Earmuffs, Koh Tao.
I really, really liked Puerto Vallarta. The quaint Emiliano Zapata neighborhood swept me off my feet. The fried-to-perfection fish tacos at both Marisma and Mariscos Cisneros lifted me up to another planet while the still salty ceviche brought me deep into the blue. From meeting travelers while listening to Jazz at El Patio de Mi Casa, to chasing a photo of La Iglesia de Guadalupe at sunset, I started to feel myself easily melting into the cobblestone. Good thing I had a family event pulling me home or I might not have left.
Even though Puerto Vallarta is filled with tourists and expats, it still holds onto much of its original authenticity. But, after a week in the buzzing beach town, I was ready to get a bit more off the beaten path. I hadn’t really ever spent time outside of tourist centers and wanted a glimpse into real Mexican life.
I didn’t really think of exploring outside of Puerto Vallarta since I had so little time in the city itself, so when a scheduling conflict with my Vallarta Food Tours downtown tour opened up the possibility of tasting my way through the suburb of El Pitilall, I jumped at the opportunity. I had already gotten my feet wet with Vallarta Eats and was excited to see a different side of Jalisco.
Getting to El Pitilall was surprisingly easy. While I could have hopped on the bus, I chose the lazy man’s method of transportation and splurged for a taxi. It cost 70 pesos (about $5 US).
When I hopped out of the cab I did a quick 360 and realized this was definitely not tourist-ville. There was no one trying to sell me tequila, multi-colored blankets or tchotchkis. The streets were a bit dirtier, the architecture less refined and there was not a sarong-clad American in sight. Just what the doctor ordered.
Alex, our guide, took us first to Tacos Neto. A sit down establishment with seconds old hand-pressed tortillas. The carnitas taco would be our first bite of the day – accompanied by a lesson on salsas, of which Alex elaborated on the contents and spice level of each.
As a taco expert myself now, I confidently declared that these pass the test. Simple, succulent, and bursting with flavor. Packed with locals, it was clear this was a family favorite. Almost losing the group in my attempt to photograph the outside, I sprinted after them and found them wandering into a shop full of Mexican natural products. This is the place where you can buy any type of herb to cure your ailments, including both tomato and chile shampoo. Next up was the spice shop – the holy grail of Mexican cooking.
Dessert right after breakfast? You betcha. There’s no solidified dessert hour for Mexicans, as Alex informed us, so churros before our next meal made total sense. But before we could gorge on more savory goodness, we made a quick stop at the local tortilleria. I was finally becoming familiar with the squeaky sound that emanates throughout Mexican neighborhoods – the tortilla press.
Pichis seafood ceviche tostada overflowed with octopus, shrimp, scallops, tomatoes, cucumber and onion. Topped with the fruit that holds my heart, aguacate, I not so gingerly devoured the entire thing. Slowly starting to take the cake as the heartiest eater in the group, I left no morsal behind.
On our way to our next stop, Alex looked at us and pulled us into a leather shop. My initial thought was that we were going to be pressured into purchasing expensive handmade belts. As we walked up the concrete steps into a world of leather scraps and exquisite detail makers, Alex shared an entirely different world to us. El Pitilall was famous way before Puerto Vallarta for creating intricately designed and durable sadles. Horsemen from around the world would travel to El Pitilall to place orders. This place was clearly a source of pride for the community of El Pitilall and I was so glad to had gotten a peek into it.
After our blast into the past, we headed to our first and only stand alone taco stand for carne asado. While I haven’t met a taco I didn’t like, I did enjoy the carnitas from earlier a bit more. That was until I met our next victim, the goat and beef stew birria tacos from Robles. I’ve come to learn that I bown down to juicy, flavorful pulled meat. If it wouldn’t give me a heart attack, I’d eat it for every meal, every day. This birria was by far the highlight of the tour for me. I fell in love with the painted clay bowls, the authentic wooden chairs and the cowboy hat donning musicians that played for our small crowd.
Next up was a lesson in Mexican produce followed by fresh fruit topped with salt, chile and lime, a combination I will surely be recreating at home. Our tour was slowly coming to a close and while I was pleasantly satisfied, I was happy to not feel like I was about to explode tacos out of my ears.
Alex led us next to La Tia Anita who was open especially for us as she usually is a cena-only establishment. La Tia Anita is 95 years old and is known for making the best tamales in all of Jalisco. The rajas en queso (poblano peppers and queso) tamal paired with the creamy atole (warm drink made of corn, coconut, vanilla, brown sugar and milk), was warm and comfortable.
Now full, but some how still able to consume, we headed to our final tasting of the day – hibiscus paletas. Refreshing and just sweet enough, it was a gracious end to a truly unique day.
How do you get off the beaten path in a typically “touristy” destination?
Thank you to Vallarta Food Tours for hosting me. As always, all opinions are my own.
Latest posts by Emily Moyer (see all)
- Off the Beaten Path: Eating Through El Pitilall - August 17, 2015
- Go Local: Taco Tour with Vallarta Eats - August 10, 2015
- Going Deeper: Advanced Adventurer with Roctopus Dive in Koh Tao - June 1, 2015