The 25 Essential Restaurants In Puerto Vallarta

Where to find seafood charcuterie, pork belly tacos, and fire-grilled fish in this booming Pacific beach town.

The story goes that in the early ’60s, the actor Richard Burton found himself in Switzerland in the midst of a romance with Elizabeth Taylor when he got a call from John Huston. The director invited him to star in his upcoming film, The Night of the Iguana, which was to be filmed “in paradise!”

That’s how the renowned director described Puerto Vallarta and its surroundings, which were little known outside Mexico at the time. He understood so little about this area of the Pacific Coast that the actor went to the Mexican embassy in Switzerland and asked to see a map; he wanted them to point to “that paradise” that would serve as the setting for the film adaptation of one of playwright Tennessee Williams’s masterpieces.

There’s no question that all that happened during the filming of this great Hollywood film helped to make Vallarta an obligatory Mexican destination for international and domestic travelers alike, and it’s now one of the three most popular ports in the country thanks to its touristic — and above all, gastronomic — offerings.

Huston, Burton, and Taylor made these beaches their home for many years — as did thousands of citizens from around the world and other Mexican states who have brought their cultures to Vallarta, and in so doing, have contributed a great deal to the overall vibrancy of the city and specifically to its daily cuisine.

Exploring Vallartan cuisine is a trip unto itself, one full of local flavors, new experiences, and international tastes. A trip here isn’t limited to Puerto Vallarta; indeed, to eat like a local you’ll have to explore the different towns that connect this Jaliscan city to those of the Riviera Nayarit, by visiting the essential restaurants below.

Price key per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than 200 pesos (Less than $13 USD)
$$ = 201 – 500 pesos ($14 to $30 USD)
$$$ = 501 – 950 pesos ($31 to $50 USD)
$$$$ = 950 – 1500 pesos ($51 USD and up)

La Tienda Grande

Entre Calle Hidalgo y calle Juarez, int 172 A Ixtapa, Centro Ixtapa, 48280 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 291 7717

The Vallarta region is undergoing a gastronomic revival beyond the obvious tourist areas, thanks to big-city chefs who are returning home to their neighborhoods and towns. One great example is Salvado Carrillo, “Chava” to his friends, who opened La Tienda Grande in Ixtapa, Jalisco, just minutes from the city center. This chef, who was born and raised here, worked in other restaurants, among them La Leche (another recommendation), and he also runs a restaurant in Dubai. But as we say in Mexico, “la sangre llama” (literally, “the blood calls”), and he returned home to open this restaurant in a space that was once the neighborhood grocer.  Like many of his colleagues, Carrillo uses local goods, including dairy products made by his aunt, to make creative Mexican dishes like pescado en mole blanco (fish in white mole), pulpo rosado (“pink” octopus), and desserts, especially pies, inspired by those he used to eat on the beach in Yelapa. There’s also homemade ice cream, including one made with bolillo, a type of Mexican bread. They recently started serving weekend breakfast, too. ($$)

Hectors Kitchen

Ave El Anclote 202, 63734 Punta de Mita Nay., Mexico

322 888 3388 Visit Website

Héctor Leyva is originally from Oaxaca, but you could just as well call him a citizen of the world, as he has cooked all over, most recently during his stint with the Four Seasons Hotel group. Leyva’s dishes, made with the seafood he procures daily from the Mercado de la Cruz in Huanacaxtle (ask the chef about his tours), arrive on the table in the form of mole colorado con pulpo (octopus in mole colorado, a popular Oaxacan mole that gets its deep red color from chiles like the chilhuacle), risotto de camarón (shrimp risotto), and his famous mole negro con magret (black mole with magret), all of which are considered classics by this chef. He’s also clearly taken special care with his selection of wines, many of which are multi-award-winning options from Mexico, alongside thoughtful cocktails created by Israel Díaz of Alquimista Cocktail Room. ($$$$)

Makai Restaurant

Carretera a Punta de Mita, Km 15, Punta de Mita, 63730 Punta de Mita Nay., Mexico

322 274 6193 Visit Website

This true gem can be found on the way to Punta Mita — and believe me, it’s worth every mile. If you like to surf, you can plan your day around a trip to the beach that’s just across the street, called La Lancha. The place is simple and relaxed, but not in the kitchen: The chef is Sebastián Renner, who went from places with Michelin stars to this location next to a gas station. His seafood charcuterie, especially the jamón serrano with tuna cured in-house for 12 months. Ask for these and his take on sopa de cebolla (onion soup), calamares (squid), or the taco de raya con rajas (manta ray taco with roasted poblano chiles). The specials are constantly changing, but there’s also a more “traditional” menu with toasts, ceviches, and even burgers. ($$)

