Long Weekend Escapades #2: Sayulita, Mexico

Yes, I have been on a blogging hiatus since summer got busy with work and travel. I’m jumping right back into the swing of things with a couple new posts on my past trip to Mexico. Ironically, the last long weekend special was in Taos, New Mexico, so I am unintentionally keeping with a certain theme.

Let’s jump right in! Sayulita is a vibrant beach town outside of Puerto Vallarta on the peaceful Pacific Ocean. The town is about an hour drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport and four hours from Guadalajara, which was our starting destination (we’ll get to that soon). I’m starting with Sayulita because it is the perfect spot for a long weekend getaway. We were there for five nights but you could easily squeeze everything into a three of four day weekend.

In terms of accommodations it is popular to rent a house on the beach but there are some hotel options. It is highly recommended to rent a house with beach access so you are on the more secluded beach outside of the main playa. The town of Sayulita is centered around a square with arms of streets extending out of it. The cobbled streets lack signage but the size of the town makes it easy to navigate.

The thing about the town is that it’s saturated with food options which is good and bad. It’s hard to try everything in a short trip so my family and I attempted to pick and choose based on a few criteria. We tried to avoid the restaurants that hassled customers on the street, vyeing for business against the other larger, sit down places. We looked for spots that had a lot of locals and were more akin to street food vendors. It always pays off to do as the locals do and we had some excellent meals that even drew us back for seconds. I have broken down the places by the specific dishes they had that truly shined. It’s not a complete guide but it has most of a Mexican food lovers staples.

Burritos: Burrito Revolution is very well known to tourists and locals alike as we got recommendations from other visitors to check the place out. The burritos are pretty massive and they do cut them in half so it is good to mix and match with your friends for a full array. We ordered chicken, steak, and marlin burritos that came packed with rice, beans, and veggies. The best of the three was the marlin which actually had an Asian twist from some pickled cabbage and the marinated fish preparation. The burrito almost had a kimchi-like flavor that floated it above the rest.

Churro: The churro truck produces magical piping hot churros. There is really nothing more that needs to be said. The churros are extruded into their hot oil bath in the back of a pickup truck then dusted in cinnamon sugar and served wrapped in brown paper. What could be better?

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Empanadas: Empanadas are a must for me, as they are one of my favorite Spanish foods. We were able to sample not one but two empanada places that were across the street from each other. First up was Lo de Charo known for its empanadas and fresh made pasta. Basically the small abuelita that ran the place was the dough master. Her empanadas were very traditional with a paler, slightly thick crust that still had some critical flakey bits. We enjoyed mushroom, spinach, and beef empanadas incased in the magical pastry. Another highlight of Lo de Charo was the chimichurri sauce served with the meal. The sauce was perfection and I couldn’t help lather on the parsley, garlic and oil mixture.

The second stop for the Spanish hot pockets is La Empanaderia. The empanadas here are golden brown and way more flakey, almost like croissants. The treats are a little less traditional in this manner but still pretty darn good. La Empanaderia also offers up some great flavor combinations that enhance the delicacies. We came bright and early to get the freshest ones two days in a row so we were able to sample quite a few. Our favorites were the Mushroom+peppers+cheese, ham+cheese+pineapple, and plantain. The mushroom had a great saltiness with an added kick from the hot peppers while the typical ham and cheese was elevated with the hint of sweet pineapple. Finally, I tend to stay away from cooked fruit but the sweet plantain empanada was so good and had a thicker dough to support the platain juices which I actually preferred. The cute spot lent itself to a great video that shows the whole process that you get to witness as a customer, check it out here.

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Fajitas: Taqueria El Ta Corriendo is a fajita stand run by a joyful women who mans the huge griddle with extreme skill. The stand offers some offal cuts including cow tongue and brain. Since they were out of these delicacies we went with classic ground beef and steak fajitas. The fajitas were served with some serious dipping sauces as well. I recommend the green hot sauce as a nice light spicy option that adds some acidity. Make sure you add the beans too, they were extremely good. My father ended up eating a few plain spoonfuls of them.

