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Puerto Vallarta restaurant report

We have just returned from a wonderful visit to Puerto Vallarta and would love to share our favorites. We have been enjoying this wonderful city for years and love the variety of offerings from taco stands to haute cuisine--certainly something for everyone! We attempt to enjoy mostly regional specialties but don't limit ourselves to those.

We discovered El Arrayan 3(maybe 4?)years ago--what a find for us! Carmen Porras, the charming owner features family recipes that keep us returning at least twice each visit. We love the plantain empanadas with black bean and cheese filling. The salsa negra(chipotle/garlic black salsa)is a perfect match with these and the salsa verde(tomatillos/cilantro)good for a cooling effect. In the past we loved the duck carnitas(duck confit with arrayan-orange sauce)and think it as good as any confit we tasted in France! This visit I loved a new item on the menu--shrimp with chipotle sauce flamed with raicilla on yams. The sweetness of the yams was the perfect foil for the spicy shrimp. The fish filet with axiote sauce was perfectly cooked and the sauce divine. We also loved one of the specials--lamb rib chops with mole also on yams. My favorite was chilies en nogado which I thought could never be better than those I eat at Red Cabbage every year--heavenly and stunning on the plate! We love the atmosphere, decoration and service. The center courtyard is open with the tables surrounding under a tile roof and there is not a bad table in the house.

Trio was new to us this year and another winner. The menu is Mediterranean/Mexican and each dish sounded fabulous. We loved the chili roasted red snapper with cilantro lime sauce--such bright flavors on wonderful fish. Shrimp sauted with garlic, brandy, tomato and chili oil were wonderful. Nice wine list and good wine by the glass. Gorgeous decor and wonderful service.

Barcelonas Tapas is certainly an enigma--a "view" restaurant with wonderful food. Be prepared to climb 70+ steps but the effort is rewarded with a wonderful view of the town and bay. You choose any number of hot and cold tapas and they keep them coming!

Rio Grande is our favorite for BBQ fish and shrimp. It is located on Av. Mexico right across from the Ley grocery store in the south hotel zone. The grill was open to the street at one time and that is what attracted us--the smells of grilling fish was not to be ignored! Good prices and warm service.

Casa Naranjo(Naranjo @ Cardenas)was a first for us this trip. We loved the cool spare but not sparse decor and the open kitchen. Local flavors with a Continental leaning--great appetizers and fish. Sort of off the beaten path, but if one can find Red Cabbage....well, you know!

Vitea makes the best mojitos along the malecon--well, at least best out of the 5 places I tried!! Funkily artsy fun decor and I love that some main dishes can be ordered as half orders. My favorite is the spice glazed red snapper with jicama carrot salad. Great dessert of caramelized pineapple with coconut ice cream.

Picnic makes great hamburgers and BBQ chicken. Nicely done place overlooking Olas Altas and Hank and Conrad of Chilies(NOT US chain)are there helping local owner get it going or keep it going. We loved the grilled burgers. They also serve chicken sanwiches and chicken salad.

So many restaurants, so little time! Some great, some not so great but what a delightful quest to enjoy all this beautiful city has to offer. Hasta el ano proximo!

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  1. I'm headed here in a few weeks, so thanks so much for this report!

    1. Wish I'd had this report before I went, rather than after! Just got back as well, we may have been there during the same time. You've hit some great-sounding places we didn't try. However, we can heartily second the recommendation of El Arrayan...we ate there on our first night and then went back on our last, it was our favorite. Had those duck carnitas and the lamb mole (which at first sounded like an odd combo but it was fabulous.) Also purchased some of the salsa negra to take home! Our last night there was a Saturday and they had live music which was really quite wonderful...a trio playing what we later found out was traditional music from Veracruz. Not at all your typical mariachi-type. My only regret was that I didn't buy their CD.

      As for other restarants, we also enjoyed Barcelona Tapas, and had a good, but not great meal at Mestizo--also a lovely garden setting but the food was just so-so, a bit odd. We had high hopes for Xiomates which started out promising but in the end we found the food really uninspired and also with some odd combinations on the plate that didn't work.

      Ate at La Palapa for my birthday and it was wonderful, table on the beach, feet in the sand and lobster on the plate. The food was really quite good and I wasn't expecting much, went more for the beach setting and a craving for lobster but it was better than hoped for. A bit crazy and crowded but if you get a beach table you are a bit away from the hubub.

