Zihuatanejo: a sleepy seaside village with food that’s truly alive
|January 8, 2014||Posted by hog under Restaurant Reviews||
Zihuatanejo is a breath of fresh air from the gorgeous, arid 93 degree weather to the peaceful, bathtubby kind of ocean–ideal for an intrepid paddle board novice.
But typically, as much as I love Mexico, when it comes time to eat, Mexico does not always love me. I often spend my time averting stomach illness, like an unwanted acquaintance: skip the ice, nix produce, pop daily acidophilus and stick with filtered water systems. So while I approached this trip with mucho cuidado, somehow eating in Z was different. This charming Mexican fishing village, really does uphold the standards of quality cuisine, or perhaps as they will tell you, their water is just cleaner. In all of the local spots, not only was I perfectly healthy, I ate like a Mexican princess.
First, we were lucky enough to plan a visit with my old boss, from dare I say, 1983. Clay has lived in Z for 10 years, slightly south of town to be exact. His version of life is so idyllic: a home right on the beach, an open air kitchen, a pristine and breathtaking view of Playa Bianca. We drank hibiscus juice as he complained in vain that the holidays were too busy on the beach– aside from the several flocks of low flying pelicans, we actually saw four humans in 5 hours. Bummer, dude.
Off we were whisked to Carmelita’s, a little locals’ spot downtown, where eating alfresco on dime-store plastic chairs with multi-colored oil cloths is tipico. The waiter, Carmelita’s son, took much pride in honing his English as he painstakingly recited the many especiales of the day; we listened intently as we espied photos on the wall of Carmelita with Rick Bayless. She was so proud that day. The enchiladas suizas and chile relleno were simply perfect. Yes, it seems odd that these plebian dishes can be raised to new levels in a tiny spit of a place that has no pretense and does nothing to reinvent the wheel–but at Carmelita’s, it’s true.
Our lunch was a far cry from our rather fancy dinner at Amuleto, a chic 12 room hotel atop a hill, owned by Brazilians and adorned with an eclectic mix of Balinese and Brazilian artifacts. The food preparation was lifted to the proper Cordon Bleu status where the the chef learned her stripes in LA. The prix fixe menu allowed for several options but the fish trumped all. Perfectly prepared dorado was served in a pool of red pepper coulis with Israeli couscous. Magnifico!
While you enjoy your white table-cloth dining, you stare out at the watercolor patterns that the millions of lights create on the sea, even if you don’t intentionally look for fancy in a fishing village and you are pretty impressed.
Home style all the way at La Serena Gorda, aka “the fat mermaid.” This is bar none my travel companion’s favorite place. Their tacos are out of this world. The smoked tuna or shrimp and bacon can’t be missed, and for $3.50 each, they are well worth your plane ticket. Pair that with some sipping Cazedores and a sangrita back and you have arrived.
Back at hotel Casa Que Canta, regulars drool over the magical chicken soup, filled to the brim tableside with chunks of fresh zucchini, rice, carrots and chicken that tastes like chicken–not USA cardboard. The smaller the village the better the chicken flavor. It seems that Casa Que Canta’s chef has been there for 12 years in a tremendous sized kitchen, even by SF standards. Since I was sorry to miss his cooking lesson he snuck me in between service for a private demo of the most delicate lime, ricotta pancakes that have ever graced the planet. Life-changing was the word friends of ours used and they were not kidding.
Lastly, when Mexican food seemed like an unoriginal idea, you can head downtown for super Italian at La Vita Bella. Knowing that Mexicans often make solid Italian cooks at all restaurants at home, I had a sneaking suspicion we’d be pleased. A delicate shaved octopus carpaccio, funghi pizza with a napoli airy crust, ravioli Bolognese, made with veal and spinach and a perfectly ripe caprese salad did not disappoint, even if the martinis seem to share equal parts vodka and vermouth. There must be a lesson here–when in Mexico, stick with tequila!
Av. Morelos s/n (arras de mini super El Cacahuate)
Centro Zihuatanejo, Gro. tel 554.3885
Escenica La Ropa, Playa La Ropa
La Casa Que Canta
Camino Escenico La Playa La Ropa S/N
Ixtapa Zihuatanejo Guerrero
La Sirena Gorda
Paseo del Pescador 20-A
La Vita Bella
15 esq. Nicolas Brava