When it comes to travel, at the top of my list is almost always finding a destination with a local foodie scene. In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, food is king in this Pacific Ocean getaway. On many street corners sit taco stands. Restaurants of all sizes line the streets. This is especially true in the city’s old town, and thanks to Vallarta Food Tours, I learned more about the Puerto Vallarta foodie scene.
Vallarta Food Tours does three tours. When I visited Puerto Vallarta, I took the night taco tour, which took us to eight taco finds throughout the old city. We learned that every taco vendor is unique. One shop might specialize in fish tacos while the next only uses pork and the next uses a certain cheese.
Vallarta Food Tours has a motto of “Become a Local in 3 Hours.” That motto speaks to how I like to travel in that over the course of the three-hour tour, participants will have learned more about how locals eat. Without research or a local guiding the way, finding a great local spot for a dining experience ends up being just the luck of the draw. I’m all for researching and finding the best local dining spots in a destination. But when experiencing the Puerto Vallarta foodie scene, I was glad to get to experience it with a guided tour.
Our guide, Ricardo “Lobo” Lopez, took us to spots I would not have considered if just walking the streets. We hit a few taco stands, Puerto Vallarta’s version of the food truck. Lopez gave good advice on how to pick out a good street vendor: look for one with crowds, observe the cleanliness of the surfaces being used, make sure the same person isn’t touching food and money, and just in general observe the appearance of the vendor and operation.
On this Puerto Vallarta taco tour, we started off at Cevicheria El Guero, where we sampled a couple of fish tacos and I had my introduction to the various heats of Mexican spices.
The homemade sauce here was out-of-this-world hot. That and the guacomola sauce balanced well over the fried fish in a Baja style on our second taco.
We learned about the tortillas, which are made in one of three factories in the area.
After a short walk we arrived at our second location, the Tacos Memo stand.
This Mexican taqueria has been open for 28 years.
This carne asada has a crispy shell, but it’s soft enough that it doesn’t snap into pieces.
Our third stop was two blocks away at Tacos Don Juan, a Mexican taqueria where we had what Lopez called the cleanest taco. I wasn’t sure what that really meant, but I “think” he was referring to how it’s steamed.
Oh, and this tacos de cabeza, well, it’s cheek of cow. And it was really good. Maybe that’s why this business has been going strong for 45 years.
These taco stands have been so successful for so long that apparently the city hasn’t issued a permit for a new taco stand in 10 years. That’s nuts, but it speaks to the quality of the taco stands.
After having a few tacos in our bellies, we walked across Isla Cuale, a little island in the middle of Rio Cuale that was formed by a hurricane many years ago. Today, there are lots of little shops scattered on the island.
The food was wonderful on this tour. But what I also enjoyed was being able to walk the city streets and see the beautiful architecture and cobblestones, seen above.
Our next stop, Patio De Mi Casa, wasn’t about the food. Here, we sampled Mezcal, a drink made from the maguey plant. While the hours of this restaurant and bar are listed as 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and it was around 8 when we visited, we seemed to be the only people in the place.
But something tells me this sexy spot gets lively later in the night.
Actually, only two of the eight spots on our tour opened before 6 p.m., so this seems to be a late-arriving crowd in Puerto Vallarta.
The first half of our tour was in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood. After leaving Patio De Mi Casa, we boarded a van for a short ride into the 5 de Diciembre neighborhood and the fifth stop on our tour, Restaurant Lolitas.
Restaurant Lolitas seems like a true gem to me. The food is so affordable and plentiful. I devoured this soup, along with several tortillas. And a special treat was the bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola, or basically the good stuff made with actual sugar and real ingredients.
This restaurant is the oldest diner in Puerto Vallarta, and when we were there, the dining room was full. Of course I’m not sure anyone really wanted to leave because of the sudden downpour that had started outside. But there was also a Mexican football match on the TV, their last warmup before the start of the World Cup.
That downpour, in fact, caused us to decide to skip our next stop, a Mexican taqueria called Rico Taco.
Next we were off to El Carboncito, a Mexican taqueria that Lopez told us might be the most popular in town because it’s open until 3 a.m. There were a few nightspots in the area, and the bar across the street had a band playing that gave us nice background music.
As we sat in the dining room that opened into the night air, we were able to watch our food prepared outside. This is where I learned about taco de al pastor, and how the slivers of pork are sliced directly off the spit onto my tortilla to enjoy. This place is so good.
We ended our tour with a dessert stop at Julio’s Churros, a little churro stand on the corner of Uruguay and Peru streets. Because of the continued rain, we enjoyed these in the van, which wasn’t conducive to good food photos. So just trust me when I say these hot cinnamon-rolled churros were a good ending to a fun food tour.
Our tour had a good bit of walking. The neighborhood streets are old cobblestones and can be tricky. The rain did alter the tour just a bit for us, but it didn’t affect how much fun I had. I believe this tour is family friendly, but it probably does depend on how adventurous your children are with their appetite. I didn’t find the walking to be too much, and we did go at a leisurely pace.
Disclaimer: I was in Puerto Vallarta on a press trip and was a guest of Vallarta Food Tours. As always, all opinions are my own.