When it comes to Mexico's historical downtowns, Mazatlan has one of the finest. First, it is visually stunning. The architecture is evocative of colorful Caribbean capitals such as Santo Domingo and Old San Juan. The buildings are a kaleidoscope of pastels; tree-lined streets open up to wide, leafy plazas; and boutique galleries sit alongside traditional food stalls.
The other best part about Mazatlan's Centro Historico is that it sits directly on the Pacific Ocean. To have an old city directly on the sea is quite unusual for Mexico, where typically you have to choose between colonial heritage and beach life.
But beyond the visual feast of downtown, what you'll also be devouring in Mazatlan's Centro Historico is the food. From street food tours to cooking classes, fine French cuisine and seafood with epic views, here are where your clients can go to sample the many tastes of Mazatlan:
Enchiladas Sinaloense served up on a food tour with Tomatl, which also offers cooking classes. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
• Tomatl: Founded by Mazatleca chef Paola Osuna, Tomatl is all about bringing travelers closer to the traditional and indigenous flavors of Mazatlan. She offers both cooking classes and food tours designed to shine light on what makes the city's flavors different from the rest of Mexico.
For a first-timer, a food tour is a wonderful way to dip a toe into the wide world of Mazatlan cuisine. Osuna offers two types of food tours. The first is her Pata Salada Food Tour (pata salada, or salty feet, is a name given to Mazatlan-born Mexicans). The four-hour tour takes travelers to the streets of downtown Mazatlan to sample fare such as chilorio tacos, traditional Mazatlan shrimp and caguamanta stew (a soup made with stingray). Her other tour is called Taco, Beer and Mezcal.
After discovering Mazatlan's medley of flavors on foot, a cooking class with Osuna is a great second course. Her classes take participants into the history and traditions of the dishes. Each class is themed around a different ingredient like corn, chili, tomatoes, vanilla and beans. There is also a cooking class devoted to tacos.
• La Marea: Even if you've been to Mazatlan dozens of times, you will still be mesmerized by the view and the food at the hilltop restaurant La Marea. Open-air, breezy and casual, this is the premier spot in the city to drink in the spectacular sunset and the view of the coastline, all while sipping a cocktail or beer and feasting on ceviche, sushi and tacos.
Standout dishes include the tuna ceviche with mango and the Tostada La Marea with shrimp, octopus and cucumber. The Tacos Camaron a Las Brisas is packed with succulent garlic shrimp and melted cheese.
The restaurant also has a menu of grilled fish, steaks and sushi (El Emperador, with shrimp, cucumber, avocado and salmon, is especially tasty).
Be sure to secure a reservation for sunset. The hilltop perch is truly the finest place in the city for a front-row seat to witness the explosive show.
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mazatlan’s Centro Historico. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
• Hector's Bistro: Mazatlan may not be your first choice for fine French cuisine, but after securing a table at Hector's Bistro, you might have to reconsider. Helmed by Hector Peniche, who was born in Mexico but trained as a pastry chef at the Four Seasons London, the restaurant brings decadent, indulgent, European dining to the Centro Historico. "We are full gluten, full fat, full sugar," Peniche said with pride. And it's worth every calorie-filled bite.
For breakfast, there's the Italian skillet, a hearty, sizzling plate of homemade sausage and eggs over-easy smothered in flavorful tomato sauce. The pastry plate is also a must, with fluffy muffins, cornbread and a side of homemade banana preserves.
But the main event at Hector's is the dinner service, with juicy cuts of steak like filet mignon and rib-eye or the pork shank risotto. Rich and hearty pastas include plump ravioli and prawn spaghetti. Add an impressive wine list, and you'll soon see why Hector's Bistro is a favorite for both locals and visitors.
Where to stay
After all this serious eating, you might prefer staying close by. Luckily, one of the very best boutique hotels in the city is located where the Centro Historico meets the sea.
The view from the rooftop pool area at Casa Lucila, an eight-room, boutique property on the edge of the Centro Historico. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
Casa Lucila is an eight-room, boutique property overlooking the Malecon and the beginning of the Centro Historico. Originally, the building was a home for immigrants, but it was later transformed into O'Brien's Seafood Restaurant, a flapper-era restaurant and club with a celebrity roster of diners, including John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway.
Following the death of the owner in the late 1950s, the property remained abandoned until 2005, when it was transformed into the cozy, elegant boutique hotel it is today.
Each of the rooms has its own name and identity. I stayed in the Esther on the second floor, which has a semiprivate patio area with a table and chairs and view of the Pacific Ocean.
The restaurant at the property is fantastic (try the tuna tostadas or the carnitas tacos). The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch and has outdoor seating with a remarkable view of downtown.
But the piece de resistance at the hotel is its rooftop pool area, with its small infinity plunge pool that peers out over the Malecon.
Rates at Casa Lucila begin at $150.