Puerto Vallarta is one of my favorite places to go in Mexico, in large part due to the fact that it’s safe and easy to stay in Old Town (“Zona Romantica”), where you can walk to all the local bars and restaurants. I’m just not really a resort person when it comes to Mexico. I want to experience all the local culture and food to its fullest. So I’ve stayed in Old Town every time I’ve gone to PV, which has been quite a few times — and in those times, I’ve also eaten a lot of street tacos. So I’ve decided to compile a list of my top 10 favorite spots. You’ll notice they’re clustered in 2 areas below, which are easily walkable from each other: Zona Romantica and 5 De Diciembre.
Why tacos? Other than the fact that they’re delicious, there are few foods as quintessentially Mexican as tacos — which locals eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And if they’re not eating them at home, they’re eating them at little street taco stands (not sit-down tourist restaurants). Most of these spots have just a few stools to sit on as you eat — or the bigger spots may even have some lawn chairs and plastic tables set up under an awning. But don’t expect anything fancy. Heck, some of the spots below aren’t on Yelp or even Google Maps. I found them through taco tours or recommendations from locals I’ve befriended. Which is why I’ve included my own custom Google Map before jumping into the list: some spots on there have been manually placed by me.
A couple of pro tips before I jump into the list:
- Get to these early, and not just during the hot parts of the year to avoid the heat. A lot of these spots sell out of the best stuff at breakfast. I’ve tried to call it out where that’s a thing.
- Try at least one spot serving “birria” tacos. Birria is a Mexican dish native to the state of Jalisco. It’s incredibly soft, juicy pulled meat (such as goat, beef, or lamb) that’s been slow-stewed in a pot overnight with adobo, garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and thyme.
- Always get a side of “consommé” if you go to a birria spot. It’s that delicious, flavorful broth the meat was stewing in (with some meat in it, as well). I recommend dipping your tacos in it, or getting a whole bowl instead of tacos.
- If you get asked whether you want your tacos “blanditos” or “dorados” — that means soft or crunchy (usually fried in the fat of the animal the birria is made from). Try both and see which you like better.
- If the “street” part of this wasn’t enough warning — this may not be for the weak of stomach. Have some digestzymes or activated charcoal with you (I always travel with some), and maybe don’t go eating at all of these on your first day unless you know you’ve got a stomach for street food.
- In case this wasn’t obvious, bring cash (and in small bills).
Neighborhood 1: Zona Romantica
1. Birrieria Robles
I’ve got to say, this is my favorite little spot! It’s famous for its slow-cooked goat birria tacos, made by the same woman and her family for years. This used to be just a little mobile stand with a few stools, but I believe they have recently set up a sit-down location in the same spot. Consommé (stew) is also available, and a must.
2. Tacos El Moreno
A little stand that’s a local favorite with just a couple of stools to sit on. Their specialty is adobada (smoked pork marinated in a red chile sauce with vinegar and oregano). Give it a try and compare it to some of the other preparations below.
3. Tacos de Birria Chanfay
This street cart has been around since 1972 and is widely known as one of the best birria spots in Old Town. It’s also got a bit more of a sitting area with lawn chairs and an awning. They’re also the only place you’re likely to find beef birria (if pork, goat, and lamb aren’t your thing).
4. Carnitas Lalo
Turn up early at the this popular local taco stand, because it closes as soon as they sell out, and they sell out of pork cheek (mejilla de cerdo) first. I think they open around 6 or 7am. Traditional carnitas are prepared by braising pork in lard for many hours, until the meat becomes very tender. Always ask if they have the pork cheek, or at least can mix in a bit of fat into your carnitas.
5. Marisma (Fish Tacos)
Marisma is hailed as the best little spot for Baja-style battered fish. I love that it’s also all women-owned! It’s a small mobile stand with a bunch of little stools and lawn chairs surrounding it. Their battered red snapper tacos are the signature dish, topped with shredded cabbage and carrots and served with a squeeze of fresh lime.
6. Tacos De Mariscos Garlapago Tacolini
Marisma is where all the websites will tell you the best seafood tacos are (and they are indeed fantastic). However, Garlapago Tacolini is where many of the locals will send you for all sorts of fish, shrimp, and octopus options. I think you need to try both and compare!
Neighborhood 2: 5 De Diciembre
7. El Hidalguense
Hailing from Mexico’s lamb/mutton capital of Hidalgo, this family prepares birria tacos with lamb that’s been slow-cooked in a pit for 12 hours. When meat is slow-cooked in a pit, that usually makes it “barbacoa” — but they must then stew it in a broth afterwards, making it “birria” (regardless, it’s delicious). Consommé (stew) is also available.
8. Taqueria Don Toño
If you get here early enough, you can get some “cabeza” (pork head) tacos. It’s sort of like headcheese — if you know what that is — which includes all the delicious parts of the head like cheeks and tongue. This place won’t show up on Google if you look for it: it’s a mobile stand underneath Palma del Mar on C. Brasil between C. Honduras and C. Nicaragua.
9. Los Tacos de Carnitas / Tacos Carnitas Don Tony
I’m really not sure what the official name of this spot is these days, since some taco spots don’t really have names (locals just know them by the name of who it belongs to — such as Tony). Lately, it’s listed in Google Maps as “Los Tacos de Carnitas” though. As either name suggests: this place specializes in carnitas, but what I love most, is that you can get them mixed with crunchy pork skins (chicharrones).
10. Rosa’s Tacos
A popular little spot for locals, and when you’re first walking here, you’re probably thinking I’m leading you to the middle of nowhere. Don’t worry, it’s safe. When you get there, you first go pay in cash to grandma Rosa, and she’ll give you a little handwritten paper ticket to get in line with. The options are beef asada and pork aldilla. The latter is why I keep coming back: it’s a crispy, yet juicy, pork (similar to Chinese roast pork).