Mexican food for a lot of people so often means only one thing: A frozen margarita-soaked romp through a chain-restaurant chimichanga, beans refried and refried again. (Hey, you get what you pay for.) Even Mexico itself is not without it’s Senior Frog. A recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, a busy town nicely rebounding from last year’s empty-hotel-room woes, yielded surprising and truly authentic Mexican food at El Arrayán. 

Leading the Slow Food movement in the area and consistently voted Best Mexican restaurant by, this gem just up a side street from the famous Malecón boardwalk features distinct “cocina tracicional,” traditional dishes from the state of Jalisco. Surrounded by colourful decor and art, local diners and tourists alike are rewarded by a seamless and outstanding meal, with unusual recipes founded on quality, local ingredients. “We are still recreating some old or family recipes as specials,” says owner Carmen Porras. “And we feel blessed to have such a happy team working with us, people that make this possible every evening.” Tables ring a central open courtyard featuring a lone arrayán tree, bearing the fruit that infuses the restaurant’s subtle trademark margarita. 

Pre-Hispanic ingredients (chili, corn, cactus paddles, beans and avocado) are mixed with European staples (meat, cheese) for the makings of a special night. Getting down to business, three salsas accompany the (first) basket of corn chips, which certainly don’t last long. Black bean plantain empanadas with asadero cheese melt in our mouths, and velvety shrimp ceviche on corn tortillas leave us silent for several minutes. Crispy duck legs in an orange-arrayán sauce are moist and tender, with potatoes fried without doubt in the same duck fat. But the highlight of the main courses is a not-too-hot dried Ancho pepper stuffed with sautéed shrimp, tomatoes and Guajillo pepper. A dangerously sweet caramel flan makes a fine finishing touch. 

Live entertainment on Saturday nights is local and, you guessed it, authentic, but not in an in-your-face Mariachi sort of way (leave that to the more raucous Pipis down the street).

And while Puerto Vallarta can appear to be peopled solely by tourists in certain spots, El Arrayán is also a favourite with the city’s avid foodies.

On the night of our visit, our ears pricked up to a particular voice in the crowd, which turned out to belong to the Dive Master from the previous afternoon’s SCUBA adventure, a prominent marine biologist dining with her husband and friends.

Don’t leave without checking out the gourmet ingredients in the corner for a jar of the exquisite salsa negra. Stop by El Arrayán, arguable the best restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, at Allende 344 esq. Miramar, Col. El Cerro, 48304, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico, 52-322-222-7195,,