By Ariel O’Donnell
I’ve been living in Puerto Vallarta on and off for about eight years, and when October rolls around pretty much everyone starts to lose their minds. The long hot wet summer is over, but October delivers its own strange and somewhat stagnant weather. Locals are on the precipice of the high season, so budgets are tight, as we wait for refugees from the polar vortex—evidently our friends up North are in for a doozy, if the predictions are correct!
This year I decided that I had to take some action, rather than moan and complain endlessly. After all, I do live in Puerto Vallarta! Thousands of people visit your town, and only dream of spending their life down here. I definitely needed to rekindle some of the magic that I felt the first time I arrived.
“Maybe I need to take a tour and get a new perspective?” I thought to myself. I’d repeatedly walked past the guides at the rendezvous point for the Vallarta Eats food tour on the Insurgentes bridge for the last several months, so I contacted them to see if I could tag along. They said YES!
Shedding my hubris, I grabbed their complimentary tote bag, and offered myself up to wherever and whatever was on their itinerary. I’m happy to report that this was perhaps my BEST decision in a long time.
Not only did I eat some terrific street food, but, I regained an appreciation for the beauty and charm of Old Town Vallarta!
The tour commenced at 10am (they offer several different tours throughout the day). I arrived in comfy shoes (a must!) slathered with sunscreen (I’m of Irish descent) and hungry (as suggested by the tour owner Eric).
We embarked on our journey, led by thoughtful and charming Estrella; a trained architect, originally from Acapulco. Our group of six was comprised of: Me, a Scotsman (I know, I was impressed too!) and two couples, one from Vancouver, and the other from San Jose.
Our first stop was a birria taco stand. Estrella gave a thorough overview of taco etiquette (most of which was new to me) as we tucked into this breakfast treat.
The beef birria was tasty and subtle. We also sampled the birria consommé, with a sprinkle of crunchy cabbage, and had our first agua fresca of the day made of fresh fragrant guava.
Onto the next spot—which was actually more of a driveway than a street stand—where we enjoyed fried birria tacos (tacos dorados) and a very memorable taco made of heart, lungs, and liver (chanfayna).
Our Scotsman referred to it as the ”Haggis” taco. Both were impeccably fresh and flavorful.
Then onward and upward, to a hearty portion of rich and delicious “mixed” carnitas, (a combination of meat and the heavenly decadent deep fried pork skin) at a bustling and popular spot.
Four tacos in, and feeling a little full, Estrella led us on well-timed tour of the empire that is La Colin.
We heard some interesting background of this enterprising and generous family, who run a grocery, butcher, bakery and carnitas “factory” in an immaculate and very busy location.
More twists and turns, past several tortilla factories— according to Estrella, the squeaking sound of the tortilla machine is a beacon that leads locals to their hot fresh daily staple.
Up and over the hill to merge with the finest fish taco that I’ve ever had! FRESH mahi mahi served in a CRUNCHY coating and with a wild a delicious soy-based sauce that is truly the essence of the new trendy term “umami”.
Then we tooled past the tunnel to the Emilio Zapata Mercado for a lesson in correctly rolling a salt taco. Estrella also answered our questions about some of the more mysterious produce, and explained the difference between the various green skinned citrus fruits, including the chi chi (boobie) lime (see photo).
When I couldn’t imagine that there would be anymore, we were treated to a fresh ceviche tostada with the most fantastic salsa of braised red onions.
A little sweet, a little spicy and a little vinegary. I have to say that the condiments at each location were unique and exciting, and when property applied to a taco, turned the humble meat or fish in a tortilla into a taste and textural feast.
Our final taco was a pepper stuffed with a variety of seafood. Perfectly cooked and quite spicy. I could only finish half as I myself was quite STUFFED.
Fortunately it was dessert time, and that allowed us an opportunity to retreat into a cool paleteria (popsicle stand). Estrella surprised us with refreshing frozen washcloths that she’d kept hidden in her bag.
We wrapped up the tour in a traditional dulceria (candy shop) to enjoy a multitude free samples, and were afforded the opportunity to buy some treats for our friends back home.
Estrella handed out maps and helped everyone orient themselves to the layout of old town. And we bid her adieu.
To find out more, visit the Vallarta Eats Food Tours website at: vallartaeats.com.
In my next installment, I’ll follow our friends at Vallarta Food tours. Stay tuned.