A Taco Tour Of Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican Pacific coast has a lively street food scene. The signature street food is the taco, but how to sample the best? On a recent media trip to the opening of the stunning W Punta de Mita, their "Insider" (a kind of specialized concierge who is a repository of local knowledge) directed me to "The Signature Taco Tour" by Vallarta Eats.
I booked my $55 ticket online and received meeting instructions. The tour started and ended in Old Town Puerto Vallarta. It was entirely on foot, about one and a half miles total. All food and non-alcoholic drinks were included, as were the services of an excellent tour leader (most importantly). Our leader, Daniella, proved to be an expert, not just on the food, but also on the dozen vendors we visited on the tour.

Visits were not confined to taquerías. We went to a maker of a coconut beverage who started with the unopened coconuts and made a mocktail from it, a carniceriá (butcher) making chicharrón, a tortillería busy making tortillas, a ceviche specialist, and even a candy shop.

Our first stop was just a few blocks from the start. At the corner of a side street a cart served birria beef taco and consomé to a hungry crowd. It was my first birria, a stew native to Puerto Vallarta's state of Jalisco (that's right, the epicenter of tequila). Maybe the 10 a.m. crowds reflected the stew's purported powers to cure a hangover? Or maybe it was the price that I calculated at 60 cents per taco. Either way, it was a mighty heartwarming plate of three beef tacos to kick the day off. Daniella pointed out that street cart locations are licensed by the city. This spot has been in the hands of the same family for more than 20 years. An interesting feature she pointed out was the white markings on the road delimiting the boundaries of the cart's operations.

As we walked our first half-dozen stops, I started to see a pattern. Taco vendors tended to specialize in a particular type of taco. There were the beef birria vendors, the birria taco dorado (deep fried tacos) vendors, the pork taco vendors, and the seafood taco vendors; a veritable micro-economy of specialization.

With no electricity or plumbing to the carts, the freshness of each tortilla is assured by a runner system under which a cyclist from the tortillería constantly loops around town with warm tortillas to restock the carts. As I stared through the open walls of the tortillería, the tortilla-making machine was as animated and fearsome as an old steam railway locomotive. It whacks down the masa, mashes it to a disk, drags it helplessly supine into the oven, and leaves its ominous brown mark on both sides. I could eat these tortillas with nothing on them.

In conditions of searing heat, workers at a carnicería plunge pig skins into vats of hot fat, invoking a massive, almost mutant blistering and bubbling. The resulting chicharrónes are hauled out and left to drain and cool. For sale, they are cut into smaller pieces. As I nibbled some on the street, I pondered how such a simple process could be so transforming.

After several meat-intensive stops, we checked in for passion fruit and guanábana sorbet and then some candy.

I realized time flew by as we arrived back at the starting point. I was sure I wouldn't eat for at least three days. In fact, I was so immobile that it didn't bother me when the dense Puerto Vallarta afternoon traffic slowed down my return journey to the W. It gave me more time to sit still.