Puerto Vallarta, where we are staying for a couple of weeks, is a relatively new city by Mexican standards, with the first settlement dating back to perhaps the 1850s. The first tourists arrived with the initiation of an airline schedule in 1954, but when director John Huston filmed Night of the Iguana in nearby Mismaloya a decade later, it really put PV on the map as the paparazzi followed Dick and Liz (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) and Dick’s co-star Ava Gardner.
PV is a designated balneario, meaning a resort with facilities, rather than just a nice beach, and it has something for everyone. It is very dog friendly, chihuahua’s and other small dogs everywhere (I’m afraid I call them rats on a string), and very few stray dogs. Diane befriends one friendly mooch pooch, who has a collar and lives round the corner from our condo, buying him dog food and feeding him left over fajitas. He’s a cheeky little white dog we see checking out his neighbourhood every morning.
The water in PV is potable, although we hail the water carrier to bring a large container of purified water up to the condo. The reason is that a British company installed a new water and sewer system in 1995. In 2012, PV was awarded a Certificate of Purity for the 17th year in a row, only one of two cities in Mexico to get this award. Even if you drink bottled water, it means you can eat the salads and the ice cubes in your drink are safe.
In the old town, where we are staying, there are hundreds of restaurants and, as promised in my blog on February 24, 2013, I’m going to list my personal Top 10. To make the search more of a challenge, I decided to hunt for a perfect mojito as well as good food, service, atmosphere and location.
Café des Artistes, Guadalupe Sánchez, is the well-established gourmet spot. The food is outstanding and Thierry Blouet, chef and owner, is a charming and talented host. We enjoyed a special dress-up night out in the main restaurant, where the tables are scattered through an exotic outdoor garden, but there is also an intimate tasting restaurant and a fine piano bar for tapas. Not cheap by PV standards, but dinner and wine for two was less than $130, including tip. Reservations recommended.
Joe Jack’s Fish Shack, Basillio Badillio, offers terrific seafood and outstanding 10/10 mojitos decorated with tiny fluorescent mermaids (as well as a lot of other good stuff, including a warm bistro salad made with Brussels sprouts leaves). It’s two for one happy hour from noon to 5 pm and on Fridays they serve all you can eat fish and chips. Chef and co-owner Joe Jack hails from California and front man and co-owner Greg admits to Liverpool. He arrived from the cruise ship biz eight years ago, so he knows something about hospitality. It’s a tiny spot with a roof garden, and voted number one for inexpensive restaurants, so expect a line up in the evening. Confession: this is our favourite spot in PV.
Archie’s Wok, Francisca Rodriguez, was established in 1986 by the former chef to John Huston, one of the first restaurants in PV owned by a foreigner. Still family owned, it serves a perfect combination of Asian cuisines and the portions are generous enough to share. We were seated quickly on two occasions, without reservations, but there is often a line-up after 7 pm.
Langostino’s, Dieguez and Los Muertos Beach (just north of the pier), is Canadian owned and attracts a crowd of expat residents every night for two for one happy hour and the sunset watch. No mojitos, but good drinks nevertheless, with a bar on one side and a seafood restaurant on the other. You can also sit on the beach under palapas and enjoy the music on weekends. Cash only. Great friendly service.
Fajita Republic, Basilio Badillio, is open for lunch and dinner, when the restaurant opens its larger section. What can one say? This is the place to get a great sizzling, flaming fajita. The portions are ample, enough to share, and with 10 varieties on the menu there’s something for every taste. The bartender knows how to make a great mojito with a gentleman’s portion of rum (9/10).
La Palapa, Púlpito and Los Muertos Beach (just south of the pier), offers a gourmet menu (but is not in the same class as Café des Artists, although the prices are similar) with a Mexican flavour. Unimpressive mojitos. It’s been here for 50 years under family management, so perhaps the cook and bartenders were having an off night when we visited. However, it’s a great spot for sunset viewing and tables are set up on the beach for romantic dining after dark. By day they’ll rent you a beach lounger with attentive waiter service. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Café de Olla, Basilio Badillio, is a perfect spot for really good cheap Mexican food. No mojitos, but the food is plentiful enough to share. We drink Pacifico, an excellent local beer. Try for a table near the front, where you can see the cooks working the barbecue, as it can get a bit hot and dark in the back. Cash only and no reservations. Breakfast, lunch and come early for dinner as there will be a line up.
The River Café, Isla Rio Cuale, is a charming Mexican-themed restaurant on the island in the middle of the river. Guests can sit in a palapa over the river and watch the tame iguanas below. We enjoyed salads and an average mojito. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Oscar’s, Isla Rio Cuale is an upscale restaurant on the river, but close to the beach, so the view is lovely with a welcome cool breeze off the ocean. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has an art studio above, which we visit. We tuck into excellent salads and a very good mojito (9/10).
Punto V, Paseo Díaz Ordaz on the Malecón, is really a night club with live music at midnight until late. However, we stop by for drinks and a snack during an afternoon walk and the food is excellent. The mojitos are 9/10. We ordered guacamole, which was prepared fresh at our table and simply super. A pleasant surprise and a chance to sit up high and watch the parade.
PS: Please leave a comment if you found something useful or interesting in this story. Or please add your own favourite places in PV for others to share.