Dispatch, Puerto Vallarta: Beyond the buffets

By Eric Moya
Copy editor Eric Moya recently visited Puerto Vallarta during the city's second annual National Charro Championships. His final dispatch follows. Read his first dispatch here.

"Excuse me, is there a cricket restaurant around here?"

I couldn't blame the passersby that morning for their stares of confusion and/or hostility: The question did seem like something out of a half-baked "Punk'd" rip-off.

But we were serious. Another writer on my recent press trip to Puerto Vallarta had heard there were places in Mexico where crickets were eaten, and in the spirit of camaraderie I decided to help ask around.

But my Spanish vocabulary is, to put it charitably, limited, and up until that moment an occasion to discuss edible insects hadn't come up. Without a dictionary handy, I stuck with posing the question to the expat retirees walking their dogs along Basilio Badillo in Old Town, who were probably eager to claim a spot in line for breakfast at the wildly popular Pancake House and not particularly interested in indulging a tourist's silly question.

Puerto Vallarta plato combinadoWhatever your appetites -- unless you're craving crickets, we found out -- there's probably a place in Puerto Vallarta that can accommodate you. And for those seeking a taste of regional specialties or Mexican food in general, I found that the opportunities were plentiful, even in and around the visitor-friendly Malecon promenade. Here are some highlights from my three-night trip:

In search of breakfast during the 15-minute walk from the Sheraton Buganvilias, my host hotel, to the Malecon, there were lots of options: anything from juices on the go to sit-down meals.

Over two mornings I opted for the latter, stopping for chilaquiles con pollo (fried tortillas topped with chicken and smothered in salsa) at one place, huevos rancheros (eggs and salsa served atop tortillas) at another, and both were excellent. (Note that the Sheraton is no slouch in the breakfast department, either: Its extensive breakfast buffet offered pozole, a type of soup; huevos rancheros, or for that matter, eggs prepared seemingly however you like; and other Mexican specialties, in addition to pancakes, fruit, cereals, bacon and other American-style staples.)

Puerto Vallarta fish tacosLike most any boardwalk, food stalls abound along the Malecon, with vendors selling raw shellfish, roasted corn, snow cones and other snacks. A Puerto Vallarta specialty is pescado embarazado, the curiously named "pregnant fish." It's actually filleted marlin, char-grilled on skewers and doused in lime and the Valentina hot sauce so ubiquitous in P.V. It came with three handmade tortillas and could suffice as a meal in itself, all for about $2. As you might suspect of a fish that can be skewered, it's on the chewy side, and it's also quite mild. But those qualities make it ideally suited as a delivery system for its accompaniments.

Around lunchtime one day, a sign at the northern end of the Malecon, near the "Nature as Mother" statue, caught my eye: It was for La Chata, the family-owned Guadalajara institution that for my money is the gold standard for Mexican home cooking.

The P.V. location offers more of a something-for-everyone menu, including burgers, pasta and the seafood dishes customary for P.V. Still, the restaurant stays true to its tapatio roots with entrees such as the plato combinado: chicken in mole sauce and a chile relleno (a poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and deep-fried). It was nearly as good as I remember having at the Guadalajara location years ago, and it occurred to me that for a group with diverse tastes -- and aren't they all? -- a restaurant like La Chata would fit the bill nicely.

Back on Basilio Badillo one afternoon, my seafood cravings kicked in once again, so I sat down at Joe Jack's for the best fish tacos I've ever had: fat filets of cod battered and deep-fried to a perfect crunch, piled on three corn tortillas and topped with cabbage slaw. Accompanied by an ice-cold bottle of Sol or a house specialty, the "Mex-jito" (a mojito made with tequila instead of rum), it would be an ideal way to cap a long day of exploration along the Pacific coast.

By the way, eating crickets -- actually grasshoppers, aka saltamontes, aka chapulines -- is more of a thing in Oaxaca and other, more southern/central parts of the country, according to the exceptionally knowledgeable and friendly proprietor of the Xocodiva chocolate shop in Old Town. Maybe next time.
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