Puerto Vallarta may have your normal all-American, find-it-anywhere-in-the-world restaurants among its all-inclusive resorts, but when you branch outside these offerings, you can find some truly amazing culinary experiences. After all, Puerto Vallarta was a celebrity playground during the golden age of Hollywood and it still caters to exclusive and discerning clientele. They’re not going to settle for a subpar Americanized version of a taco. Just because Puerto Vallarta has a history of catering to the elite, doesn’t mean it’s expensive. New resorts make it accessible to the average traveler and restaurants popped up to match these budget ranges. Additionally, you have budget-friendly restaurants frequented by locals.
The dining scene in Puerto Vallarta has also evolved not only in terms of budget but also talent. The city is frequently known as a spot where up-and-coming chefs come to test their skills and try new things. It’s very likely that when you try the dishes of an unknown, you might just be sampling the cuisine of Mexico’s next famous chef. Additionally, the Puerto Vallarta dining scene has evolved to welcome more opening LGBTQ-friendly bars, and it frequently takes on culinary trends that are familiar to globetrotters, while still making them distinctly Mexican, from the more complex experiential dining trends to something as simple as Restaurant Week.
Ocean Grill Restaurant & Beach Club
You can only reach this little gem via water. Take a taxi or bus from your resort to where the private water taxi service ferries you over to a private beach where Ocean Grill is located. There’s also a jungle trail that will take you to the restaurant, but it’s a bit more of an endeavor. Once there, pick your seat on the palapa-covered veranda right on the ocean and dig in—There are three seatings each day, at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm. The restaurant only accepts cash and children are not allowed. The menu is limited but as fresh as it comes. The signature dish is grilled octopus, with a kalamata olive tapenade and sautéed potatoes. After the exchange rate, the dish sets you back less than $20.
La Leche, or “The Milk,” offers a truly unique experience that’s gained a bit of a reputation. The stark white and black interior is meant to ensure the guests’ attention is focused on their gastronomic experience only, but the uniqueness of it might actually do the opposite. Regardless, it’s an all-around pleasing experience. After trying out the menu, which changes constantly, head up to “The Cream,” a private bar for restaurant patrons only. Expect beautifully arranged, modern dining with inventive takes on local cuisine.
Chef-Forward & Fine
In the heart of Puerto Vallarta, Gaby’s might not sound like a traditional Mexican restaurant, but we promise that’s exactly what you’ll find. A longstanding local favorite, the restaurant’s world-class chef serves up Mexican gastronomy inspired by local heritage. The ingredients are local and so is the liquor. The can’t-miss dish and specialty on the menu is the Chiles en Nogada, a poblano pepper stuffed with ground meat in a nut-almond sauce with pomegranate seeds. Make a reservation to save yourself from a wait.
Another local restaurant with an awesome chef who really knows his stuff, Tintoque is located right on the marina. The menu really taps into the Bay’s heritage, with seafood, local ingredients and artisan cocktails and beers. The environment is laid-back and you’d do best to enjoy a multi-course meal. The menu is nearly always a surprise. While you can pretty much always expect seafood, the daily offerings are based entirely on what’s available locally on that particular day. Some recent offerings, just to give you an idea of what to anticipate, include a pumpkin gazpacho with mango and tuna, a beautifully put together pumpkin and squid salad with a carrot puree and a coconut sorbet with meringues. Know that these luxurious dishes will be just as beautiful as they are tasty.
Tacon de Marlin
It doesn’t get any more casual or convenient than this. Tacon de Marlin is located literally just outside the airport, but it’s a favorite for travelers of all types. It actually got its start downtown, as a combo hot dog and marlin stand. Now, there are four branches throughout both Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, and the big location is outside Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport. The hit item is the marlin burrito, which goes for just under $5.
Mariscos El Coleguita
Why is this classic Puerto Vallarta eatery a favorite? Well, the free tequila doesn’t hurt. Great views, excellent food and a laid-back vibe help, too. Enjoy your complimentary tequila shot, complimentary dessert and classic Mexican seafood dishes alongside the ocean. There are three locations for the restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, but the marina locale is where you want to be.
Joe Jack’s Fish Shack
Want even more great deals on your drinks? Joe Jack’s offers two-for-one mojitos in the afternoon. The casual restaurant includes a breezy bar and rooftop terrace. Lively, hip and always fun, the restaurant gets busy, so it’s best to make a reservation. Even though it’s popular, the menu is still affordable. Try the Whole Pacific Red Snapper A.Q. with roasted garlic chili lime butter, easily one of the most popular items on the menu. The ceviche is also pretty awesome, and you can get a traditional version with corvina bass, or a mix of shrimp and octopus.
Casual restaurant El Arrayan specializes in serving up cuisine from all across Mexico, but how budget-friendly the experience is depends on what you order. It’s definitely possible to come here without breaking the bank, though. Try some of the classic appetizers, like the duck tostadas or even the roasted crispy cricket tacos, if you’re feeling adventurous (you’ll find several dishes on the menu that include some interesting protein options). The ceviche and shrimp red pozole are affordable classics.
Located at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, Las Casitas gives you a can’t-beat environment. The open-air restaurant steps right out onto the beach, with views of the ocean. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but you’ll want to stop by for the latter to get a taste of some of the best fresh-caught seafood. Try the shrimp ceviche, crab enchiladas (with carrot and jicama slaw and chipotle aioli) and the shrimp escabeche (shrimp, garlic aioli, fried bananas, jicama and a chili guajillo broth).
At Casa Velas, enjoy upscale dining at Emiliano. This Four Diamond restaurant is elegant and suitable for the true gourmand. However, don’t be nervous — the sophisticated space is still casual enough that you won’t need to dress up too much; think garden party wear. Try the blackened tuna with a rice puree and yellow mole sauce and top your dinner off with a mouthwatering dessert, like guava and pecan strudel or a mojito mousse with roasted pineapple.