Restaurants

I’ve been told for a couple of years now that there are over 1000 restaurants in VALLARTA these days, so by now it’s probably true. Needless to say, there are too many to name even all of the good ones, so we apologize to those omitted. Most don’t have line-ups and at only one do you need reservations. As if that was an indication, (and it is), it is FELIPE’S. It’s hard to find, except for a cab, but worth it (including the hundred steps, which is more than the number up to Anita 5 & 6 {only 99 steps}). Ask Sonia to make your reservation. It’s on a patio roof overlooking the city from behind with a pool and garden setting. It’s a dining experience like no other but the bill will reflect this unique service once you dispense with the menu. I still recommend it but beware if you’re on a back pack budget.

On the “Malecon” or promenade, or “the strip” there are many fine restaurants. CARLOS O’BRIAN’S has a varied menu and large lineups after 10 p.m. but worth it. Carlos O’Brians is for young people up to sixty. The nightly regime is going to Carlos O’Brian’s for watercress salad and submarines (a shot of tequila – glass and all – floating in a glass of that good Mexican beer), then dancing till 5 a.m. at the ZOO or HILO. (Capriccio’s and the City Dump are no longer in business I’m afraid to say to you old timers).

On the river, try the RIVER CAFE for a romantic atmosphere. Five star dining is also found at El DORADO or FELIPES near Casa Anita. On the Malecon try Viejo Vallarta right in front of the sea horse or La Dolce Vita for the best pizza around. One block below Villa Sonia, there is La Casita Restaurant, I co-oped on the construction of that street years ago to be able to get vehicles up to Villas SONIA but I’m loathe to admit it, as it is an illegal grade and there have been some accidents of stalled cars rolling over as they slide back down. This of course adds to the excitement while dining, but not the main reason to be here. The food is great even if the tables are jammed together and the intimacy borders on being cramped. It’s always full so be ready to wait or reserve. You can watch and hear the automobiles ‘try the hill’. It’s a maybe bet on the cars but a sure thing on the dining. The story has it that he is a break away partner from Los Faisanes who of course was the chef at the Golf Club and so on. This is his own with a partner and it is gourmet dining at gourmet prices. Don’t let the house and decor influence you, try it and expect to pay, but worth it. Here ‘comes’ the neighbourhood. Interestingly enough is that the owner of the Villa kitty corner from La CASITA is a Mrs. Barbara TOPETE who is the retired owner/founder of Ocean Crest Resort & Dinner House, a famous resort on the Washington Coast. She recommends her neighbours and that’s a good testimonial as Seattlites used to drive three hours to have their legs under her table. The hill I’m talking about is really Panama Street which has Casa BUNGEE at the top. The last block of that steep hill was built exclusively by MEX-DEV and your money while the steepest part (where La CASITA is) we paid 1/3 of the cost. Remind the owner about that and maybe you’ll get a digestif on the house.

For those whose cab couldn’t make it to LA CASITA there is a modest restaurant on the next street called MUNDO MARINO for seafood. This too is a good restaurant who gain their clientele by paying off the cabs. A deplorable element but what are those stranded “refugees” of the big Hotels going to do? They escape in a cab from the PIZZA HUT or Salon dining in the big hotel atmosphere looking for the “tipico” and the first person they ask is the cabbie who of course takes them as far as he can and to where he gets a payoff. Don’t discount this one however as the food is great and still not out of line. Order a BIG Margarita upon seating so that you won’t notice the usual twenty-five minute wait for meals to appear, which must be a law in MEXICO. Don’t complain, drink instead, and don’t worry, it’s always worth the wait.

These days you won’t notice the cabbie’s increment either. By the time you read this hopefully this commissioning practice will be abolished as it is pressuring and raising the menu prices, you can bet on that.

Many restaurateurs offer us commissions to send them people but we decline saying offer an extra drink to the guest we send and buy us one when we go, if you like. Also if someone wants a place to stay, send them to us. The local English language newspaper carries an article every day about this practice and it’s working, the public is responding.

