Travelers will find it hard to find a truly bad dining experience along Mexico’s Pacific coast, since the view is usually superb and the fish fresh-caught. Figuring which eateries are the best comes down to degrees of goodness — a mix of ambience, quality of service, coldness of the beer, vantage point on the beach and an indefinable feeling of balance — that for an hour or two, there’s no place on earth you’d rather be.
El Dorado Restaurant and Bar, Punta de Mita
A standout eatery in Punta de Mita is on Anclote Beach, El Dorado Restaurant and Bar. For the best view, opt for one of the tables on the ocean-view balcony, especially in the evening, when the sunset puts on a show. If looking for a Nayarit regional dish, try the fish grilled Sarandeado-style, usually red snapper or bream cooked over a smoky wood fire while slathered with chili, limes, mustard, and butter. Bring a bathing suit for a pre-prandial dip; the restaurant has its own outdoor shower right on the beach.
Don Pedro’s Restaurant & Bar, Sayulita
The surfing town of Sayulita in Riviera Nayarit has often been described as laidback, although presently a more apt description would be “lively.” Sayulita has grown in popularity and now contains an assortment of restaurants. One of the oldest and most popular in town is the beachfront Don Pedro’s Restaurant. It’s grown over the years, keeping pace with the town’s development, and now has a beach patio and bar for those who want to dine with their toes in the sand. The best views can be had from the second floor, although they only open the second floor during peak season or when the first floor is packed. I dined on the first floor and the views of the scene on the beach were fine — everything from surfers catching waves, kids playing along the shoreline, and musicians strumming guitars. The Mexican-style seafood is great, but if a diner is interested in changing things up, Don Pedros also serves wood-fired oven pizzas and mesquite-grilled filet mignon.
El Barracuda, Puerto Vallarta
El Barracuda is informal but hip, offering dining right on Playa Camarones (Shrimp Beach) only a few blocks from downtown. Fresh seafood is the main ticket, although they also serve barbequed ribs and steaks for the meat lovers in a group. While the menu is top-heavy with seafood mainstays like fish tacos and ceviche, they also provide dishes that are more unusual, such as garlic octopus, tostadas with smoked marlin, and shrimp burgers. Jettison the cerveza and go for a jalapeno mezcalita, a cocktail prepared with mescal, cucumber, and jalapeno.
La Palapa Restaurant, Puerto Vallarta
La Palapa is on the main beach, Playa Los Muertos, right in the middle of the city’s Romantic Zone. The restaurant has been in business for over 50 years and bills itself as the first beachside restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. La Palapa is a great place to catch a sunset over Banderas Bay, accompanied by a live Latin jazz combo. A special touch is the candlelit tables on the beach, which is further lit with tiki torches.
Cerritos Beach Club & Surf, Los Cabos
This is a great choice for those who want to combine lunch or dinner with a day of surfing. Diners at Cerritos Beach Club & Surf have the option to rent longboards and boogie boards and catch a wave or two. Cerritos is on the Pacific coast, north of Cabo San Lucas and south of Todos Santos. The venue has seen its share of celebrities down from Hollywood, such as Rob Lowe and Adam Sandler. The menu covers the bases with Mexican seafood and American favorites like burgers and barbequed chicken. They even pour their own brand of tequila, called — naturally enough — Cerritos.
La Perla, Zihuatenejo
La Perla is a good choice for those who want a slightly more sophisticated take on the beachfront restaurant concept. Perhaps a Havana cigar after your fish taco? Or something from the wine list? La Perla is on Zihuatenejo’s popular La Ropa Beach. The restaurant has been in business since 1975, and has hosted a remarkable range of celebrities, including Sly Stallone, Richard Gere and The Rolling Stones.
Puerto Nuevo, Baja California
Puerto Nuevo is about a 40-minute drive from the California border, a straight shot south on Mexico’s Pacific Coast Highway. Hungry travelers will find more than 35 family-style lobster restaurants clustered within four blocks of this small seaside town, with touts outside vying for business. Puerto Nuevo is famous for its grilled lobster, which is served with simple sides of rice and beans. The restaurant with the best sea views is the Lobster House. You can order lobster in three sizes; don’t go for the largest, which they call “El Burro” — without a doubt it’s the toughest of the bunch.
Tabasco Beach Restaurant & Bar, Cabo San Lucas
Tabasco is right on Medano Beach, and is a good choice for those looking for simple fare with the option for watersports action. Commandeer a table on the beach, order a bucket of ice cold Pacificos, and decide what you’re going to do first – take out a wave runner or opt for a family-friendly banana boat ride. Diners can also dine on the restaurant’s sundeck and take in the view of Cabo’s signature sight rock arch, Los Arcos. At night the beach umbrellas come down and the tables are lit with candles.
Pancho’s Restaurant, Mazatlan
The restaurants along Mazatlan’s beachfront are consistently good. One of the standouts is Pancho’s, which has been slinging fish tacos for almost 30 years. Diners can eat upstairs or downstairs at the 200-seat venue. Vintage photos of Mazatlan decorate the walls. Pancho’s prides itself on its service so don’t be shy about asking them to set up a table on the sand if that’s what you have your heart set on. If a diner is feeling adventurous, consider the breaded frog legs.
Public Beach on a Sunday, Acapulco
Whenever I find myself in Acapulco over a weekend, I always find time to make it down to the public beach for lunch — if possible, on a Sunday afternoon. The food won’t be anything to write home about, but the ambience is priceless. This is where the working people of Acapulco come to enjoy some down time with their families. The beach is packed, dominoes are being slapped down, and the beers are piling up on the table. You’ll spend only a handful of pesos for an unforgettable deep-immersion experience.