      An interesting note, La Palapa and Barcelona Tapas are on OpenTable.com and we made reservations from the Internet cafe at the marina...that worked great! Even got my 100 points!

      I think some of our best meals were the breakfasts at Mr. Cream's at the Marina. Fantastic chilaquiles and some other mexican breakfast specialties. One thing I can't recall the name of but it was basically melted cheese on sweet rolls served with beans...yum.

      Also a great lunch in the second floor of the market, we ate at the first place as you come up the steps---I think it was called Meme's. Hubby said his chicken mole was the best of the trip and I had enchiladas which were delish.

      4 Replies
      1. re: jinx

        Hey Jinx,

        Despite its cultural domination during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema / PRI Mexicanization.... Mariachi music has both been bastardized since the 1940's and overemphasized (as it originally was just THE music of a triangle of small towns near Guadalajara... and not a national genre in any way).... and it has opaqued music that is a much more accurate representation of Mexican music... in your case Son Jarocho (which was a huge influence in Cuban Son.... and thus modern Cuban & Latin Jazz music). Here are some recommendations:

        A very traditional band from Port of Veracruz: http://www.amazon.com/Music-Veracruz-...

        A more contemporary band from Xalapa, Veracruz: http://www.amazon.com/Las-Orquestas-D...

        You may also enjoy the guitar duos of Guerrero & Oaxaca's coastline:

        http://www.amazon.com/Chilenas-Bolero...

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          thank you Nopal for the great links! I will check them out. This was trio and the music (to my non-trained ears) reminded me more of music we heard in Spain (almost flamenco-like) and was like nothing I've ever heard in Mexico before.

          1. re: jinx

            The traditional music is different in each region.... just as is the food. Give those a listen if none of them sound like what you are looking for I have more ideas.... it could have been a mainstream Bolero Trio... or a Yucatecan Trova Trio (might be easy to confuse Veracruz with Yucatan no?)

        2. re: jinx

          I had my second meal ever at Meme's this trip - was just as good as it was two years ago. Really great home-style comida.

        3. We had the same experience at Xitomates 2 years ago and have not been back since then. I can't remember what we ordered--I DO remember that it wasn't bad but something just didn't work for us. I think the restaurant was sort of loudly echo-y or something off-putting like that also.

          I wish we had gone to the market--we just didn't get to it and there is no excuse because we stayed close to it!! Rick Bayless featured a place to eat there--maybe on the 3rd floor? I am glad to know the food is good.

          I forgot to mention Azul 96 in my first post. Carmen Porras at el Arrayan recommended it and we loved it. The interior itself is worth a visit--stunning, zen-like and surreal! Gorgeous soothing space. We did not go upstairs to the bar and now I wish we had. Sushi and Japanese cuisine complete the experience.

          1. thanks for the great post -I love Puerto Vallarta and will check these places out on my next trip--yum

            3 Replies
            1. re: marlie202

              My fav in PV is My Reuda (The Wheel) up on the hill next to the church at the end of the malecon (behind the mcdonalds)
              It's on a hill and the rest is a covered patio that overlooks the whole city shore front, the ocean and the rocks. The food is wonderful, the service is amazing.. and there fruity blender drinks are to die for!

              1. re: CookieGal

                I have read several comments about Mi Rueda and thought I had read somewhere it was closed. I found it but it never seemed open. Maybe evenings only?

                1. re: hot tamale

                  it's weird.. i thought the same thing. It is only open for dinner (4pm-11).. and when you walk in at ground level, it looks like you have stepped into a closed down place... but you go up the stairs and there you find the dinning room and the panaramic view. the food and the service!

                  FYI My Rueda is on the corner of Venezuala & Columbia

                  I lived in PV for about 6 months... and My Rueda is the only place I ate at over and over again. That said... there is a great breakfast served at Passada de Roger on Basilio Badillo and when I was there last (years ago) there was a little late night pie shop and cafe also on Basilio Badillo that had divine pie and a really good cup of coffee...( not americano)

            2. My PV stand-out is Los Arbolitos, a family run place with unparralled service. You sit upstairs, outside of town overlooking the Rio Cuale. It is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the adventure. I have been going there since I was 16, and the place is just as amazing now as it was 13 years ago.

              I also second La Palapa, put your feet in the sand and snack on shrimp pulled out of the water right by you. Last time I went I had 3 shrimp cocktails, just simple and fresh, with lime and salsa.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Mr. S

                Los Arbolitos has been on our "list" for several years. This year a cab driver gave us a coupon for a discount there--that removed it from our list instantly. There are too locally owned places with great food and I always think the cab driver "recommendation" is a quick ticket to a tourist trap. In fact, many guide books warn against taking dining advice from cab drivers who are paid to lure tourists in.