Another unique place famous for Steak Diane and Caesar Salad is a small hotel called POSADA RIO CUALE (near Casa Anita). In high season there are sometimes waits for a table so drop by earlier in the day and reserve or phone. The restaurant is called LE GOURMET and it is. They also boast 30 years and still the best and I wouldn’t argue too much with that. Also near Casa Anita is a myriad of budget eateries on Olas Altas (down the hill), the parallel street to the “main” beach–Los Muertos. The restaurant at LOS ARCOS HOTEL, now recently changed to fine dining but sidewalk style, is called CAFE MAXIMILIAN and PAPAYA 3 are amongst some of the places you will find on Olas Altas.

There are at least a dozen more. One of the best is maybe the night spot ANDALE’s which is rivaling CARLOS O’BRIAN’S in format and popularity. I’ve heard they make a mean hamburger. In any restaurant try the bar-b-qued WHOLE red snapper, it’s delicious. Get ready however as the whole fish (minus the guts) is displayed on the plate and you pick and filet it yourself cooked. A good thing about ANDALE’s is that it is open very late if your stomach is grumbling after a turn at the other bars. If they are closed, it’s the taco stands and the famous ones are near Farmacia de Guadalajara on the corner of Insurgentes and Lazaro Cardenas. MENDOZAS is the de-facto champion. It’s like NATES to someone from Ottawa or BEN’s to a MONTREALER.

In the middle of town is MEXICAN JOE . He’s moved at least five times that I know of. He’s now just off the Malecon behind and above a bank, the only one on that part of the strip between Carlos O’Brian’s and the Hard Rock Cafe. He used to be great and that he has survived “dodging” his clients with a move every year is an apt testimonial. Watch out if you sit on the balcony for the high tension wire that passes dangerously close to the railing.

FLASH – Mexican Joe has finally gone out of business – likely for the last time. He re-gained the old property he originally had bought from Carlos Flores who built it. He must have offered to buy down his debt, something that is coming of age after the disastrous devaluation of 1995 which saw many persons abandoning cars, properties etc. similar to the S & L situation of the USA. Anyway he came back with blow torch nachos (he had a cart with a propane bottle and a welders head on a flex hose and used to scorch the nachos in front of you. Imagine what the fire marshall would say about that back home. Anyway, he lasted the 1997 season and unfortunately has closed again.

For the budget conscious or the not-too-fond of Mexican cuisine types, try La Dolce Vita (good Italian food washed down with cheap house wine), the HACHI SUSHI (interesting variations of Japanese cuisine for a delightful change). For those who can’t adjust and are homesick already, there is DOMINO’s and McDONALDS both downtown. DOMINO’s will deliver within 1/2 hour or it’s free. The number is 223-1425.

Le BISTRO has been getting rave reviews from guests. They seem to redecorate every year and it gets better and better each year. It’s in the river, yes in the river, accessed from the northbound bridge into the island area in the river. The setting is great and the owners are of a persuasion noted for talent in decorating. The food lives up to the location and decor I should add.

Sr. CHICO’s has finally made it. His latest creation is CHICO’s INTERNATIONAL now fifteen years old and very popular. It is on PULPITO 377 (left turn 1.2 way up the hill from the gas station across from the new COLDWELL Banker realty building). Near the top is CHICO but if you turn left near the top you’ll end up at FELIPE’s which offers chef specials every night. Both offer a beautiful view of the town while dining. Wear a sweater if you’re at the late sitting in the evening as the ‘adiabatic’ effect is very pronounced here towards 11:00 p.m. PEPE’s and Le BISTRO also endure this pleasant breeze so dress accordingly.

