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There’s lots happening in the Puerto Vallarta restaurant scene on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. In fact, there’s so much going on, it can be tough to know where to begin!
From sipping artisanal raicilla overlooking the cobblestone streets of Old Town Vallarta to the beach bars of San Pancho, here’s our insider’s Puerto Vallarta Restaurant Guide. It’s the result of my years of exploring Puerto Vallarta food and drink while writing for Lonely Planet and Fodor’s travel guides.
It’s got the inside scoop on the best places to eat, things to do, local spirits to try, day trips and favourite Puerto Vallarta culinary experiences.
1. Puerto Vallarta Cooking Class
For culinary travellers, markets offer instant immersion into the colours and flavours of a country’s culture. In Puerto Vallarta, there are not one but several authentic food markets, each with its own personality.
The best way to experience them is on a guided market tour led by Chef Mavi Graf of Arte Culinario. Part of a cooking class held in Marina Vallarta, participants explore hidden culinary haunts meeting fishmongers, butchers and fruit vendors along the way.
You’ll get a behind-the scenes look at bustling food stalls, then enjoy a cooking class featuring appetizer, entrèe and dessert with optional wine pairing.
2. Old Town Farmers Market
You can also purchase Arte Culinario’s popular salad dressings, infused vinegars and meat rubs to enjoy at home. These 100% preservative-free products are also available at the Old Town Farmers Market featuring products made by vendors who live within 75 kilometres of Puerto Vallarta.
Old Town Farmers Market is located at Plaza Lazaro Cardenas and is open Saturday from 9:30 am to 2:00 pm from January-May
3. Gaby’s: Best Traditional Puerto Vallarta Restaurant
While working on the Lonely Planet cookbook From the Source – Mexico: Authentic Recipes From the People That Know Them the Best (Lonely Planet) I included Gaby’s family-run restaurant mostly because of its authentic version of cuala de coco, a classic Puerto Vallarta street snack that’s a cross between a coconut custard and flan.
But their menu features a vast array of other authentic dishes and while I was working my way through the menu, pondering the deliciousness of it all, I was treated to a shot of the restaurant’s artisanal raicilla.
This distilled spirit, similar to tequila and mescal because it’s produced from the agave plant, can often be harsh because it’s frequently valued for potency rather than flavour. But the raicilla at Gaby’s is delicate, with faint floral notes. While it’s available served in the signature Gaby’s margarita, it’s worth trying straight for a real taste of Jalisco.
4. Signature Architecture and Street Food
The soaring Los Muertos Pier, designed by Mexican architect Jesus Torres revitalized the Old Town beach scene with its waterfront promenade, scenic night lighting and modern dock with ferry boats whisking visitors to the hidden beaches of Yelapa. Watch local fisherman haul in their catch, catch a spectacular sunset or just soak up the relaxed vibe.
The pier evokes the romance of the sea with its motif of an unfurled sail, its grand plaza entrance and circular walkway. The pier has joined other signature architecture, such as the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to become a new icon for Puerto Vallarta.
For food fans who want to explore architecture and cuisine, Vallarta Food Tours offers several culinary walking tours of classic such as Centro and Old Town neighbourhoods.
Culinary adventurers will want to try their off-the-beaten-path tours of Pitillal and Versalles neighbourhood. Themes include street food, regional tacos, hand-crafted cocktails and more. Also worth experiencing are their Bikes & Bites tour ( yes it’s by bicycle) and a Vallarta by Road Tour where you travel by air-conditioned van.
It’s also possible to see these major sights (and sample some tequila!) on the Highlights of Puerto Vallarta cruise ship excursion.
5. Villa Premiere Hotel: Romantic Cuisine
Although it may not be well known outside of Puerto Vallarta, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel is an adults-only hotel that’s at the top of my list when it comes to most romantic hotels in Mexico. With just 80 rooms and suites, it’s the only hotel I’ve ever been to where a therapist welcomes guests with a neck and shoulder massage upon check-in.
The spacious suites offer incredible ocean views from the balcony and the decor is contemporary, sleek and dramatic. Other amenities include a pillow menu and a scent menu for in-room aromatherapy and a prime oceanfront location a short walk to town.
However, for food fans a highlight of a stay at Villa Premiere is the sophisticated cuisine. Chef Tony Martinez has a deft hand when it comes to preparing local ingredients with molecular gastronomy techniques.
Seafood dishes are an especially good choice as are the glamorous desserts which come beautifully presented with fresh flowers, gold leaf and other creative touches. Lonely Planet’s Mexico from the Source cookbook features a recipe for Caldo de Mariscos from the menu at La Corona restaurant.
