It’s a weird, fun fact: The best food in Mexico is most likely found on the street, sold out of a shanty-like stall or the back of a truck. Dodgy as it may sound, street eating isn’t just for intrepid travelers with stomachs of steel. Thanks to the proliferation of local food tours (which show you not just the best places to eat, but how to select your stand), it’s now for everyone.
I was in Puerto Vallarta for a conference last week, and I decided to skip out and join a street taco tour of the town with Vallarta Eats. Reactions to my decision varied, but all had an undercurrent of “Better bring your Cipro.” I countered with: “The only time I’ve ever gotten food poisoning has been from ‘nice” hotels. Street meat has never hurt me.” That, and: Most people outside of first world countries, don’t do restaurants. They do street stalls, which is the same difference. As my guide, Guillermo “Memo” Lira, said, “Many of these stalls have been run for three generations. These are family restaurants.”
But for the uninitiated, it can still be intimidating, so we here at Yahoo Travel are here to help. If you know the rules of street food, you can eat better than your fellow travelers, for pennies on the dollar… and not end up on a diet of Imodium and ginger ale.
I now present the rules of Street Meat:
1. If it’s crowded, it’s good.
Always go where the locals go — because they won’t put up with bad food. If there’s a crowd at a food stall, there’s a reason, and in Puerto Vallarta, that means a delicious taco.
2. You have to go at the right time.
Many of the stalls in Puerto Vallarta are designated morning, noon or night stands. The “breakfast taco” places are literally open from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. All of the stalls will only be open for a few hours, because, as Memo said, “The family makes the food fresh and then, when it’s gone, it’s done. They close up and go home. They will only serve fresh food.”
3. Speaking of fresh, don’t trust a seafood stand that’s open after 3 p.m.
“We take our seafood very seriously here,” Memo said. “The seafood stalls will buy straight from the fishermen coming back from the sea that morning. Good local seafood places are only open during the day… not at night. Because it should be fresh, and the most important meal of the day is lunch, from 2 to 3 p.m. For dinner, it is something lighter.”
4. Know how much your taco will cost.
All tacos are between 10 pesos (for a beef birria taco) and 30 pesos (for the more expensive shrimp). So basically, a full meal for 50 cents to $1.75. You seriously can’t beat that. Anywhere.
5. Look for the plastic bag.
There is no running water at the street stands, so vendors will reuse plates and keep them clean by wrapping them individually in plastic bags. When a customer is done with their food, the vendor will throw away the dirty plastic and rewrap the plate.
6. The person touching the food should never — ever — touch the money.
“When you pay for food — person handling food should never handle the money, because it’s dirty,” Memo said. “If there’s only one person handling food and money, eat somewhere else.”
7. Check out the salsa
Always look at the salsa, which should be fresh, and not bottled. “If the salsa is not fresh and good, then who knows about the food? Leave!” Memo advised.
So now you know, my friends. Go, eat and enjoy!