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Taco Carts and Street Food in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Taco Carts and 'Street Food' in Puerto Vallarta

As you wander the city, you will find food carts in almost every neighborhood, but especially in Viejo Vallarta. Eating fresh-made tacos and quesadillas on the street is a way of life here for dinner, lunch, or snacks…and an economical choice as well.

Look for where the locals are eating…they’ve probably tried many different carts and have decided this one is the best. If your knowledge of the language isn’t quite perfect, don’t worry. Hold up 3 fingers, point to which type of meat you want on the grill, and you’ll get three perfect, fresh tacos. Don’t worry about where they wash the dishes…your plate is covered with a fresh disposable plastic bag.


Here’s a list of the common offerings of meat: Carne Asada is grilled or fried beefsteak. Pastor is beef cooked on a vertically-rotating spit; and looks kind of like greek gyros. Usually served with a chunk of roasted pineapple. Puerque is pork, Tripa is tripe, Jamon is ham, and Pollo is Chicken. Birria is Goat meat. Not very common, but VERY tasty, even if it’s a bit greasy.


And here’s the different ways you can have your meal or snack: Tacos made with a small soft corn tortilla. “Hard shell” tacos like they make at Taco Bell up North are virtually unknown here, however there are acouple little carts that make "Dorados" which are tacos fried crisp in the juice and fat of the meat before they are filled. Quesadillas are soft flour tortilla filled with melted cheese. If you don’t order any meat, it will come with just cheese. Gorditas - Some stands offer “the little fatty” as a thick corn tortilla covered with sauce and your choice of meat, and topped with cheese…sort of like a little Mexican pizza. Tortas are sandwiches made with a French-bread style roll. A favorite is the ‘Cubana’, an ‘everything’ sandwich with ham or bologna, pork, at least one kind of cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, chilies (if you want), and mayonnaise. Burritas - Burritos are not common here (it’s more a northern-Mexico or ‘Tex-Mex’ food), but you may find ‘Burritas’ which are small rolled and fried tacos. Tostadas are hard-fried corn tortillas; here in Puerto Vallarta they are commonly topped with seafood ceviche - fresh chopped seafood mixed with onions, tomatoes, and a few spices.


Every cart has a supply of soft drinks, typically Coke or Pepsi plus all those companies’ other products (Sprite, 7-up, Fanta Orange, etc.). One you're probably not familiar with is generically called 'manzanita' which is a delicious apple soda, not unlike carbonated apple juice. But the best deal and the best refreshment is the cart’s ‘agua’. The word means ‘water’, but it’s typically one of two types of flavored water. “Jamaica” (say “Ha-MY-ee-cah”) is a cold tea made from the flowers of the Jamaica plant, deep red in color, sweetened, and delicious. The other is Horchata (say “Ore-CHA-tah”), a milky-white drink made from rice milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Cold, tasty, nutritious, and absolutely refreshing.


Speaking of refreshments, try “tuba” when you are on the Malecon or wherever you might encounter it. This traditional drink is a concoction of coconut milk and palm sap with little chunks of apple and nuts, served over ice. You’ll see vendors carrying a pole over their shoulders, a large gourd on one end and a bag of ice and cups on the other. Usually 10 to 15 pesos depending on size. Sweet, refreshing, and very tasty. You might also encounter vendors of ‘tejuino’, another native drink, which we don’t know what it is but once we tried it we were not impressed. Fermented something, and quite bitter. If you’ve got an adventurous streak, try it out just to say you did so, then let us know what you thought of it.


We’re aware of many guidebooks that advise against eating from the street carts and vendors on the basis of health and sanitation reasons, but feel that their views are a tad over-paranoid. All the carts are regularly inspected for sanitation, and carts serving poor quality food simply don’t stay in business long. There are a few things you might want to do if you’re concerned. Squeeze some lime (“limon”) on your tacos before eating them…every cart has limes, and the juice is a natural anti-bacterial, and adds a flavorful ‘zing’ to your food. Also, if your stomach tends to be sensitive, take some Pepto-Bismal before your meal. Finally, most stomach problems aren’t from the food itself, but rather the excessive use of spicy sauces the diner is not familiar with. You can ask in advance which sauces are spicy/not spicy by pointing and asking: “Picante?” or “No picante?”