I prefer FELIPE’s as it has a garden setting with the biggest mango tree you’ve ever seen. He has the best black bean soup ever and the mango margarita is improvident. His steak, Felipe’s Special, is done with interesting vegetables and is a favorite. Fresh fish daily is on everyone’s menu but some can prepare it better than others. The simple “filete de pescado al mojo de ajo”, which means filet of fish in garlic butter, is divine and all the better with this (third) greatest view in Vallarta. There is a set of steps just outside of his door which lead down to the barrier just across from the gas station at the bottom of the hill going up to Casa Anita. If you check this out in the daytime you can probably negotiate your way up and down. This is worth a free margarita as there are many steps. Felipe is obliging in this department especially when you present a coupon or mention that you come from CASA ANITA.

Felipe and I are godparents to different children in the same family so we are “compadres politicos”. The restaurant is also his personal home and he, like CHICO, tried many businesses which foundered or failed until they both ended up on this hill with restaurants, A) because they are close and B) because they are very good. I suggest that they make your “definite” list.

On certain nights some hotels such as the Krystal Vallarta Hotel (near the Aeropuerto) and the SHERATON have “Noche Mexicana” and for a set price including cocktails, one can sample the native dishes from all over the Republic. In addition, one can enjoy a folkloric sequence of dancing, lasso spinning, and Mariachi music. Well worth it, don’t miss at least one. LA IGUANA FIESTA is the closest to Casa Anita in the downtown area. They have their Mexican Fiesta every Thursday and Sunday. We reserve and sell tickets to these “Noches Mexicanas”. This has become very popular and the prices range from about $30 to $60 per person US and they are all worth it. The fare and entertainment dictate the price differences. Factor in the transportation cost as this is to be reckoned with as well. When six or more book with us, we offer free one way transportation. Tickets have to be pre-bought through us.

BEST BRUNCH: Again promotions come and go and also season dictates whether or not so and so are offering. Most of the best restaurants such as BOGARTS, and many of the big Hotels offer brunches. They all advertise in the local papers. The CAMINO REAL, on the same road as CASA ANITA south at 4.8 kilometers (we’re at 0.5 exactly), used to have the best brunch you’ve maybe ever had. It was Sundays only, starting at 12:00 with donkey polo, lots of fun to participate in, or just watch, with a camera. It was held in their AZULEJOS BAR Restaurant next to the beach and pool. Azulejos means tiles and the tables are metal with tiled tops. Ask the desk and we’ll tell you which one is hot at the time you are there. These brunches run about the same as back home in price but it is good value, especially if you are a big eater. Consider that for two hours while you nibble continually a nine member group of Mariachis play delights from Jalisco state by request and spontaneously.

Considering that these groups get about $200 US per hour it’s a bargain meal. Don’t eat in the morning and don’t plan on eating in the evening. FLASH I’ve tried the SHERATON BRUNCH and it’s even better than the CAMINO REAL ever was…. God has answered our prayers. It starts at 09:30 and goes to 14:00 and the cost is only $195 pesos at last count. Instead of the two margaritas, which was the deal at one point at the Camino, the SHERATON offers UNLIMITED CHAMPAGNE as well as an even larger spread of food while the mariachis play from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in a garden setting with a view of the beach. This is one of the best deals currently in Puerto Vallarta and is definitely a DON’T MISS. Check with us and we’ll be happy to give you a ride out there if we are going that Sunday!

At the CAMINO REAL they also have a fine dining room which is called La PERLA and rivals any of the aforementioned gourmet kitchens. They even have Nova Scotia lobster on the menu. The disco La JUNGLA is OK also but more subdued than the ones in town.

For the very best, TRIO should top your list followed by FELIPE’S and BOGARTS. Peruse the menu the day before and if you have a special request speak directly to Felipe himself and I’m sure he will accommodate your whim. My claim to world-class status for Vallarta is based on us having no less than eight elite resident chefs. One of the chefs aboard one of the largest cruise ships in the world calls Puerto Vallarta home. GABY’s, behind the church is a small Mexican place with great value. I define “value” as a balance between decor, atmosphere, good food, service, and price.

