As you might imagine, the question of the best places to go while eating in Puerto Vallarta is not a simple one to answer. Puerto Vallarta (PV) has a broad range of food options from street tacos to fine dining at a French-fusion restaurant. Unless you are staying outside of the Centro, Zona Romántica (ZR), and Marina areas, you may find it difficult to find typical Mexican cuisine. Well, beyond tacos and tamales. Thanks to gentrification, food prices are also higher in PV than in other cities I’ve visited in Mexico. Naturally, if you aren’t afraid of street food, your peso will go much further.
Getting food recommendations from some of the Facebook groups for PV was also quite a challenge as expat and visitor styles can be quite different. When you live in a foreign country, you’re often going to want foods that are familiar, comfort foods, and things that remind you of “back home.” As a visitor, my general rules for eating out are: (1) eat local cuisine, and (2) eat things I can’t get back home.
If you haven’t been reading my blog for long, then it may also be helpful for you to know that I generally crave street food, “hole in the wall” places, and can have what some friends call “an adventurous palate.” I won’t be putting up much competition for Andrew Zimmern, but I think Anthony Bourdain (oh how I miss him!) would be proud.
For example, at a restaurant I asked if they had taco de lengua (tongue taco), and he replied he was out but had lips, cheeks, and eyes available. I actually considered lips since that’s new to me, but I really was craving tongue.
Yes, I do also eat “normal” food, so no worries. And really most of my recommendations in this post would likely be food appreciated by non- to less-adventurous eaters as well.
Notes about Eating in Puerto Vallarta
During my visit most restaurants only accepted cash (US dollars or pesos).
If you haven’t been to Mexico before, know that they use the $ symbol for pesos as well. So when you see meals are $150 or more, know you’re seeing prices in pesos not dollars.
While paying in USD may be easier for American visitors, know that they are not giving you the fairest exchange rate. For example, most restaurants were giving a 16:1 exchange, when the current rate was over 18:1. It may not seem like much, but it does add up. I recommend using pesos not only for this reason, but because I feel like part of the whole joy of travel is absorbing as much of the local culture as possible, and paying with the local currency is just part of the experience.
When withdrawing money from the ATM, or when paying with a credit card, make sure to say no if it offers to do a conversion. If you’re given a bill showing a rate for USD when using a credit card, make sure to tell them you want to pay in pesos. Withdraw and pay in pesos if you want the best deal.
In some areas of Mexico, it’s common for patrons to say “Buen provecho” to other customers as they’re leaving. You can just nod and smile or say “Gracias” if this happens. This doesn’t seem to be the custom in PV, though.
Servers will generally not bring you the bill until you request it. So when you’re ready, just catch their attention and make a little checkmark in the air with your finger(s). They’ll know you’re ready for the la cuenta.
For the items below, please note that the name of the restaurant is hyperlinked to their location on Google Maps, not their website.
This is definitely the most common meal in PV and probably most varied. Some places open very early in the morning and close around noon while others will open at 7 PM and remain in service until 3 AM.
Places in the Zona Romántica
Tacos El Moreno This taco cart provided food with tremendous flavor. They have a really good selection of different types of tacos including birria and adobada. She makes your tortillas with your order, so they’re incredibly fresh.
Tacos Sonorita Olas Altas They have many good offerings, but the tacos al pastor I had here were the best I’ve eaten anywhere in Mexico.
Places in 5 de Diciembre
Birrieria Liz Both times I ate here, I was the only foreigner. However, they do speak at least some limited English. You can get your birria as beef or goat, and they offer it in other forms besides tacos as well. You’ll see the menu on their wall. Please note quesadillas here are not the same as what is served in other parts of North America. In this area, a quesadilla is basically a taco with cheese added. If you’re interested in getting the goat (chivo), your best bet is to come early on Thursday or Friday. Once it’s sold out, it won’t be available again until the next Thursday. They’re closed on Wednesdays. While their signage says they open at 8, they don’t really start serving food until 8:30.
Carnitas “La Güera” is a really nice cart for carnitas super close to a beach. These tacos were bigger than what I had at many other places in PV, and I ate a lot of tacos on this trip.
Pepe’s Tacos is a spot that is mixed with locals, tourists, and expats. Food portions were quite large. I also had a frozen mango margarita which was really good.
As you might imagine, being a coastal city you’ll have a wide selection of fish and seafood in PV. I did a seafood lover’s tour, and I’d highly recommend it. I ended up being their only customer that day, so it ended up being a private tour.
Places in the Zona Romántica
Tuna Azúl was a true surprise. We stopped here during the tour. I usually do not eat raw seafood, but we had a raw tuna tostada that quickly had me rethinking my reticence. They also sell their hot sauce, and I wished I hadn’t been doing carry-on during this trip because I would’ve brought a few bottles home. It was so incredibly delicious!
Mariscos El Güero This is a family-owned shop which has been here for many years. The food was quite good.
Marisma Fish Taco They have other things besides fish tacos as well. Food was really good with great service as well. The ladies in the food truck were a fun group.
De Cantaro This is a grill and bar, and they have a lot of offerings. I had their shrimp tacos which were served on a blue corn tortilla, as well as a fish taco. I also had a delicious cocktail which was made from hibiscus, raicilla, and wine. This is a great stop!
El Coleguita was a bit of a surprise. It’s located in the marina area which is packed with tourists (both foreign and Mexican), so I was a bit nervous stopping there, but I was meeting a friend so we didn’t have a lot of nearby options that would work for me (since I’m not getting a hamburger while visiting Mexico). It was pretty busy, and I noticed most of the customers appeared to be Mexican so that helped me feel a bit better about things. The food was excellent! I had a tostada with marlin and a ceviche mixto, and they both were absolutely wonderful. Mariachis occasionally play which can get quite loud, but they usually stop for a bit after each song so it isn’t constant noise.
Barcelona Tapas This is a Spanish restaurant, and it was excellent! Food, service, ambiance, and the view were all just stupendous. The restaurant is on a hill (so get a taxi, Uber, or something if you have mobility/energy challenges), and the dining room is on the fourth floor of their building (they have an elevator). You get a gorgeous view of the bay. I was in PV near the end of whale season, and while I was sitting at my table enjoying a delicious cocktail, a baby humpback breached three times. It’s really hard to beat that experience! They do accept credit cards.
La Bodeguita del Medio This is a Cuban restaurant and bar next to the malecón. If you sit upstairs, you are treated to an excellent view. Services was quite as was the food. The building, music, and food reminded me a lot of when we went to Cuba. Some nights they have live music if that’s your type of thing. They also accept credit cards.
If you want a much more local feel, head to Pitillal. I saw maybe 2 other gringos while exploring. There were many typical Mexican eateries here.