When I need to escape the winter doldrums in Seattle, my favorite place to escape is sunny Puerto Vallarta. It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to accompany friends to this beach-lined Mexican getaway.
In the past several years of traveling south of the border, I’ve become a fan of the cuisine in the heart of the city’s Zona Romántica. A true escape from daily life, the area is overflowing with tourist hotspots, street-side vendors and bars and restaurants that keep the party going into the late-night hours.
During my most recent trip, I made the most of taking a break from healthy eating to excite my palate. These are my favorite must-visit dining destinations – and places I might have visited more than once during my week-long vacation.
Maybe it’s the branded t-shirts that advertise “MAKE TACOS NOT WALLS,” or perhaps it’s the fresh topping bar. No matter why you go, make sure to plan a lunch stop at Tacos Revolucion. The street-style tacos are portioned perfectly, and you can mix and match whatever flavors you desire. I recommend the shrimp or fish tacos. Bonus: Don’t forget to start your meal with a simple Bean and Cheese Nacho plate.
There are food stands on most every corner offering everything from breakfast bites to late-night quesadillas. While I’ve enjoyed my fair share of street eats, nothing has been more memorable than the churros from directly in front of the Iglesias de la Santa Cruz Catholic Church. The stand is not consistently open and generally doesn’t open until late afternoon. When the proprietor starts operating, you need to rush there … because when the batter runs out, the stand closes. The best part of this whole experience? A bag of three churros, fried fresh right before your eyes, will set you back a mere 5 pesos. Five. As in cinco. The churros are so incredibly delicious I haven’t stopped talking about them since I returned home.
My most-ordered lunch through the many years of visits has to be the Seared Tuna Sandwich from Mantamar Beach Club Bar & Grill. This beachside restaurant is an LGBTQ-friendly destination, complete with poolside cabana service. The open-faced sandwich is served on thinly sliced, perfectly toasted bread topped with plenty of fresh tomato and avocado. The tuna is cooked to perfection and easily washes down with a any beverage of your choosing.
Open-air dining is not hard to find throughout Puerto Vallarta. Perhaps no spot is as festive and welcoming as Margarita Grill, where they serve the self-proclaimed “Best Margaritas in Town.” They are delicious – try the Strawberry Basil Margarita – and come in a variety of sizes, served in metal cups emblazoned with the Margarita Grill brand. It feels a little bit like an American chain restaurant, but with tableside guacamole that delivers on the flavor. Don’t skip the char-grilled tomatoes, cheese or any other accompaniment they offer to toss in right by your side.
The views from here are stunning, as they are in many places around the city. Barcelona Tapas is an ideal location for an occasion dinner, and they offer specials throughout the day (check out the sunset seating). Our group overloaded on tapas, though I insisted from the start I was getting the Shrimp and Scallop Paella. Before it arrived at the table, I had already filled up on the signature potato salad, Spanish Tortilla, Shrimp and Crab Croquettes … plus my share of refreshing sangria.
La Palapa is a years-old favorite destination right on the beach with your choice of open-air indoor seating or tables right in the sand. It has been around since 1959, but the cuisine and cocktail menu certainly have been updated. Modern margarita flavor combinations pair well with breakfast, lunch or dinner. My favorite, however, is closing out a trip to Puerto Vallarta with a brunch stop and a margarita (or two) for one last meal in the sand.
I highly recommend the Soft Crab Eggs Benedict, which feature a perfectly toasted bread base, a large pile of lump crab and a poached egg with the brightest orange yolk. Almost as thrilling is the side of hashbrowns or the trio of salsas that come to the table. Note: Don’t skip the pastry basket as a sweet appetizer. If they offer cheese-filled anything, ask for dos!
Bonus: Yarita Bakery
A popular Mexican bakery, Yarita is located at Basillio Badillo 244 and offers everything from muffins and breads to flaky pastries and pies featuring traditional sweet and savory flavors. I like to stop here just to browse the selection, but every time I walk away with a few new things to try. Reasonably priced, it’s easy to justify a vacation-sized order. Start your day here and pair it with a cup of coffee, or visit after lunch for a sweet dessert to fuel an afternoon of window shopping.