Check rates and availability at Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway on Booking.com.
6. Day Trip to W Hotel Punta de Mita Beach Bar
If you’re looking for a beach bar away from the crowds, you’ll find your nirvana at the Chevicheria at the W Hotel in Punta de Mita. This laid-back hang-out is located within a palapa-topped Chevrolet 3800 pick-up truck set on a windswept stretch of coastline. You can enjoy a cocktail paired with one (or more) ceviches from the beach bar’s ever-evolving ceviche menu.
Inventive ingredients include mezcal, green apple, red grapefruit, hibiscus flower syrup and a smorgasbord of tastes and textures that vary seasonally. While at the W Punta de Mita, keep your eye tuned for decor from Revolucion del Sueno. This cool design shop in Sayulita that features cheeky Mexican motifs in its modern line of fun accessories.
While in Sayulita, also check out the Sayulita Wine Shop for a tasting of mezcal, raicilla, wines from Valle de Guadalupe and unique Mexican liqueurs such as the Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur from Puebla. Infused with dried and smoked poblano pepper, it will add a boost to classic cocktails such as margaritas and can be tough to find outside Mexico.
Check rates and availability for W Hotel Punta de Mita on Booking.com.
7. Day Trip to San Pancho ( San Francisco) – Restaurant las Palmas
Another restaurant that’s well worth a road trip is Las Palmas beach restaurant in San Pancho. Officially known as San Francisco, it’s located an hour north of Puerto Vallarta in Riviera Nayarit.
This is my favourite spot to enjoy aguachile the Pacific coast specialty that features a mix of fresh, raw shrimp slightly “cooked” in lime juice and mixed with red onion, cucumber and serrano chile peppers.
Chef Sergio Romo offers several variations on classic aguachile. Sso plan on spending an afternoon with your feet in the sand exploring aguachile negro (an Asian-style version) or aguachile naranjado (an orange-hued treat) while listening to the sounds of the waves.
The coast of Nayarit is also a good place to pick up a few bottles of Salsa Huichol, the hot sauce produced in Tepic according to a secret family recipe.
8. Brew Pubs and Old Town Bars in Puerto Vallarta
Ever since 1542 when Emperor Carlos V of Spain gave permission to Alfonso de Herrera to establish a cerveceria in the Americas, beer gas been popular in Mexico. Big labels such as Corona, Dos Equis, Sol and Victoria are world famous, but recently, there’s been a surge of interest in small-batch, artisanal beer.
One of the top hubs for beer aficionados is Los Muertos Brewing in Puerto Vallarta. With its cheeky labels and street front Puerto Vallarta restaurant location in Old Town, it offers artisanal beers served with cantina flair.
Sip a Mexicana Rubia, a light-bodied pale ale. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous go for an Anillo de Fuego, a chile-infused ale that’s perfect paired with tomato juice.
For spots where you can dance the night away, there are lots of nightclubs, bars and cabaret-style venues to choose from. Puerto Vallarta. happens to be Mexico’s most gay-friendly beach destination, so there are lots of gay clubs –such as Anonimo and Cc Slaughters — to hang out at.
Mezcal lovers will want to include Bar Morelos Mezcaleria on their list of things to do at night in Puerto Vallarta, while Twisted Palms Rooftop Lounge is a top spot when cocktails when bar hopping in Vallarta.
9. Secrets Vallarta Bay: A Foodie Couples Beach Resort
A once-vacant piece of land on Las Glorias beach has been reborn as Secrets Vallarta Bay Resort and Spa. Situated within easy walking distance to El Malecon and overlooking Banderas Bay, this adults-only, all-inclusive property offers all the charm of Puerto Vallarta’s classic vibe but with luxury amenities such as elegant suites, ocean-views and gourmet cuisine at five à la carte restaurants.
Highlights of a stay include Maya cooking classes, salsa dance lessons and yoga on the beach. Golf fans will appreciate complimentary green fees at three nearby championship courses.
The Preferred Club, with its exclusive lounge offering afternoon tapas and concierge service, enhanced mini-bar, continental breakfast and roomy suites with outdoor Jacuzzi, is well worth the upgrade. The glam swim-up suites are the nicest in town.
Puerto Vallarta Restaurant Guide Travel Planner
Official Puerto Vallarta Tourism: www.visitpuertovallarta.com
Puerto Vallarta Old Town Farmers Market: The location of this farmers market is at Plaza Lazaro Cardenas. It’s open Saturday from 9:30 am to 2:00 pm. January-May
Puerto Vallarta Cooking Class: Arte Culinario
And that’s not the end of things to do in and around Puerto Vallarta!
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