Puerto Vallarta has one of the most vibrant gastronomic scenes of any Mexican resort town, where talented young chefs are combining traditional recipes with international influences. Fortunately, eating out doesn’t have to be an expensive affair -- delicious budget and mid-range options abound, in addition to more luxurious hotspots where you can splurge.
When You're On a Budget
A trip to Mexico wouldn’t be complete without a taco -- and those keen to try a local variation should opt for a volcan ($1.40 USD) at Tacos Memo in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood. This signature dish is served open-faced on a crunchy tortilla and piled with beef, cheese, cilantro, and a choice of hot sauces -- making it reminiscent of an erupting volcano. In operation for over 30 years, Tacos Memo also has the distinction of holding one of the last remaining food stand licenses in Puerto Vallarta.
For a newer player in Puerto Vallarta’s dining scene, check out the Hotel Zone’s Food Park PV Gastro Bar. Food trucks and converted shipping containers house vendors who serve up affordable bites ranging from gourmet pizzas to New York steak tacos. Communal picnic table seating and live music make the Food Park a fun and casual option for sampling street eats from around the world. Entrees range from $3-$9 USD, depending on vendor.
If you’re craving a sweet treat, Julio’s Churros is not to be missed. Hours vary, but the family-run business is typically in operation from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the corner of Calle Peru and Uruguay. The churros ($1.10 USD) are cooked fresh in a vat of hot oil right before your eyes, and unlike their Spanish counterparts, they're served simply with a coating of sugar, rather than chocolate sauce or other sweet dips. A single portion consists of a paper bag filled with churros, making this guilty pleasure a true steal.
A Good Meal at a Good Price
Oceanfront dining is a must while in Puerto Vallarta, and there are few better places to do so than La Palapa, set on Los Muertos Beach. The restaurant specializes in tropical Mexican cuisine, merging local dishes with Asian and European influences to serve up plates like carnitas bao buns and black bean lamb ossobuco. Prices are reasonable given the views of the Banderas Bay straight ahead -- and we recommend planning your reservation around sunset. Entrees range from $8-$30 USD.
Gaby’s Restaurant, perched above the city’s malecón (boardwalk), is the place to go for Mexican classics done well. The eatery’s mastermind is Julio Castilón, a 28-year-old lawyer-turned-chef who put in time at La Palapa. At Gaby’s, he dishes up staples like fresh guacamole and ceviche, and also more unique specialties like chile en nogada (a poblano pepper stuffed with ground meat and topped with an almond sauce). In addition to running excellent cooking classes, the restaurant also offers promotions like two-for-one drinks during certain hours and a free (massive!) margarita with purchase of an entrée. Entrees range from $6-$18 USD.
For al fresco resort dining, La Ceiba restaurant at the recently renovated Villa Premiere is a fantastic option. Tuck into a marlin and shrimp burrito, super-fresh octopus tacos, all while admiring stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The restaurant also offers weekly cooking and cocktail-making classes with the executive chef. Entrees range from $9-$12.50 USD.
For Smart Splurges and Special Occasions
Café des Artistes, one of Puerto Vallarta’s most iconic restaurants, has offered diners a sophisticated gastronomic experience in a romantic setting for more than 25 years. Award-winning chef and owner Thierry Blouet presides over the kitchen, where he infuses his French culinary training into a contemporary global menu. Highlights include lobster chilaquiles and shrimp with plum mole. Entrees range from $14-$36 USD.
A Puerto Vallarta native, chef Joel Ornelas earned his chops working in top restaurants in Mexico and Europe. At Tintoque, he reinvents traditional coastal dishes for a more contemporary dining experience. The menu changes daily, making the most of local seasonal ingredients. On our visit, we loved the vibrant and flavorful octopus aguachile (seafood submerged in a chili, lime, and cilantro-based sauce) and the wagyu steak blanketed in mole. From the exceptional cuisine to the sleek, modern interior, a great deal of attention has been paid to detail at Tintoque, which has made it a reliable spot for celebrity sightings. Entrees range from $11-$33 USD.