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Postcard from a food critic from Puerto Vallarta, where smoked grilled fish reigns supreme


A few weeks ago, a hurricane that swept up the west coast of Mexico caused flooding and fatal destruction in its wake. I have family who live in Jalisco, so I recently went there to help them deal with the after-effects. Before coming to the Bay Area, I lived in Puerto Vallarta for a few years. Despite the circumstances and my dramatically deteriorated Spanish language skills, it was so exciting to be back – to see how much the city (and I) have changed in just a few short years.

Although I haven’t realized it until now, there is a lot that I missed about the food culture of Jalisco and its neighbor to the north, Nayarit. The proximity of the states to the Pacific makes them, naturally, centers of excellent seafood dishes. Further inland, in the cosmopolitan capital of Jalisco, Guadalajara, the birria and tortas ahogadas simmered in the sea. chili sauce reign supreme. On the coast, shrimp are served raw in aguachile, and shredded smoked marlin is a common ingredient in quesadillas, tacos, and tostadas.

While the trip wasn’t entirely sunny and rainbow, the food really was. During my time away from Mexico, my heart had longed for the eponymous dish at La Burrita Marinera (Las Americas s / n, Lázaro Cárdenas, Puerto Vallarta), a popular burrito spot near a local soccer field. The burritos here are filled with yellow cheese and your choice of seafood: I generally prefer the mixta, the best of all worlds. For around $ 4, you can have a burrito stuffed with smoked marlin, succulent pieces of octopus and shrimp, accompanied by a mild mayonnaise-based salsa.

The nostalgia brought me to another favorite: Mariscos Ocho Tostadas (Quilla s / n Local 28-29, Marina Vallarta, 48335 Puerto Vallarta), which is part of a mini chain of seafood restaurants in the area. . It was there that I developed an appreciation for raw shrimp, a rarity in the United States. In the aguachile here, the shrimp are topped with lime juice, green pepper salsa, onions, and cucumber. A Peruvian-Japanese style tiradito ($ 5.50) is similar and includes the addition of togarashi spices and a sizzling sauce flavored with savory Maggi seasoning. The shrimp don’t really “cook” in the sauce, so they stay creamy and tender the more you eat them.

A burrito filled with smoked marlin, octopus and shrimp from La Burrita Marinera in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Soleil Ho / The Chronicle

Outside the city, in the town of San Vicente in Nayarit, is the Don Fernando restaurant (Lazaro Cardenas 95, Centro, 63735 San Vicente), where I had one of the most phenomenal meals of the year . The family-friendly open-air restaurant accepts reservations specifically for its pescado zarandeado ($ 17.59 / person), a traditional dish where a whole snapper is cut open and marinated with a reddish paste of dried peppers, cumin, and other spices. After a long smoke, the fish is finished on a wood-fired grill. The restaurant’s private fishing boat coordinates its morning catch with today’s reservations, so your dinner is subject to the vagaries of the ocean.

The flesh of the fish was completely infused with smoke, its intense charred ends with concentrated seasoning. We wrapped fish flakes in fresh corn tortillas with strips of pickled red onions and lime juice, alternating bites with sips of Pacifico beer. Halfway through the meal, the kitchen pulls out tacos filled with refried beans mixed with grilled fish juices. Dinner here was both too much and not enough.

Zarandeado-style smoked fish from Don Fernando restaurant in San Vicente, Mexico.

Zarandeado-style smoked fish from Don Fernando restaurant in San Vicente, Mexico.

Soleil Ho / The Chronicle

And while not strictly Mexican, the snack pies ($ 5) from Leek and Thistle Pie Company (Hamburgo 156, Versalles, 48310 Puerto Vallarta), baked by Scottish-born Mark Hughes, are an exceptional treat. . Since 2006 Hughes has been making traditional savory and sweet British pies and selling them in markets across the region. Due to my strong penchant for savory flavors, I found the Portobello Mushroom Pie to be remarkable. Its topping had just the right amount of moisture, with a strong, forest-tinged flavor throughout.

A mandatory note in the event of a pandemic: During a dinner in the area, I was relieved to know that the majority of residents were able to get vaccinated and that COVID restrictions are in place statewide. Masks are mandatory for everyone in restaurants and public spaces, and many establishments take your temperature as you enter. Travel responsibly!

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