Tacos On The Street

Huachinango 9, Mesa Quemada, 63734 Cruz de Huanacaxtle Nay., Mexico

669 217 6950 Visit Website

In La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, 30 minutes from Vallarta, across the bridge that divides the states of Jalisco and Nayarit, you’ll find these tacos that have been around since 1993. The business has grown thanks to the work of Aaron Díaz Gómez and family who with their team make corn or flour tortillas filled with carne asada al carbón (charcoal-grilled steak), with a healthy portion of chile de árbol and tomatillo salsas, plus “verdura,” the Mexican name for onion, cilantro, and chopped radish. Order a cold beer while you decide whether to add a quesadilla or tostada to your order. ($)

Toscana Mia

Miguel Hidalgo 25, Centro, 63732 Bucerías Nay., Mexico

329 298 1525. Visit Website

Vincenzo Napolitano is an experienced chef and sommelier who comes from a family of restaurateurs from northern Italy, hence the name Toscana Mia. Since 2007, Napolitano has worked at this dream-turned-restaurant, where his focus is making artisanal pastas, the most popular items on the menu. Alongside his wife Amine, Napolitano makes the dishes he learned from his mom, like the pasta frutti di mari, and the pasta Montalcino, made with shrimp, gorgonzola, and cream. The pizzas deserve a special mention: They’re skillfully baked in the brick oven by award-winning pizzaiolo Joary, who quickly pulls out options like the 4 Stagioni (“four seasons” pizza), which can be paired with one of the 50+ wines available. ($$)

Mark´s Bar & Grill

Calle Lázaro Cárdenas 56, Zona Dorada, 63732 Bucerías Nay., Mexico

329 298 0303. Visit Website

When looking for classic options, don’t miss this restaurant in Bucerías, which is near Vallarta, but in the state of Nayarit. The restaurant is more than 30 years old and serves well-known dishes like seafood pasta with shrimp, fish, mussels, and scallops in a lobster broth with tomatoes and fusilli; grilled filet mignon with scalloped potatoes; and to drink, house margaritas. Mark McMahon and New Zealand chef Jan Benton head this restaurant that combines Mediterranean and Asian flavors. Don’t miss the rack of lamb, inspired by Benton’s memories of home. ($$$)

Tino’s La Laguna

Blvrd de Nayarit #393, 63735 Nuevo Vallarta Nay., Mexico

322 297 6663 º Visit Website

This business has several locations, but I recommend visiting the one in Nuevo Vallarta, which is located on a picturesque lake. The Mariscos family of restaurants have been around for 30 years. Their creator, Tino Carvajal, passed on the business to his sons before he died. The menu remains the same, where the care afforded to the products results in standout dishes like the pescado zarandeado (zarandeado-style fish) served with tacos de frijol (bean tacos); the tacos de jaiba con crema de chipotle (crab tacos with chipotle cream); and if you want to mix it up, the mussels meuniere. Try the house version of raicilla, an agave spirit produced in Jalisco and Nayarit, called Hacienda El Divisadero. ($$)

Alquimista Cocktail Room

Puerto Vallarta – Tepic, Valle Dorado, Mezcales Nay., Mexico

322 160 3602

This cocktail bar opened four years ago under the direction of one of Mexico’s most experienced mixologists, Israel Díaz. Here, you’ll find some of the best drinks in the region, created by Díaz over his 20-year career. Díaz studied cooking, but his path led him to cocktails, where his imagination and curiosity continue today. His essential drinks include the Sangre Cora, made with tequila, hibiscus infusion, lime, and candied hibiscus; and the Alquimista Eye, made with Bombay, St. Germain, kiwi pulp, tonic, lime, and sugar. Be sure to try the food, too, like the tuna tartare with ginger, ponzu sauce, avocado, and sesame oil. ($$)

Loma 42 Bahia

Blvd. Nuevo Vallarta 4 Int. 2 Plaza San Carlos, 63732 Nuevo Vallarta Nay., Mexico

