The Best Taco in Jalisco

When I go to Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican state of Jalisco’s Pacific shore, I am driven by a memory.

Many years ago, visiting the area with my pal Gary, I had what may have been the best taco of my life.

Al pastor at Pepe's Tacos, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

Al pastor at Pepe’s Tacos, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

“I’m not eating there,” Gary said as I made a bee-line for the grimy little sidewalk stand, feeding more flies than patrons, bottles of crema baking in the sun. I smelled fish tacos.

“Dos, por favor,” I told the leathery woman dropping fillets into oil.

Growing up, I had made periodic road trips to Baja with my mom, where we always ate delicious fish tacos in the port of Ensenada. But these, from the greasy stand where Gary refused to eat, were otherworldly. I made Gary accompany me there each day. I have forever since associated Puerto Vallarta with great tacos.

“These are the best tacos in Puerto Vallarta,” said pal and Skinny Girls sidekick Don Schneider as we arrived at Pepe’s Tacos for the first time a couple years back. A guy stood at the vertical shwarma grill, introduced to Mexico by Middle East immigrants at some point in the past, carving caramelized pork and pineapple from the revolving spit, where it dropped onto a tortilla that had been swiped in the residual oils at the bottom. Al pastor, at its most elemental.

This video doesn’t exist

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Pepe’s is our inevitable first stop on the way from the airport to the house. And the tacos are indeed delicious. But we had by accident last trip discovered a taco even better — also an al pastor — and more convenient being a short beach walk from the house — Pancho’s Takos. The perfect confluence of pork, chewy toasted corn tortilla and sublime salsa that was, undoubtedly, the best taco I’d ever had. Unfortunately, we also found each time we went back, that they are hardly ever open.

One evening last week, house cook Marilu made a fine birria — a sort of Mexican goat stew. The next morning, as we prepared to depart to half an hour south, a tiny town in the jungle called Boca de Tomatlan — “Mouth of the Tomatlan” River — where we would meet our amigo and boat captain Mario for a fishing and snorkeling trip, I used the leftover birria to make a bunch of crunchy fried tacos.

The tacos were delicious when I ate one hot off the stove, slathered with lather. Out on the boat, relieved of their crispness by the marine air, they were sort of sad and pathetic. But they were still better than 80% of the tacos I’ve had north of the border.

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Pal and Skinny Girls sidekick Alex, on the other hand, starving before even stepping foot on the boat, wandered into one of the beachside stands and bought crunch mushroom and cheese tacos. And when he shoved a bite into my mouth, it was the best taco I’d ever had.

But the best taco I’ve ever had in Jalisco, which was less like a taco and more like a half burrito, was at Tacon de Marlin, across a bridge over a busy road from the airport. We had just checked in, had a little — and I mean a little — time before our flight. And Don suggested we cross the bridge and eat.

At a grill, two gentlemen cooked small piles of seafood — shrimp, octopus, smoked marlin — which they then wrapped in a flour tortilla with cheese, cut in half, and grilled the cut side before serving with a creamy jalapeño salsa. There was a long line of people waiting. We scored an open table, a couple beers and were waiting for our food when we realized it was only 35 minutes until our flight.

The grill at Tacon de Marlin.

The grill at Tacon de Marlin.

We jumped up, paced in a panic until our food (now take-out) was ready, sprinted back across the bridge, and then did the O.J. sprint to and through the airport, as “Last call for flight 273 to Los Angeles” rang through the overhead PA system. Barely making the gate as the doors were closing, I settled into my seat and breathed a sigh of relief. Then waited until we were at cruising altitude before dropping my tray table.

And that — just like all the others — was the best taco I ever had in Jalisco, even though we were 30,000 feet above Sinaloa and the Sea of Cortez by the time I got around to opening the styrofoam container.

The moral being that whenever I’m in Jalisco, the best taco is the taco I am eating at any particular moment.




13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Apr 01, 2016 @ 00:10:15

    LOVED the video!!!


  2. Lisa
    Apr 01, 2016 @ 00:36:04

    What is that thigh of dinosaur from which he’s chipping away..and the accompanying gizzard of beast above it?? 😉


  3. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Apr 01, 2016 @ 02:05:58

    Great Post Sean, thanks for sharing! Have a great weekend! Cheryl


  4. pal-O
    Apr 01, 2016 @ 14:05:46

    The best meal is generally the one that is in front of you. We want to go to Mexico with you one day!


  5. Michelle
    Apr 03, 2016 @ 23:27:08

    I’m off to make plane reservations now. 🙂


  6. Trackback: Burn Mitzvah! | skinny girls & mayonnaise
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