Sometimes the edible offerings are more mobile than the typical stationery food cart...look for 3-wheeled bikes with pots of hot corn or tamales, or roving vendors with all the fixings for gorditas or empenadas kept in coolers and plastic buckets, all strapped to a two-wheel dolly. You’ll also find carts selling hot dogs wrapped in bacon, giant (if a bit thin) hamburgers, crepes, and snacks of all types. A fried-corn snack is sold on the beach and in the plazas…you’ll see vendors with huge baskets of these multi-shaped snacks which taste a bit like ‘Fritos’ but lighter, and it’s common to douse them with the provided lime, salt, and/or hot sauce. Don’t be afraid to buy a bag and try them. You’ll also find corn-on-the-cob, but it’s not nearly as sweet and juicy as the sweet corn ‘up north’. They make it work here with a liberal slathering of butter, sour cream, lime juice, dry cheese, and/or chili powder. All these things together mixed in a cup (as it is commonly offered) is a very tasty, inexpensive, and satisfying snack.


One of the best ‘street foods’ is actually on the beach - Fish on a Stick is only 20 pesos (or 3 for 50 pesos), and you’ll get several nice chunks of freshly-grilled white fish on a stick, with lime and hot sauce if you want. Also available in shrimp, but served un-peeled, which makes it a bit messy…so grab plenty of napkins. You’ll see vendors carrying the goods on most of the beaches, most notably Playa los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta’s most popular beach south of the Cuale River. Best bet is to get yours straight from the grill…we recommend Mariscos Vicky, at the little pedestrian bridge between the Playa los Arcos Hotel and Langostino’s Restaurant. They’ve got a few tables on the beach, big chunks of fish, and friendly smiles.

You can also get plates of freshly-shucked raw oysters on the beach…again, best bet is to go find them at the source, rather than take a chance on oysters that have been walked around in the sun for too long.


Churros are absolutely sinfully delicious, better than a Krispy-Kreme any day. This is basically a stick-like donut, dough squeezed out of a giant stainless-steel caulk gun, fried in oil and then coated with cinnamon and sugar. There’s usually a stand set up outside the Santa Cruz church in Viejo Vallarta at the corner of Cardeñas and Aguacate Streets. Just say “cinco pesos” or “diez pesos” (5 pesos or 10 pesos), and you’ll get a nice paper bag of fresh, hot, greasy, sweet, tasty, diet-busting delight.


Fruit stands are common in Puerto Vallarta, and are a great source of snacks or vegetarian meals. For the typical price of 10 to 15 pesos, you‘ll get a plastic bag or cup of freshly sliced fruit. One popular stand is at the corner of Cardenas and Insurgentes in Viejo Vallarta. Just point to what you want, and Alejandro will slice it up for you; or practice your Spanish with the glossary below.


Fresh juice is a staple of Puerto Vallarta street food, and a great way to start your day. Once you’ve had sweet fresh-squeezed orange juice you’ll never be able to enjoy that stuff you buy in a carton back home. There are fresh juice stands all over Vallarta, sometimes operated for a few hours each morning in front of the squeezer’s house. If you’re starting your morning in Viejo Vallarta, there’s a very popular stand on Insurgentes Street at the corner of the big pharmacy (Farmacia Guadalajara). Prices range from 8 to 12 pesos depending on location and size. Say “Para llevar” (“Pah-rah Yah-var”, meaning ‘to go’) and they’ll pour it in a plastic bag with a straw for a portable drink. Check the glossary below, or simply point at what you want.


Coco=Coconut; Naranja=Orange; Toranja=Melon; Melon=Cantelope; Sandia=Watermelon; Mango=Mango; Piña=Pinapple; Platano=Banana; Manzana=Apple; Zanahoria=Carrot; Apio=Celery; Jicama=Jicima; Pepino=Cucumber.

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