322 293 8888 Visit Website

This spot originated in Tepic, the capital of Nayarit, but they recently decided to expand to Nuevo Vallarta with a new menu created by chef Jesús Vázquez. The place is modern and has an inviting bar that begs you to stay. Many of the offerings are based on regional products, like the tiradito “chingón,” a seafood dish made with thin slices of raw local fish prepared similarly to ceviche, and the taco de carne de res zarandeada (zarandeado-style arrachera steak taco). The more international options made in-house include lasagna and brick-oven pizza. And for carnivores, there are cuts like the High Choice porterhouse. In other words, there’s something for everyone. Try the house-made beer, called Menjunje 0.28, or the cocktails, especially the tepachito del día (tepache of the day), a fermented pineapple drink. ($$$)

Cenaduría Coyoacan

Calle Valle de Zirahuen 275, Los Encantos, Valle Dorado, 63735 Mezcales Nay., Mexico

322 223 7692

The concept of the “cenaduría” (“cena” meaning “dinner”) is deeply rooted in Mexican dining. The cenaduría is a place that opens only in the evenings, and where corn masa dishes, called antojitos — mainly sopes, tostadas, enchiladas, tacos dorados, and traditional pozole, a soup with pork and corn kernels — are king. Cenaduría Coyoacán has gained the interest of many Vallartans and guests who live and work between Jalisco and Riviera Nayarita. Even those from Valle Dorado come here to try the specialties of the Pastrana family, who hail from Mexico City and for 11 years have provided the classic neighborhood cenaduría experience. Come hungry, because the portions are generous. Don’t miss the daily agua fresca, which could be horchata (sweetened rice milk) or jamaica (hibiscus iced tea). ($)

Restaurante Fernando

Lazaro Cardenas 95, Centro, 63735 San Vicente Nay., Mexico

There’s a much-loved dish called pescado zarandeado (zarandeado-style fish) that they say was invented on an island called Mexcaltitán in the state of Nayarit. The technique involves cooking over firewood in a grilling basket called a zaranda, where the fish is placed butterflied and bathed in a sauce that combines ingredients like achiote, garlic, and bitter orange — although each business has its own secret recipe. Among the masters of this recipe is Fernando Olivares, who for 20 years has been preparing it expertly and passed down the trade to his son César. Today it’s César, who studied cooking, who brings his vision to the restaurant, located in San Vicente, Nayarit, 20 minutes from the center of Puerto Vallarta. There’s no question that it’s worth the trip. Restaurante Fernando uses sea bass and two kinds of snapper, served by the kilo (one kilo is perfect for two). Reserve the dish ahead by phone so the zarandeado will be ready when you arrive (it takes 40 minutes to cook). Luz Elena Corral, Fernando’s wife, also recommends the tacos de jaiba (crab tacos), empanadas de camarón (shrimp empanadas), and the camarones zarandeados (zarandeado-style shrimp). ($$)

Don Chava Taqueria Cantina

Lázaro Cárdenas 288, Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

Visit Website

If you’re a fan of Taco Bell, you’ll find that this taquería serves up what might be a familiar version of the taco called “tacos dorados,” with minced beef, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and cheddar cheese — perfect to keep the party going alongside the margaritas, Mexican beers, and wine selection. If you want something more traditional, try the taco al pastor made Mexico City–style, or the alambre taco, made with beef or seafood and accompanied by mushrooms, Oaxaca cheese, and pico de gallo. ($$)

Tre Piatti

Lázaro Cárdenas 292, Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 222 2773 Visit Website

The experienced cooking of Chanan Kamen, an Israeli chef with experience at the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco, New York, and Miami, plus the talent of Natalie Aguirre on pastries and bread, are what brought Tre Piatti to life in 2015. The pastas, like nearly all the ingredients used, are local or made in-house; the result is one of the best Italian restaurants in the country, with dishes like calamares con alcachofa crujiente (squid with crispy artichoke) and spaghetti with sausage ragout, pesto, and gorgonzola. Ask about the specials, like the duck pappardelle or the agnolotti, and finish with a mandarin and vanilla cake with pastry cream. The chefs are restlessly ambitious and change the menu every other week, so it’s the perfect place to return to again and again. ($$$$)

Tubas Manuelito de Vallarta

Paseo Díaz Ordaz S/N, Centro, 48300 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