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Fish Tacos: Estrella de Mar Mariscos was our first meal in Sayulita and it is off the main streets on your way up to the houses outside the downtown. Mariscos offers up fish tacos grilled and Baja (breaded and fried) style. We opted for grilled and were not disappointed. While I don’t have an entire Fish Taco Faceoff for you I will give a quick breakdown that I hope Morgan would be okay with. The grilling yielded optimal freshness and the fish was so juicy with great flavor stemming from the slight blackening. There was no skimping on slaw but it did not overpower the tacos. The veggie mixture consisted of just lettuce and onions slightly seasoned. The sauces were served on the side and it seemed best to go with the traditional crema which with its slight spice added a great flavor to the tacos.

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Ice Cream/Popsicles/Horchata: Wa Kika is the hopping spot in town for cold treats. Their homemade popsicles of almost every variety are delectable. Flavors like hibiscus, pistachio, and mango with chiles create a magnificently colored display. The ice cream is also a delight and is served in very generous portions. Everything costs around $1 (the current exchange rate is about 15 Pesos to the dollar), which is incredible as far as gourmet ice cream goes. Gelato can go for as high as $6 for a small and popular popsicles are around $3 each in D.C. The popsicles at Wa Kika are so packed with flavor and taste so fresh. Don’t forget to sample their horchata, because everyone needs horchata.

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Steak Tacos: El Itacate takes its steak very seriously and does it very well. We had carne assada and steak milanse. Milanase is breaded steak and was totally delicious. The breading kept the meat super juicy while offers a nice flavor from the bread crumb mixture, very similar to steak cutlets with added grilled onions and peppers. El Itcate also serves enormous drinks that make it a popular late night destination. Note, don’t be fooled by the counter of the open air kitchen, a sweet waitress will come to take your order and offer up a board fully loaded with sauces and grilled whole onions. The onions were charred and fragrant, very good additions to the tacos and you could honestly eat them plain like a sweet apple if you were so inclined.

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Tacos al Pastor: Tacos Il Ivan has the gleaming, rotating, spit of meat with a pineapple placed, calling the name of any Tacos al Pasor lover. The spinning meat is shaved off much like q greek gyro but has a very different flavor profile. The lean meat is red in color from an epic slathering of sauce and is sliced off fresh for the taco orders. The tacos are dressed simply with lettuce but there is an entire  condiment to suit any foodies’ needs. My favorite additions were a squeeze of lime, fresh cucumbers and hot sauce. The place is definitely a local  hangout is constantly packed with eager eaters.

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Tostadas: For another awesome fish option check out the marlin tostados at Medusa. Medusa is off the main area, on the same street as Estrella de Mar Mariscos. The tostado special proved to be a simple and tasty afternoon snack. Four tostadas and a hibiscus tea costs 50 pesos, that’s about $3 for a meal that comfortably fed three people. The marlin tostadas surprised us with their citrus flavor and bright appearance. The fish was prepared ceviche style so all of of the freshness was locked in. The fish was topped with shaved carrots and lettuce that with a squeeze of lime gave the fish an orange flavor that was bold and flavorful. The marlin tostadas are definitely a dish you won’t see everywhere and should not be missed.

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Long Weekend Escapade #1 Taos, New Mexico

To kick off summer and rev up the convertible I went on a girls’ long weekend trip to Taos, New Mexico.. We went from Thursday-Sunday but Sunday was an all driving day so anyone from anywhere could pack in this lovely 3-day weekend tour of the Southwest.This it the first of a segment I hope to continue with other mini adventures perfect for a work or school escape.

Stay: We stayed at the absolutely immaculate Palacio De Marquesa. This Bed and Breakfast was bought last year by Heritage Hotels and Resorts  and received a serious makeover. A B&B that probable once resembled the vast assortment of kitschy, tired inns and hotels in Taos is now a stunning white, modern palace. The rooms are refined while still keeping the best Southwestern touches such as adobe style fireplaces and carved columns. We stayed in The Romantic room which had two gorgeous studded leather white chairs and an amazing, firm king bed. With heated floors, state of the art giant shower, and operable skylights , the room was even better than what we imagined from the pictures.

