"We could just stay here forever," my boyfriend suggested as we sat sipping from a ballena of Pacifico, swaying in a hammock two stories up from the street in Sayulita, a sleepy Mexican surfing town. We were coming to an end of a week in Nayarit, the western Mexican state just north of Puerto Vallarta, hugged by the Pacific and veined with mountains and jungles.
I thought about his idea. We could. Sure, we had "jobs," and an apartment with some things in it in San Francisco, but what did that matter with this addictive coastline and all the fresh corn tortillas we could dream of at our disposal?
The state is rich with natural resources, and has a good-sized mining industry, a sizable agricultural presence, and a small-but-lucrative fishing industry, too. But in recent years, Nayarit has begun pumping their proximity to Puerto Vallarta, branding their lovely coastline "Riviera Nayarit," and promoting the area as a safe destination for tourists.
We ended up with a flight deal for round-trip tickets to Puerto Vallarta and no plan, other than renting a car, cruising coast, and finding some surf. We're not resort types, though there are plenty to be found in the region, particularly in Punta de Mita. That's probably inevitable, but there's also a multitude of alternative towns, filled with vacationing locals, pangas hauling in the day's catch, and open-air taco shops opening up when the sun goes down, slinging fresh tortillas and tripe.
Sayulita is one such town, despite its growing popularity with American tourists. There are plenty of gringo bars to be found, but the vibe here is laid-back backpacker, not golf carts and room service, thanks in large part to its reputation as a surf destination.
North on Carretera Pacifico (Highway 200), we found ourselves a little bit in love with Chacala, a small fishing village with few restaurants and even fewer big hotels. Arriving on the tail end of a national holiday, the beach was packed with Mexican families. Here, the touristy-looking restaurant on the beach was actually the best spot for seafood in town, with camarones (shrimp) on offer a number of ways, and fresh fish grilled over a wood fire and available by the kilo.
The best food in Nayarit showcases simple technique, bold flavors, and those epically good fresh tortillas. Salas, often displayed in homestyle do-it-yourself bars, were consistently impressive. Seafood—particularly shrimp — was consistently snappy, sweet, and excellent, whether raw or cooked. Getting local recommendations helped us know which stand to hit for tacos, and which for quesadillas. And I can confidently report that the pollo asado roadside stands are absolutely as delicious as they look.
Here are some highlights from the trip, featuring bites and sips in Sayulita, Chacala, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and La Penita de Jaltemba. Have you eaten in Nayarit? Where do you like to go?
About the author: Lauren Sloss is a bicoastal food-lover who is based in San Francisco. Some of her favorite things include The Black Keys, goat gouda, and guacamole. You can follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.