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My wife and I are empty-nesters and have been traveling regularly on Disney Cruise Lines. For our recent trip we wanted to plan something different on each of our four port days to broaden our experience. Our research led us to Vallarta Food Tours, booked on our own here on Viator.
We enjoy and appreciate well-made food, local culture in real neighborhoods, and the people responsible for them. This tour did not disappoint! This was one of the highlights of our trip we rank it not far behind our Panama Canal passage.
When we noticed, two days before arriving in PV, that our vouchers were not clear on the meeting place, we emailed the operator, Vallarta Food Tours. Paul Mayer, the owner, responded within a couple hours and gave us directions on how to get from the port yellow cab near the Wal-Mart, which is a five-minute walk from the pier - about US6 at the time to the meeting point Plaza del Pitillal, in the gazebo across from the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel church.
Paul and our guide Ricardo met us at the square about ten minutes early and we chatted while we waited for the rest of the group. Ricardo provided cold bottled water for our group of seven and once under way, he oriented us as to the background of the neighborhood, what wed be seeing, and things to watch for.
While the streets and sidewalks are narrow, uneven and busy with both pedestrians and vehicles, no one in our group seemed overly anxious or inconvenienced. There is a lot of sidewalk and street business, mostly food vendors, delivery persons and service trucks, all making for a colorful, noisy, and fragrant, bustle.
Some adjustment to culture is required: dogs are welcome everywhere and the local markets are open air, receiving a side of beef broken down streetside with the carcass laid bare on a tarp in the bed of a pickup truck. These sights should not deter visitors these people are neighbors and reputation means everything. Ricardo pointed out one of many help wanted signs that, because the community is small, basically shamed the former employee by its wording, Looking for a responsible employee
Passersby are either friendly or disinterested. Since this is not a tourist area, there are no pushy hawkers or tacky shops selling souvenirs. Younger residents appeared to speak English well older residents less so. You are an obvious outsider here, so your high school Spanish will either be accepted or just not understood at any rate, Ricardo was born in the area, and though he grew up in the States, knew everyone and was accepted as a local.
Ricardo managed everything at all our stops. All tastings are pre-arranged, with the exception of quick stops for a sidewalk sample of a cherry-like fruit dipped in a chili sauce as well as rotisserie chicken and potatoes basted in the drippings. However, neither of these could top the churros, hot out of the fryer and dusted with cane sugar, after which Costcos may as well not exist. In fact, all our Americanized Mexican restaurants at home are pretty much ruined for us!
Food tastings and stops were spread out around the neighborhood in what felt like a ten block area we always seemed to be within three or four blocks of the Plaza and included carnitas the cola braising liquid MAKES this! on fresh soft tortillas, goat stew with or without cabbage and onion, mixed ceviche tostadas, poblano pepper and cheese tamales the fluffy masa was like polenta. At this last stop, Ricardo explained that the diner is dedicated to literally feeding the community meals are offered in the large courtyard setting at very low prices so everyone can afford to eat well. Ricardo called the owner my aunt whether that was literal or figurative, she is a caregiver to all.
Ricardo guided us through the tastings, recommending we try different garnishes and condiments separately so we could appreciate how they affect the flavors and also, I suspect, allay fears of spiciness.
Our tour also included a very special non-food stop to a small saddle, tack and leather shop, La Regional Talabarteria, where four men, including the late founders son, cut, inlaid, sewed and assembled pieces of a custom saddle. Its humbling for this architect, a mechanics son who is no good with tools, to watch real artisans create beauty with no fuss or artifice. The work speaks for itself.
Other non-tasting stops included a spice store, produce market, and a print shop, all chosen as examples of life in a working, close, vibrant community in a larger urban area.
This was by far one of the best guided travel experiences weve ever had. To be brought into a neighborhood and share closely the space, time, food and culture, even if only for a few hours, is the essence of community to commune to communicate, such that we understand our differences highlight our similarities. Hopefully we can bring that spirit back to mend the too-prevalent divisions in our home communities.
Take this tour if you want a fun time and love food.
We were in PV at the end of May during low season. We were the only two on the tour that afternoon. Alex was our guide and he was amazing--very passionate and knowledgable about the culture, food, and history of PV. He even made extra stops since the group was so small. He was lovely company and offered very useful tips on any topic we discussed regarding our stay in Vallarta. It was a great way to explore a neighborhood we wouldn't have otherwise. We even went back to some of the restaurants he took us to! The highlight for us was the Robles family restaurant. Make sure to go on an empty stomach! The food was delicious! Thank you Alex for everything! We will definitely go on this tour again.
Was nice having a private food tour of places where tourists to not usually venture, it is just a very hot walk.
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