Sun, sand, water and world-class gastronomy attract visitors to the vacation destination of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico located along the resplendent Bay of Banderas on the Pacific Ocean. One of the best ways to experience the essence of the city’s cuisine is to savor classic ceviche or aguachile plucked from the sea and prepared to order. I had the pleasure of attending a ceviche/aguachile tasting hosted by the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board this past September as part of a recent press trip focused on gastronomy.
The waters bordering Puerto Vallarta teem with abundant seafood that supply the city’s 800+ restaurants. Lobster, mahi-mahi, marlin, octopus, red snapper shrimp and tuna are mainstays of the region’s aquatic bounty. Traditionally, ceviche is made using raw fish cured with citrus combined with garlic or chili peppers. When the acid from the citrus comes in contact with the fish, a chemical reaction turns the flesh opaque and firm. Its sister meal, aguachile, combines raw shrimp, cucumber, red onion, lime and water infused with pulverized chilies (hence the name). While ceviche typically marinates 15-30 minutes, aguachile is served immediately after tossing the shrimp in the citrus intended to be consumed sashimi raw.
Puerto Vallarta restaurants have elevated these time-honored dishes by creating endless variations using all manner of fish, shellfish, local seasonal fruit, special chili blends and more. Super fresh seafood, evenly chopped ingredients and just the right marinating times are key to great ceviche and aguachile. I enjoyed sampling these delectable delicacies from the following three Puerto Vallarta restaurants.
Affable chef/owner Josué Arana bubbled with enthusiasm over the creative, healthy tasty food that he serves at his charming seafood/vegetarian restaurant. Every item on his ever-evolving menu is available with seafood or without as a vegan option. The coconut ceviche tostada with cool cucumber and the perfect hint of habanero spice was divine. I appreciate how Chef Arana showcases luscious, tropical fruits such as avocado, coconut, mango or pineapple. He also has a penchant for cooking with oriental flavors like ginger, peanuts, sesame seeds and soy. The result is Mexican/Asian fusion cuisine with a kick. Lamara is located in Puerto Vallarta’s Versalles neighborhood. The restaurant is pet-friendly with an open-air dining room decked out in splashes of cheerful aqua with red accents. Customers are encouraged to hangout over one of the many varieties of refreshing “agua frescas” (flavored waters).
New on the culinary scene, Tuna Azul boasts spectacular views of the pier from its breezy upstairs location in the Zona Romantica. Born and raised in Puerto Vallarta, chef/owner Diego Lopez grew up ensconced in the food industry. His parents and grandparents ran a typical steakhouse restaurant. Chef Lopez decided to break away from family tradition by opening an establishment that focused on fresh seafood prepared with interesting ingredients. The menu stars all things tuna including ceviche, burgers, burritos, salads, sashimi and tacos. I found his signature tuna ceviche to be outstanding. The tuna was expertly diced into small cubes then prepared with lime, red onion, capers, soy and zesty house chili oil over a guacamole-smeared tostada. The menu at Tuna Azul ranges from pastas, to stingray tacos to marlin quesadillas. Either visit for a memorable meal or the chance to grab a cocktail from the full bar and enjoy a spectacular sunset view at this casual, popular spot.
The much-loved Restaurant Mauricio’s near the airport has been around for 16 years. The informal ambiance is fun and festive with entertaining mariachi bands. Aside from always using fresh and high quality ingredients, owner Mauricio Verdín pays consummate attention to customer service. He is on hand almost every night to greet customers and make sure that they experience Mexican hospitality to its fullest. Patrons enjoy a complimentary serving of shrimp soup and stuffed marlin appetizer before delving into the extensive menu. For the tasting, chef Armando Martinez prepared a succulent Aguachile Rojo with lime, cucumber, red onion and tomato and a sublime specialty of the house called Mauricio’s in Love: a lavish plate of lobster, shrimp-pineapple skewers, sweet potato and citrus salad.
The annual festival held each January in Puerto Vallarta provides a chance to sample an astounding 30+ varieties of these traditional dishes provided by the above restaurants and many more. Attendees also enjoy live entertainment at this family-friendly event held in Lazaro Cardenas Park. Entrance to this cultural extravaganza is free. Food and drinks are available at nominal prices. Up-to-date information is available on the festival Facebook page listed below.