For a first night try El DORADO or REMEM BRANZAS, both excellent the latter more pricey but both are value for money. Abadio Basso is owned by the ex-food and beverage manager of the SHERATON who has departed for Chile for a spell but his partner is carrying on the tradition of great meals with a guitarist for background. TRIOS and Abadio Basso are top of the line restaurants. I guarantee that if you go to any of these you’ll return within the trip. Another great value meal can be had at GABY’s behind the downtown Banks just north of the big Cathedral. Intimate and typical and incredibly cheap. Also, in this great value line is LAS PALOMAS excellent food and decor at good prices.

Another good value one on cafe row is Cafe de la OLLA. While we’re still in old town on Lazaro CARDENAS street, kitty corner from Super MAX on Insurgentes the main northbound street, which is actually the continuation of the highway passing in front of CASA ANITA/CORONA del MAR, on the second floor is a restaurant that is called LORENZO’s. It’s named after a Torontonian who with what his wife left him in a messy divorce he invested in this restaurant. He actually caters to the Mexican crowd as many bus stations used to abound in this area and if a tourist happens in they think they made a mistake on the bill as the food is simple, good and inexpensive. The second story balcony type seating almost assures you a view of either of the busy streets for people watching. Of the Taco trailers I mentioned earlier, MENDOZAS is across the street from the entrance.

Now to the main street for eateries in Vallarta CAFE ROW or Calles de los Cafes in Spanish is really BASILIO BADILLO and is the first cobblestoned street you encounter as you descend the highway towards town from CASA ANITA/CORONA del MAR. This is where the cabbies bring the tourist tank crowds so it’s always busy but it really is the centre of culinary delights. Don’t think that because the cabbies bring the people here that everything is a ripoff – heck no, the reason is because, yes some restaurants pay off, but Basilio Badillo is also the demark for another zone of the cab tariff. This street alone would satisfy your culinary outings in a two week’s stay easily. If you’re looking for Pizza Joes which has interestingly enough changed names. Same owner but it’s not a Pizza restaurant at all anymore, it’s an art gallery featuring very nice bronzes.

The FRANKFURT is just what you guessed and offers a great weiner schnitzel. It’s large and delicious and it’s in an inner courtyard with plastic chairs on grass. Welcome to Vallarta and the “neat places”. The other restaurant connected to Posada Roger is called El TUCAN and the breakfasts here are apparently the best in town. Their rival for the prize, also on this same street, is the Pancake House. Both are great but the owner at Pancake house suffers from PMS I’m told. Los PIBES which is also on this street is an Argentinian Steak House (imported beef) and famous for rack of lamb which is hard to get in Mexico.

At the bottom of Basilio Badillo that is one block from the ocean is Cafe de OLLA. Beside that one is “180” run by a couple of Canadian girls. They have a pool party with a live band on certain days. Some of the restaurants close for the summer. Sometimes this doesn’t mean what you think as many close for renovations. That allows them to layoff employees whereas if you close for the season, you have to carry them I’m told. Cafe de la OLLA closes on Tuesdays only. It is like a cafe on the left bank of Paris. It’s a meeting place for the locals, a carry over from when the restaurants weren’t cheap to the dollar based tourists or residents. This restaurant is like Larry’s or Lorenzos which I mentioned earlier. The trouble is that this one has been discovered and is always busy. This is where you might find Mexicans dining in the evening. They have their big meal of the day at lunchtime or more aptly at 14:00 to 16:00 hrs. Make sure you take cash because Café de Olla doesn’t accept credit cards. This allows them to keep the prices reasonable.

At the other end of this famous street is Mister PEPE’s which we mentioned earlier, but way up on a spur just before the tunnel. Just down from him is a religious colleague of PEPE, the owner of Las CAZUELAS, an old timer to the business, the street and a typical Vallarta restaurant for 30 years. Basilio Badillo, or Cafe Row as it’s called, is not only the culinary center part, it is now a busy thoroughfare as it is the one way northbound bypass road of downtown Vallarta. There are countless other restaurants on this street such as MIGUELITOS, EL ASADERO, BILL’s BAR and GRILL, ADOBE CAFE also very nice decor and great food and so on.