Visit Website

If you stroll along Puerto Vallarta’s malecón (boardwalk), you’ll surely spot vendors dressed in white selling tuba — a staple drink from the region, made with coconut and sugar and served ice cold with walnut and apple pieces. Among the many vendors, look for Manuel Saldivar, known as “Manuelito,” whose family has been preparing this refreshing beverage since 1986 and serving it in two different-sized glasses. This tubero, or tuba vendor, has been on the malecón for six years, and as he himself will tell you, he’s always there early, and nearly every day of the year. ($)

Tintoque

Aquiles Serdán 445, Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 221 1460 Visit Website

If you’re going to talk about a young chef who commands fine dining in Puerto Vallarta, we have to talk about Joel Ornelas, who for five years has had one of the most awarded restaurants nationwide: Tintoque. Ornelas provides a memorable experience by paying careful attention to every detail on his menu, from the eight-course tasting menu to the à la carte dishes like the jaiba de concha suave frita (fried soft-shell crab); the pulpo a la parrilla con reducción de jugo de res (grilled octopus with beef jus reduction); and his version of the very Jaliscan snack called esquite, with blue, yellow, and white corn and truffled cuitlacoche (corn smut). On top of that, the restaurant has a special setting on the Río Cuale (Cuale River) and a young but well-trained staff that’s eager to grow. This is the perfect restaurant to discover where the new minds of modern Mexican cuisine are headed. ($$$$)

Tacos de Mariscos Garlapago Tacolini

Calle Jacarandas 325, Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 294 5460

Close to Mercado Emiliano Zapata, in what’s also known as the Zona Romántica (Romantic Area), is Garlapagos, which has been serving fish and seafood tacos for 35 years. You’ll be attended by the owner, Héctor Velasco, and his entire family, who started out selling only tostadas but are now known for their taco de caguamanta (a stew made with manta ray and sometimes shrimp). That said, you won’t want to miss the burrita dorada (grilled burrito) or the shrimp or octopus tacos al pastor, which are prepared in a marinade of chiles and other spices. ($)

Tejuino de La Solorzano

Av México 1250, 5 de Diciembre, 48350 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

Because it’s never a bad idea to compare, here’s another tejuino (fermented corn drink) that’s highly acclaimed by Vallartans. This spot is located near the malecón (boardwalk) at a gas station that everyone calls La Solorzano, even though it’s now owned by Shell. You’ll see the stand, run by Jesús Salvador, on the sidewalk. Salvador serves his tejuino in four sizes, always cold and salted, and if you want, with lime shaved ice. He says the recipe is his grandmother’s, and they’ve been making it the same way for 50 years. This tejuinero, or tejuino seller, has been here for decades. You’ll find him here early in the day until he sells out. ($)

Los Tejuino at Mercado Emiliano Zapata

Mercado Emiliano Zapata local 31, Zona Romántica, Emiliano Zapata, 48380 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 113 0489. Visit Website

Visit the market in the Emiliano Zapata neighborhood, close to the city center, to try tejuino, a fermented corn beverage that’s been consumed since pre-Hispanic times and is hugely popular in western Mexico. This tejuino stand, or carreta, is located outside the market at the corner of Camichín and Lázaro Cárdenas Streets. For the past five years, it’s been run by Lizbeth Silva and Karina Hernández, who serve their tejuino very cold in three sizes, with an optional topping of lime shaved ice. It’s the perfect drink to cool off or to accompany a few tacos. The stand also serves coconut water and tepache, a fermented pineapple drink. ($)

La Fina Cocina de Barrio

Atmósfera 149, El Caloso, 48360 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 136 7662

Visiting this place is like entering the home of a Vallartan friend who will cook you the market’s best. There are just six tables, making for a highly personalized experience under the care of young chefs Laura Romero and Emilio Arámburo, who are barely 30 years old. Both are great examples of chefs who are starting new projects from within their own neighborhoods, and whose personal visions inform their Mexican cuisine; hence why these chefs call their restaurant “de barrio” (“from the neighborhood”). While the offerings change weekly, you can always try the sope de plátano macho y carnes (plantain and meat sope), the enmoladas de costilla de res (beef rib enmoladas), and the huarache de camarón y pulpo (shrimp and octopus huarache). Best to reserve a table ahead. ($$)

La Lulú Raicillería

Calle España 305, Versalles, 48310 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 183 9519

Guillermo Wulff is a Vallartan chef with more than 20 years of experience. He heads the restaurant Barrio Bistro, where he recently installed a new concept called La Lulú Raicillería, focused on promoting one of the most characteristic agave spirits of the region: raicilla.

