had been frequented by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of the “Night of the Iguana”. We walked down a pier with a stylized “sail” and then down the Puerto Vallarta beach, stopping to look at some skewers being grilled for sale, a very popular item for the beach there. It was a very nice beach with a lot of restaurants on the walkway alongside it. We turned back up into the main section of the “old” part of Puerto Vallarta. A few blacks and we came to our second stop, Cesar's Coconut Stand, another place still in the family since 1984. It's a tiny cart, with Cesar doing all the work himself. Behind him, in the building where he lives upstairs, is the storage for all the coconuts he uses daily. With a deft hand, he punctures the coconuts and pours out the delicious coconut water into a cup for his customers.
The second part of the treat is when he hacks the coconut open, taking out the delicious flesh and sprinkling a special spice mix on it, consisting of salt, some chili powder and a few other items. The sweetness of the flesh played perfectly with the spicy topping. Ever smiling, he was happy to see that we enjoyed his coconuts so much. The next stop was what I had been waiting for---a cevicheria. Cevicheria El Guero had maybe eight tables in it. The ceviche was made fresh. We started with a drink of Jamaica, a drink that is more tart than sweet, an aguas fresca that I get most of the time when I go for tacos near me. As we sipped the refreshing drink, Ricardo told us about the place's history and the fact that we had to wait for the ceviche because it was made fresh to order. The place was packed with locals and seemed to also do a brisk take-out business of ceviche, shrimp and octopus cocktails and marlin quesadillas.
When the ceviche tostadas arrived, they were perfect, fresh with delectable fish on a crisp tortilla. Hot sauce was available but it didn't need it with the onions, cilantro and peppers in it. It was topped with a nice slice of creamy avocado, with a sliced lime on the side to add a brightness to the marinated local fish. It was delicious and exceptionally fresh. After we left the cevicheria, we walked past a fish market where the fishmonger held up a nice dorado for us to see. This could very well be the place El Guero gets the fresh fish from for his ceviche. Next on the tour was a tortilla factory. In the Tortelleria el Gloria we were taken through the process of making tortillas, watching as they piled up and also watching as people came in to buy 3 or more dozen at a time. Next, we were shown how to roll tortillas and how to cool them off, a process that came in handy a minute later when we were each given a tortilla to try, but needed to flip them from one hand to the other until they were cool enough to hold and eat. Yummy!
We came to a rickety foot-bridge which we were told is “the better of the two that cross the river” and proceeded to a small island that has become an art center and place for small shops.
On the way, we passed an iguana that looked like he was just enjoying the sun. It must have been the "Day of the Iguana"! We got to the other bridge which was even more fun to cross. Having made it safely across, we proceeded to a non-food stop, the beautiful old cathedral in Puerto Vallarta. After seeing the inside, we went to Gaby's Restaurant, a fairly recently started place on our tour, having opened in 1989. We were introduced to Cristina, the founder of Gaby's, known for the excellence of their molés and for their delicious tortilla soup. First though, we were served a shot of tequila, accompanied by a shot of lime juice and one of sangrita, a mixture of citrus and pomegranate juices warmed up with chile powder, a traditional accompaniment to tequila in the state of Jalisco where tequila is made. We then were served their tortilla soup, a far cry from what we think of as tortilla soup in the States. Tasty broth, tortillas still crispy, Cotija, a Mexican cheese similar to feta for a sharp flavor and plenty of fresh peppers, onions and other veggies. It was absolutely delicious, and perfect to enjoy as a mariachi group walked in to play a few songs for us.
The final dish was two chicken mole enchiladas, one with a green sauce and the other with the traditional chocolate sauce. Before they were served, we were told the stories about the history of molé --both the fact, the fiction and also that no one really knew which ones were true and which ones not. The taste was remarkable, the green molé, a tomatillo sauce with much more depth than the traditional verde sauces. The brown molé was rich, with flavors certainly unlike any I've ever had, even in restaurants in Los Angeles that supposedly specialize in molé. It was a case of “I was blind, but now I can see” and certainly a far cry from the jarred stuff sold in markets as molé sauce. The flavor was complex and each bite presented a different taste to notice. It was certainly one of the most delicious Mexican dishes I've ever had. After the enchiladas, we sat for a few minutes while we heard from Ricardo how Cristina was convinced to open a restaurant in her house and how it developed into one of the top Mexican restaurants in the country. We started walking again, to a large plaza in the central section of town called the Malecon. There we met up with one of the most interesting of the vendors, a man by the name of Conception. He is known for his preparation of tuba, a fermented coconut palm drink. The drink is poured out of a gourd that he makes it fresh in every day, a concentrate that he mixes with cold water and chipped ice when serving and then topped off by some walnuts and a bit of chopped apple for a garnish and extra flavor.
Not expecting much, I was really surprised by the flavor, not too sweet and certainly not with a raw fermented flavor. Instead, it was smooth and refreshing, with the garnish adding a surprising bit of texture and flavor. He did not speak English at all, but the smiles on our faces told him what we thought of his drink. With limited Spanish, I did say “muchos gracias” to him as we left for our last stop. A few blocks further and up a few blocks was our final stop. Con Orgullo Azteca Candy Store was started by two partners who wanted to keep alive the traditional candies of Mexico. They started with a cart, moved into a store across the street and now have four stores in Puerto Vallarta. We sampled several types of traditional candies, including coconut, glazed nut and a type of chocolate fudge. We also got to try a rather interesting tequila and coconut soft candy called cocada tequila, taken out of a cabinet filled with bees, busy with their honeycomb on the far side of the cabinet. Before the candy maker opened the cabinet, he did ask if any one was allergic to bee stings. The lengths some people go to for a taste of candy! It really was delicious, as were all of them and a perfect capper to the end of the day's tour. This walking tour was the perfect Roadfood tour, except in Mexico. I would highly recommend it to any one in Puerto Vallarta looking for something more authentic than Señor Frogs's and Chico's Paradise Bar and Grill. This was the real thing and a great way to taste the food the locals eat. Vallarta Food Tours certainly has picked a nice variety of places to enjoy the real flavor of Mexico. www.vallartafoodtours.com Tel: 1-888-457-2210
<message edited by EdSails on Tue, 10/29/13 2:49 PM>