Monday, January 2, 2012

Eating Mexican in Puerto Vallarta

This trip I wanted to make more of an effort to get to all the Mexican restaurants that people liked and talked about.  So I made a list and tried to get to them all.  El Arrayan  I missed because I went on a Tuesday and they are closed on Tuesday.  Red Cabbage I went to twice, once by myself and once with Neil and a friend.  I wasn't sure how Neil would deal with the menu but I felt it was a place he should see. At the end of town on the river this arty little restaurant has been serving up traditional Mexican food for 30 years.  The room is covered with pictures of Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivero, the tables painted with poetry.  At the end of my first meal the owner came over and chatted.  The highlight for me was the Squash Blossom Quesadilla and piquante sauce.  Red Cabbage has a daily special which I had both times, both times a slow cooked pork both times very tasty.  This is a serious restaurant that needs more then two visits to really get a sense of, I really appreciate that they have a dish on the menu that Frieda and Diego had at their wedding, they also have the classic Mexican feast dish Chiles en Nogata as a regular item on the menu.  For those not hankering Mexican a few international items are offerred along with a long list of Vegetarian option.  Neil had the vegetarian Mexican plate and found it bland and not to his liking, but Neil is very specific in his taste and hot sauce is available which would liven up anything, so I would recommend this place to veggie and fish eaters.

My favorite dish which I hope to be able to recreate here at home is Quesidilla de flor de Calabaza (squash blossom).  The leaves on either side of the tomato rose were a kind of oregano.
Yummy muy piquante sauce for the quesidilla.
My special del dia stewed pork.

Mama Rosa is over in the Centro district which is also called 5 de diciembre.  Just up the street from  the arguably most famous restaurant in Puerto Vallarta (Cafe des Artistes ).  Mama Rosa is a very traditional Mexican restaurant, a lovely room with great service. 

The tasty complimentary amuse buche.

I had the classic mexican dish Chilies en Nogata as part of the very reasonable 199 peso prix fix menu offered (about $15).  To begin was a Jicama salad.  
For desert was a passion fruit cheese cake thing.
For me, when I eat Mexican food or Thai food in Thailand or German food in Berlin is search out authentic flavors and presentations.  This food was a bit on the fancy side for me and not so tasty, like so many restaurants in Puerto Vallarta I feel like the food has been watered down or gussied up to appeal to Gringo tastes.  The sauce on the Nogata was a little too sweet for me, the carrots (and I found this in several restaurant in PV) tasted of plastic packaging.  The dessert was rubbery and bland (and can I just tell you again how much I HATE maraschino cherries?.  This is a highly regarded restaurant that is very charming and many people like, I only went once and if I had more time I would like to have gone again to get a better over view of the cooking.  They are closed on Monday and also offer breakfast.

The other place of "note" that I went based on many recommendations was No Way Jose.  The restaurant ins on two levels.  When I got there the downstairs street level space was empty save maybe one table, I asked if I could sit upstairs.  The host was apprehensive and said I may have to wait 15 minutes as it was full, I said sure I'd wait.  As a single person I didn't want to sit in an empty restaurant.
When it was clear that I was insistent on sitting upstairs the host said to follow him and we could see what the situation was upstairs.  Against one wall is a small stage with a Mariachi band playing, the waiters are performing theater all over the room with flaming three tired drinks concoctions and the feel is very lively, most of the tables are large parties, but indeed a third of the seats are empty.  The room has a hight clay tile roof and is very much a traditional rustic style Mexican restaurant.

The service was solicitous and prompt.  The food thatI had mediocre.  After the band finished it's set they wandered the room to go table to table to see if anyone wanted a private serenade (this is typical everywhere, but I hate it. I actually saw a guy who was having dinner with his girlfriend/wife and paid the band not to play and go away).  All in all I felt this place was a typical tourist place selling an idea of Mexican food and culture, but with little authenticity.

In the end the two places that I ate at this year that really stood out were Red Cabbage and Fredy's Ocho Tostadas - Fredy's food was vibrant fresh and so delicious - the room bright simple down to earth.  Red Cabbage has a sense of history both as a place and in terms of the menu.  Very different kinds of restaurants yet they both share the same goal of serving high quality authentic Mexican food.


Pedro O. Elizondo said...

Next time in Puerto Vallarta, go north to "La Peñita" (near Guayavitos) and try Xaltemba restaurant. I'm sure you'll enjoy their cuisine.

Urban Food Guy said...

Thanks for the tips will for sure check them out when I'm next in town!

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