Mexico has one of the largest and oldest street food cultures in the world, dating back to the Aztecs. In the ancient metropolis of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), Cortes and his men were astonished to find huge markets spread over many streets and filled with vendors selling fast food that was prepared in the market stall and easy to eat. Keep in mind the concept of restaurants did exist in Europe until the 1700’s.
The Spaniards called this pre-Columbian street food antojitos, “little cravings”and Mexico has been famous for it since. In fact, UNESCO named Mexican Food as an “intangible cultural heritage” of mankind.
Mexico City is still one of the top cities in the world for street food. It’s impact on modern cuisine is immeasurable. How many food trucks do you have in your city now, along with upscale, trendy restaurants serving modified versions of Mexican Street Food?
Tacos also come from pre-hispanic times but originated in rural areas where women used tortillas as a convenient way to feed the men working in the fields. The food is placed on the tortilla, which works as a plate; no utensils needed. When the agricultural people started migrating to the large cities in the 20th century, the tacos followed. Wikipedia says: “The taco bridges social and economic barriers in that everyone in the country eats them.”
Where to Find the Best Street Food in Puerto Vallarta
All you have to do is stroll around Old Town Puerto Vallarta at night. You will be enticed by the Tacos al Pastor served with pineapple, cilantro and lime and the women on The Malecon selling roasted corn slathered with mayonnaise, crumbled white cheese and crema. And don’t even try to resist the aroma of bacon-wrapped hot dogs, being grilled by the man with the cart right outside the bar.
If a food stand looks clean and is not too exposed to bus and car exhaust, you can feel safe eating there. A good sign is when they are crowded. The locals know what is good so the food is constantly moving, not sitting around getting spoiled. Also take note if the cook is handling the money without wearing a disposable, plastic glove. Most food stands have a separate cashier.
When in Rome…
If you only make it to one Street Food stand while on your trip to Puerto Vallarta, make it Marisma.
This is a lunch place, which makes it kind of nice for a quick bite when exploring Old Town during the day. You can walk but easier if you take a taxi; it is approx 5-6 blocks inland from Los Muertos Beach on B. Badillo. All the taxi drivers know it. Be sure to specify “Marisma on Basilio Badillo”. There is another one in the Marina, north of town
The best breaded shrimp tacos you will ever eat. Be sure to put the creamy green sauce on them.
The fish ceviche tostadas are great too; ultra fresh. And their namesake, the fish tacos of course are excellent; again – sorry – especially the breaded. So just sample them all; the tacos are small.
Across the street from Marisma is a casual little restaurant with outstanding food and service called El Brujo. We have it on our list of Favorite Restaurants. Not officially Street Food but worth a look while you are at Marisma; it is actually very popular at night and specializes in grilled beef and fish.
For Tacos al Pastor, go to Pepe’s, in front of the Pemex, in the Cinco de Diciembre district, near the Malecon.
Every taxi driver in town knows how to get to Pepe’s Tacos.
Order several things:
Tacos al Pastor
Tacos al Carbon
And a Volcan – this is a tostada piled high with sliced meat and melted cheese
Pepe’s opens in the evening. This is the “after-the-bar-munchies” spot; they are open until wee hours
Street Food in general is kind of a night thing, especially tacos al pastor. Pepe’s is super safe and family friendly.
Take a stroll on the Malecon and then walk a few more blocks to Pepes, it is a tourist area
Purified Water infused with Fresh Fruit
At any of these places ask the waiter: “What is your agua fresca?”
This is a staple in Mexico. Fresh fruit, water and sugar mixed in a blender and served ice cold. Club soda is sometimes stirred in afterwards. It is made daily, with whatever fruit is readily available and in season; sort of a “Drink of the Day” Delicious.
When in doubt, ask for “Jamaica” (pronounced “ha-mike-ah”) a sweetened hibiscus tea served cold.
Late at night the Street Food stands may only be serving refrescos: Mexican soft drinks and flavored soda waters.
Beach Food – Shrimp on a Stick
On Los Muertos Beach in Old Town Vallarta, you will see vendors passing by with shrimp and fish kabobs that have been charbroiled on an open fire. Squeeze on the lime and enjoy. If needing an extra kick, ask the vendor for a shot of Huichol Sauce.
The peeled mangoes are too pretty to ignore. Ask the fruit vendor to slice it for you. They will put it in a plastic cup with jicama and cucumber and then sprinkle it with lime and chile.
Don’t be afraid to try the beach food; everyone does. And use the lime; it’s a natural antibiotic.
Puerto Vallarta Food Tours
One of the best ways to experience Mexican Street Food while in Puerto Vallarta is to take the highly acclaimed Food Tour; a 3-hour tasting and walking tour in Old Town. The Day Tour highlights the beautiful architecture of the historic district while the Night Street Taco Adventure explores the festive street culture after the sun goes down. Both include a tequila tasting. Just add cold cerveza to either tour for one of best pairings on Earth: Tacos and Tecate, aka “Vitamin T”.
Please look for more info on Puerto Vallarta Food Tours under Activities and ask your rental agent to purchase tickets for you in advance. Space is limited and the tours are wildly popular. The perfect culinary adventure for groups of 8 or more, you will have the guide to yourself on a private tour.