If you are a vegetarian or just a wise eater, you won’t want to miss HEALTHY’s located on ‘Health corner’ one block inland from CARLOS O’BRIAN’S. I say ‘Health corner’ because besides the small restaurant specializing in 100% natural fresh ingredients, you’ll find a health store and a clinic practicing natural remedies. Half of Health’s menu is devoted to ‘health drinks and shakes. They serve everything from omelets to soya burgers including Mexican dishes and light pastas.

Most people make their own breakfasts if nothing else at home and that’s why we have good quality coffee makers. Some of the higher end suites even have grinders for whole coffee beans. Rizo sells coffee both ground for you at purchase and in the bean state. They only have two choices Americano and Moka. Forget the Americano. The Moka is very good.

There is a great pastry shop called MUNGIA’s. They are on JUAREZ itself and they have everything from croissants to donuts and decadent chocolate cakes. The bolillos or miniature French breads fresh with this coffee will make a memorable breakfast. The only thing missing now are 1) eggs from barnyard chickens therefore orange yolks not the chemical look you’re used to at home. and 2) some of Abraham’s famous orange juice. He’s just off of OLAS ALTAS on Rodolfo Gomez St. If you walk to these places and back to either CASA ANITA or Villas SONIA this whole exercise will have taken you about 45 minutes to an hour but it’s worth the effort.

Nevertheless, if you don’t want to cook breakfast but want to do something special try El TUCAN or the Pancake House. They are a five minute walk from Casa ANITA. The Pancake House is open daily until noon. El TUCAN offers a varied menu throughout the day. Both feature eggs benedict and American style breakfasts including waffles. Some of the beach restaurants serve breakfast and it’s a totally different atmosphere at this time of day. The romantic breakfast and a MEX-DEV best kept secret is the ‘bottom of EL SET’ restaurant that opens at 08:00. It’s at the bottom of EASY street near the CAMINO REAL and is part of the EL SET restaurant. With the sea birds scavenging their daily meal and the sun creeping nearer shore as it comes over the mountains the freshness is overwhelming.

This place is special and if you’re hungry try the BEACH BOY Breakfast. Don’t be surprised to not see many Mexicans in these restaurants as none are ‘cheap cheap’ anymore (the price of being a World Class resort). The devaluations are neat for the tourists but the locals find it beyond their means. Mind you, where else is it cheap these days?

Some of the Mexicans can’t afford it and if you too are similarly disposed, then get up early and “do the market” at one end of the northbound bridge over the Cuale where all the Mexicans hustle and bustle about. The best choices go quickly, so beware. This market is known as the Municipal Market but it changed from that to more of a souvenir arcade than a real market.

Another, better for food, market is six blocks east of Insurgentes, off Lazero Cardenas again. Turn right at the large FARMACIA GUADALAJARA and go east six blocks or so until you run into it. This is where most of the restaurateurs and homemakers from this part of town shop for the daily offerings. If you eat out every night, the kitchen and refrigerator will only constitute approximately a $15 dollar a day saving; what with ice and cold beer and drinks consumed at home, as opposed to those consumed in bars and restaurants.

If however you take real advantage of the full kitchens in every MEX-DEV unit a substantially greater saving can be realized. Think of that along with the “best airfare and accommodation” when booking a holiday. The spending, or bleeding, starts when you hit the airport. A kitchen gives you control. Think of it as a tourniquet. Listen up you Canadians with your Canadian Pesos if you use your head and our facilities, you can live like a king at native prices.

FLASH: In the “hot” section of restaurants to try consider the Greek restaurant across from the entrance to the new (named) Hotel San Marino something or other which used to be the ORO VERDE and before that the DELFIN. Forget the hotel but consider the restaurant across the street. Some of the beach places have staked out a niche for being night restaurants. La Palapa is the leader in this and the decor and background music to lure people back to the beach at night is working. Another great restaurant which is hard to find and a sleeper with a funny entrance (don’t give up) is near the electrical commission on Peru, I believe on a corner. It’s called Mi RUEDA and means “My Wheel” They have the brain chillers in three sizes. Watch out for the ‘grandes’. Tell Miguel that Sonia from Casa Anita sent you and you’ll get extra special service!