                1. re: hot tamale

                  That makes me wonder..... I mean, they are still family owned and run, I was there last year, as good as ever! Perhaps they are having a problem competing with the new timesharse and luxe resorts. Quality has not changed in 13 years!

                  1. re: Mr. S

                    I live in P.V. and was by there on Sunday, and spoke with a waiter who was outside. It is still family owned. THe prices are very high, many entrees over $200 pesos. It being very traditional Mexican, not fine dining, this is a little much. No gringos living here go there, havent for years. They are not doing well and have begun a special menu, for first floor only, special prices on about 12 items. Don't think it will work, as they are not adversizing it, and the food has become really mediocre.

                    1. re: robt5265

                      I had read that(food being mediocre)on another board, but did not want to quote that since it was not my experience. It might have been the board composed of many ex-pats--just can't remember.

                      1. re: hot tamale

                        Los Arbolitos has closed. The owner had a tragic fall hanging Christmas lights and the family tried to keep it going but has put the space up for rent. Such a lovely setting.

                2. re: Mr. S

                  We have been to PV a few times, the last time being June, 2006, for my daughter's wedding. Her father-in-law is Mexican, so we do a lot of cabbie conversation & tend to eat in out-of-the-way places. Los Arbolitos was a place we Gringos found, and is now a favorite. The food is very good, and the view of the canal is splendid.

                  Speaking of views, you cannot top Carmelitas. The last time we went, we were there during a thunder storm. Unbelieveable!!

                  Please don't laugh, but another favorite is Pollo Pepe -- a kind on Mexican version of KFC. We went with about 14 people, ordered a ton of Pollo that's broasted/charcoaled, and ate chicken and tortillas with various salsa for hours. Very messy, very simple, but boy did it hit the spot.

                  The best fish I ever had was a snapper cooked over coals in a sand pit at Mismaloya. It was in one of those "shack" restaurants, down the beach away from the stream, and sits up on a concrete kind of "patio".

                  There was one seafood place that we also frequented. Can't remember the name off the top of my head, but I'll dig through my files to find it. Nothing fancy, but great food. The 3 guys who come by to sing were so good that we ended up hiring them to play at the wedding's cocktail hour.

                  The first time we went to PV, my daughter's future Father-in-law took us to a place on the outskirts of town. A complete dinner, including a bottle of tequila for the table and plastic shot glasses, was less than $10 american. The tables were plastic, the chairs were plastic, and twe sat under a huge tent. Much fun!

                  1. re: PattiCakes

                    Patti, glad to hear I am not the only one with fond memories of Los Arbolitos..
                    And I must say that the shacks on the sand in Mismaloya are some of the most wonderful places to eat, once you conquer the fear that is!

                    1. re: PattiCakes

                      sounds like maricios to me
                      on the road to the airport a lot of people waiting?

                      1. re: PattiCakes

                        At Mismaloya the place at the end of the beach (El Mirador?) used to great. It was up on a patio above some arches. Last few years it was out and a massage place moved in. Arturo's on the beach is very good. Don't let the guys on the beach steer you. Also some good grilled snapper fish places at Boca Beach; take the Mismaloya bus to the end- 5.5pesos.

                        We ate at El Arrayan tonight and agree it is excellent. Also Archie's Wok on Francisco Rodreguiz is great Asian-Thai.

                        Christmas night we tried to go to La Palapa w/o a res. They got snobby and tried to sit us in Siberia even though they were 1/3 empty at 8:00 PM. Got ripped there N Y Eve three years ago. NY prices, LA attitude, amateur service. Still a lovely place and good for lunch and watching the beach scene.

                        We went to El Dorado next door. Same beach, friendly service, reasonable prices for a 100% beach location. Great drinks, fair food and great Brasilian singer. Dancing and nice unpretentious crowd.

                        1. re: Barrels41

                          February 2011. We just arrived in PV. In December we had a terrific New Year 2011 at No Way Jose and we will go back. That was a pleasant contrast to the rude service and bad food we had at El Arrayan New Years 2010. Don't miss Archie's Wok the terrific standby for Asian (no sushi) Thai or Phillipino food.

                          Has anyone tried Blanca Blue?

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                          El Arrayan
                          Allende #344, Puerto Vallarta, JAL 48304, MX