At this spot, in addition to live music at night and Wulff’s cooking, there’s now a bar that serves more than 15 drinks made with Arre Lulú, the house raicilla, among them infusions with basil, lime and passionflower, and hibiscus. It’s the perfect bar to explore other brands of raicilla, which can be found from the coast to the mountains. A few good places to start: Hacienda Divisadero, La Venenosa, and Estancia. ($$)

Cha’

Hamburgo 148a, Versalles, 48310 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 115 6647

Puerto Vallarta’s Versalles (Versailles) neighborhood is gaining popularity thanks to all the eateries that are constantly opening here. Among them is Cha Cocina, the ideal place for brunch. The chef, Mario Borja, calls his style “cocina libre” (“freestyle cooking”), which uses seasonal, local products, like the wonderful panela cheese from the town of Tuito, and birote — a local Jaliscan bread that’s been made here for centuries and is similar to a baguette — from the Agustín family bakery near the Río Cuale (Cuale River). Be sure to try the torta de chilaquiles on Mexican telera bread with avocado, beans, and queso de rancho (fresh Mexican cheese); the avocado toast with egg, greens, toasted seeds, and queso de rancho; or the brioche French toast. They recently started serving dinner, from Thursday to Saturday. ($$)

El Itacate Molino de Nixtamal

Encino 128, Albatros, 48315 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 294 7798 Visit Website

This is the perfect spot if you want to try native criollo corn tortillas. Contact Édgar and Alan Llamas and Lucia Bouchan, who opened this mill where they nixtamalize the corn (the process of cooking corn kernels in water and quicklime) and make tortillas that many businesses in Vallarta are beginning to use. They work with farmers from the Mexican state of Tlaxcala, which is where they get the kernels to make pink-, yellow-, and blue-corn tortillas, which they sell for pickup and delivery. The taste experience is unique. Don’t hesitate to order their tlacoyos, too: thick, oval-shaped tortillas with toppings. Among those at El Itacate are ensalada de nopales (cactus salad), salsas, and grated cheese. It’s a great local snack if you plan to take a long trip or stay back at your hotel to rest. ($)

El Puerco de oro

Calle España 325 D, Versalles, 48310 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 596 0089

In Mexico we have a special devotion to pork, and for a few years now pork belly has been the cut most often ordered by customers looking to experiment. With this in mind, pay a visit to Tacos El Puerco de Oro by Ana Martina, or Doña Ana, as she’s known in town. The tacos, ready each morning at her shop, are made with native criollo corn tortillas and filled with perfectly browned pork belly. She also serves other takes on pork belly, like the “piraña” (piranha), which is a fried empanada. Ask about the daily special. ($)

Tacos Matute

Las Americas 523, Lázaro Cárdenas, 48330 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

In Mexico, every part of the cow’s head makes its way into a taco. That’s right: Brain, eyes, palate, lips, tongue, sweetbreads, gizzard, flesh, and surtido (a little bit of everything) are all parts of this animal that Mexicans love to savor. And preparing them requires mastery, like that of Don José, who’s been nicknamed “Matute” since he was a kid. For decades his stand in the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood has been a favorite of Vallartan families, who go at least once a week to order his tremendous tacos that come steaming hot off this taquero’s comal. Their flavor is complemented by his wonderful salsas — be sure to try the salsa verde — and to drink, a traditional horchata (sweetened rice milk). Best to arrive when they open at 7:30 p.m., as the tacos go fast. ($)

Café Ina

Calle 24 de Febrero #320, Centro Pitillal, 48290 Puerto Vallarta Jal., Mexico

322 275 4569

A great example of a neighborhood revival is this nighttime coffee bar, located in the garage at the home of Biorel Villaseñor, a photographer who decided to return home to Pitillal. When you arrive, he’ll waste no time in asking you three questions: With or without coffee? Hot or cold? With or without milk? That way he can personalize your drink, using beans from major coffee-producing states like Oaxaca, Nayarit, Chiapas, Puebla, and Guerrero. Go with time on your hands and in the mood to chat, as Villaseñor is a great conversationalist and passionate about the world of coffee, of which he’s now been a part for four years. (Also visit Puerto Café, another one of the projects he was involved in.) The café opens weekday evenings, and Saturdays starting at noon. ($)

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