IMG_2132The innkeeper Chad, was an absolute delight and was full of excellent dinner and activity suggestions. He showed off his new puppy and told us all about the details of the renovation. Breakfast in the morning was simple and delicious. There were a variety of choices and  fresh orange juice and coffee were excellent additions. I really can’t see myself returning to Taos and staying at any other place. I am anticipating when I can return and try out a different exceptional room and see the completed garden and fire pit.

Relax and Activate:I was surprised to find that there was a lot do in Taos and the surrounding area. Everyone will tell you to check out the main plaza and see all the dinky mercantile shops. Poking in and out of various stores yields some interesting finds and unique artifacts. Make sure to stroll through the square on Saturday when the Farmer’s Market is occurring and sample some yak cheese, choke cherries, and other local favorites. Relax at Ojo Caliente, which lies north of Taos. We stopped on our drive into town and checked out the mud and mineral pools before getting excellent and extremely rejuvenating hot stone massages. Skiing in the Winter and hiking in  Spring-Fall provide your dose of active adventures in Taos. We met up with some friends staying in santa Fe and hiked in Bandelier National Monument.  To avoid taking the nauseating shuttle to the park national visitor, enter after 3 PM in your own car. Driving your own car is much more convenient then waiting for said shuttle that departs every half hour from the White Tail Visitor Center to the Bandelier Visitor Center. The Main Loop Trail and Alcove House extension is a leisurely 2 miles and involves climbing cliffside ladders and a very nicely marked self-guided tour.

Galleries,: Off the main plaza we found two stand out galleries featuring contemporary artistes from Taos. First, David Anthony Fine Art or DAFA features some hidden portraits of The Beatles, that are iconic and intimate gems. The gallery also hosts rotating contemporary artists, which are a refreshing break from the repetitive landscape galleries, composing most of the tourist art culture. My second recommended gallery stop is more of a hybrid home/studio/gallery. The Howell Creative features, founder and artist in residence, Robert James Payne. The ex-football player has some very unique pieces of acrylic on different mediums. We were enthralled by a new black and white portrait using interesting shadows painted on a large piece of aluminum. Seeing Payne’s art grace the walls of his loft was a very clever way to display how works will hang in ones own home, a sense of character and place that a white, bright gallery wall cannot capture.

Museums: There are many tiny museums dotting Taos and it is hard to determine which small building deserves the exorbitant entrance fee. The Harwpod Museum of Art turned out to be an excellent and displayed a wide range or traditional and contemporary New Mexican artists from a large time span. Upon entering, we were also informed that if we filled out a survey at the end of our visit, admission was free!  I particularity loved the modern artist Larry Bell, who has a diverse body of work that includes modern pieces using refracting light, mirrors, and various other illuminating mediums. The museum features many galleries that are constantly being rotated and refreshed with new pieces and exhibitions.

Other Attractions: A pleasant walk from  Palacio De Marquesa.is The Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Now an inn the house of the famed art patron and salon hostess can be toured through and stayed in. The house features creative design and has a rich history.The grounds provide a pleasant stroll and innkeeper was very informative.

IMG_2150 IMG_2151 IMG_2152 IMG_2153 Another great site, unique to the area, are the Earthship Biotecture  communities. These intriguing homes are made from all recycled materials and are completely self-sustaining. These  “homes” are are a modern marvel and seeing is believing so trust a trip to the visitor center is definitely worth it. The Taos community also offers nightly rentals which I am curious to try on my next visit if I can tear myself away from easy B&B living.

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 Eats: (Detailed reviews of the following fine dinging restaurants to come). When staying in Taos The Love Apple is an essential fine dining stop. Joseph’s in Santa Fe might also be worth the drive down to Taos’ sister city.. For authentic Northern New Mexican fare check out the quaint and local favorite, Orlando’s.