Tony Balam and Armando Diaz have been friends for over 50 years . Tony was born in Puerto Vallarta 59 years ago, while Armando came from Cabo Corrientes with his family at seven years of age . I have known both of them for over 30 years as we were part of the same posse when I first lived in PV years ago .
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Armando’s family rented a casita from Tony’s father across the street from where now is the the restaurant El Torito in Emiliano Zapata . These Pata Saladas became fast friends , body surfing at Olas Altas beach , attending primary school and getting into fist fights on occasion .
Armando is one of Eleven children and Tony one of seven . Both at twelve years of age left school in order to help support their family . This was quite common in the day . Tony went into construction earning 50 pesos a week with Armando working six months as an unpaid apprentice in a hotel kitchen , though after his trial period he was granted a pay check . Armando enjoyed learning to cook and about the hospitality industry which would serve him well in years to come .
Tony tells me at the time the city was divided economically with the ” better off ” living in their neighborhood and the less privileged across the bridge . This statement floored me ! If these men came from a prosperous area and had to leave school at twelve years old what choices did the children from the other side of the tracks have ?
As young adults both Tony and Armando left Vallarta to work abroad . Tony traveling and working in California , New York and Canada . Armando, Los Angeles and San Francisco . Both worked in Los Angeles as waiters at Carlos & Charlie’s on the Sunset Strip along with eight other Vallartenses . This was 1981 and the party never stopped . In fact Tony lived in a shared apartment nicknamed ” El Embajada ” ( the embassy ) in West Hollywood because all the young men were Mexican mostly from Vallarta . You can imagine the crazy fiestas and antics that happened there !
Armando mostly desired the experience of living outside of Vallarta and Mexico to broaden his perspective . Tony needed to earn money to send home to his mother and six siblings though it certainly didn’t stop him from having a good time . I know I was there , having moved back to L.A with my Vallartense boyfriend .
Both men picked up excellent English language skills as well as a sophistication which traveling provides . As good as the economic opportunities were elsewhere they both returned to PV , missing family , community and the natural beauty of Vallarta .
Armando went on to work in top flight restaurants in PV marrying his U.S. born wife Linda and together raising their son Michael . Armando has a very zen like approach to life . He values nature , contemplation and exudes a quiet joy . Armando often says his greatest life accomplishment was raising his son Michael who now lives in New York with his wife Gaby . Armando and Linda were happy to make sacrifices to give their son the best education , not to mention oodles of love and attention . Linda and Armando now work together supplying the elite home and fashion designers in Puerto Vallarta .
When Tony returned from his years abroad he worked at Carlos O’ Brian’s on the Malecon arguably the most popular and fun restaurant / bar at the time . This was a top gig for a head waiter . When Tony left O’ Brian’s he opened his original Balam restaurant on Basilio Badillio , along the way marrying his wife Rosanna and raising two beautiful and intelligent daughters . Tall and lanky like their father .
Due to different circumstances over the years Tony opened and closed three separate restaurants never due to low turn out and always featuring the freshest seafood . Unceasingly persistent and an entrepreneur , Tony just opened his fourth venture Balam Balam .
Between bites of octopus tostadas and fish tacos Tony , Armando and I spoke about some of the negative changes in Vallarta over the years , though as Armando explained they are accepting of these changes because firstly , they are out of their control though mostly they desire a peaceful mindset and life . And of course Vallarta still has its charms and beauty . Cobblestone streets, lush tropical mountains , beautiful beaches , friendly people and much , much more .
A worthwhile practice is to always focus on the good in life which includes family , friendship and great seafood !
I invite you to try Balam Balam . A charming outdoor restaurant on the Rio Riviera . A natural setting featuring lush foliage and sounds of the river Cuale . Fresh and delicious seafood , just a block from the Emiliano Zapata market . On Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BalamPV