This class of information becomes dated quickly so make sure to check with Annette, Guillermo (Bill) or SONIA about the latest in places. Many times we can suggest what menu items to order at each place! To help you even more in this effort we have assembled in a loose-leaf binder, all the menus of the mentioned restaurants and some others, which is located on the pool deck in front of the reception desk. On the “bar cart” near the steps, we also have all the coupons offered by the tour operators and restaurants. Many of these coupons will offer a free drink with your meal or a discount. Feel free to peruse these menus and ask questions of us or other guests. Indeed when you’ve enjoyed something or the contrary let us know or better still make a note in the menu itself. You can put ‘yum yum’ or ‘aaauck’ or whatever you want. They will have more and more meaning as things progress.

Share with us and your fellow guests both your good and bad experiences. We want to know so as to pass the info along. Some one once said to me that this guide and the information we dispense freely both at the briefings and in the course of day to day conversations with guests is really 20% of our product or service. I think that’s a fine compliment. If you share your experiences with us we’ll share them with your successors and by the time you get back …. well…

Miscellaneous information: (from my 17 (now 26) year old daughter SONIA)

To all you teen-agers going to Puerto Vallarta to have a good time…here are a few hints. Don’t miss out on the Banana Boat rides and the parachuting in front of El Dorado restaurant. There is also water ski, inertube and jet ski rentals on the beach, but it’s not cheap! For shopping, try the market, the bartering is the best, “how low can you go?”.

So you ask, what about the nightlife? Incredible!!! Carlos O’Brian’s is the hot spot for everyone. After 11 p.m. it turns into a wild party house, go check it out, you won’t be disappointed! After a few drinks there, ZOO BAR is the place to go. The ROXY and Senor Frogs also have live music and El TORITO is a sports bar with great ribs and chicken. Most clubs open at 11p.m. and close at 6a.m., but I wouldn’t recommend going to the dance clubs before 1a.m., you’ll just be bored because everyone else will be at Carlos O’Brian’s or the famous Hard Rock Cafe (unfortunately I didn’t think it lived up to it’s name). So there you are…have fun!

Summary:

So there you have it. Undoubtedly there will be questions not answered herein but the saving grace is that once you arrive in Puerto Vallarta and check-in you will receive a thorough briefing that is well worth while. It will undoubtedly make your vacation more enjoyable and likely save you some money as well as maybe a bad experience. The other element to remember is that SONIA, who greets the guests and conducts the briefing, is available during business hours below to answer all of your questions. Later they will be answered herein. One guest once described that twenty percent of our business was the information that we have and share. Indeed 36 years is a long time. We know it, we love it and we’re happy to share it.

There is an expression in Spanish that goes: – MI CASA es SU CASA which is a greeting of welcome into one’s home and it (and WE) mean literally, “MY HOUSE IS YOUR HOUSE”.

If we tell you anymore it won’t be fun anymore so let’s preserve the fun. Just remember that your experience will be memorable, the good with the bad, and after all a vacation is really to change one’s ways temporarily, so as to re-assume the daily routine more readily. MEXICO will certainly stimulate you ……of that I’m sure…what is not clear is whether some of the inconveniences, such as the language barrier or noise or dust, money change, or whatever which might irk you somewhat, will be viewed as a nuisance or as a quaint or charming change. In a word…attitude…your disposition towards MEXICO is your nemesis. Why is it that some people love Mexico, while others hate it? Well, that’s not easy to answer, but it tells you a whole lot about the persons themselves…..I sure hope that you love MEXICO because if you do….that love, will be returned.

BUENAS VACACIONES!

from your hosts,

ANITA, SONIA & GUILLERMO SEMEYN

 

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