Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Punta Mita & Riviera Nayarit Restaurants

Locations in this article:  Paris, France

Sunset in San BlasIf you’re not familiar with Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, you’re not alone. This coastal region, located just north of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Nayarit, is a relatively new destination for mainstream travelers.

Riviera Nayarit is made up of a series of quiet villages, including Nuevo Vallarta, the former fishing village of Punta Mita, and the rustic northern town of San Blas.

For years, this area was a well-kept secret among avid surfers, far off tourist and celebrity radars with none of the glitz, glamour or crowds of Puerto Vallarta.

The opening of luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons and St. Regis in Punta Mita, golf resorts and marinas, and the proliferation of second-home buyers has led to the steady growth of travel-friendly amenities. But while locals are proud of the recent development, they maintain that region has not lost its original essence.

Read on to find out some local favorites in Riviera Nayarit…

Learn more about the history of Punta Mita with Little Miracles in Punta Mita.

Chef Betty Vazques, El Delfin, San Blas, Riviera Nayarit

Chef Vazquez, who studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and did a stage at Chef Juan Mari Arzak’s kitchen in Spain’s Basque Country, serves up fresh, local ingredients with a French twist at El Delfin restaurant inside Hotel Garza Canela.

For me, San Blas is like a little piece of paradise.

Coconut treeIn this area you can find always good food in every place you stop. All the ingredients are fresh and most of them are the catch of the day, along with fruit and vegetables available in the market from growers around town. All the tropical fruit here tastes so real and so different—just try a banana that has matured on a banana tree, not in a warehouse, and it’s like an explosion in your mouth.

There are places to eat around the square, many of which are open all day long. Wala-Wala restaurant is a family-operated business, with high-quality food. On weekends, feature “bohemian night,” where local and tourist are welcome to play and sing, often with surprisingly talented performances.

Having a licuado (a shake made with milk, fruit and ice) in the market is a must, while fresh juices made from exotic fruits can be quite a surprise.

Find more foodie adventures in our Culinary Travel section.

Don’t miss out on the taco stands, with tacos that can melt your mouth, featuring various sauces, avocado, tomatillos, peanuts, and pico de gallo. Visitors should not miss Tacos Don Chava, which are made with carnitas (deep-fried pork meat).

If you are brave enough, try a plate of menudo (beef tripe soup ) early in the morning or a plate of pozole (pork and hominy soup) in the afternoons. Birria—baby goat stew—in the middle of the day is one of my favorites.

For the best barbecue chicken in town, visit Pollos Roman, which is located about two blocks off the square towards the Borrego Beach.

Punta Mita sunsetIf you happen to be at the beach, I also recommend Alicia restaurant, where you can have the best empanadas de camaron (turnovers filled with shrimp) and agua chiles (a local shrimp ceviche, marinated in serrano chile, garlic, cilantro and lemon juice). If you want to have a good pescado sarandeado (smoked fish), go to Caballito de Mar restaurant.

A little further out of town on Playa Las Islitas is Perlitas restaurant, which serves the best fish tacos and breaded shrimp with their secret recipe. Or try Ismael restaurant, which has wonderful seafood plates.

Macrina’s restaurant is another special place—she is the oldest cook in Islitas (we all call her the grandmother of the cooks) and she has a great taste, a wonderful sense of humor and a warm smile.

You’ll definitely want to sample the best oysters of the area, which are available in the community of Aticama, just outside of San Blas. There, you can eat oysters fresh out of the shell, which taste as great as the ones in Brittany in France. Other kinds of mollusk can also be found in this area, and locals dive for lobsters every day.

Get more Mexico travel advice in our Mexico & Central America section.

Banana bread, coconuts sweets and sweet rolls from the bakery are the perfect local dessert.

Typical foods of Riviera Nayarit:

  • tepache – fermented pineapple juice
  • tejuino – fermented corn juice
  • gorditas de masa – deep-fried corn dog
  • sopes – circle of corn masa deep fried and topped with seafood
  • buñuelos – a Christmas treat of fried balls of dough, flavored with anise and drenched in syrup
  • cocadas – sweets made with coconuts

Jesus Carmona, director of golf at Paradise Village’s El Tigre Golf & Country Club

Tiger & JesusOf my favorite nearby restaurants, I have to recommend the Italian restaurant Pescatore, located within the Paradise Village Resort. It offers consistently great food and service, and best of all, beautiful view of the marina and the Nuevo Vallarta canals.

Although Nuevo Vallarta is located only 16 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, the experience is completely different. This is a lovely place to take a long walk, without bumping into crowds of tourists.

El Tigre Golf & Country Club, where I work, is home to six live Bengal tigers, part of a rescue program that began back in 1997. More than 70 tigers have been born at the resort since then, and I’ve taken care of each and every one of them. So my favorite pastime on a daily basis is walking the tigers on the golf course.

Click here to see a slideshow on the resort’s Bengal tiger program.

Click here for more information and guests from Peter’s radio show in Riviera Nayarit.