Most people travel to Riviera Nayarit for the192 miles of sunny coastline, with its idyllic beaches and azure seas. But the region’s food offers just as much reason to visit. The cuisine is fresh and flavorful, filled with great seafood and pre-Hispanic Mayan flavors. Here are five items to eat (and drink) that you probably won’t find back home:
Smoked Marlin Tacos
If Mexico had a national food, it would undoubtedly be the taco. In streets all over Mexico, tortillas are filled with everything under the sun, but on the Pacific coast, smoked marlin tacos reign supreme. Naty’s Cocina in Sayulita is a great place to try this regional specialty. Ask for the marlin, pay at the counter, then dress your bright pink, shredded marlin with a variety of house-made salsas.
Oysters are abundant in the estuary waters around San Blas, and these sopes are a beloved traditional dish born from the mangroves and marshes. You’ll find the best sopes in San Blas at El Delfin at the Hotel Garza Canela. “We use the liquid from the oysters to make the dough for the sopes, and also to make the salsa,” says Chef Betty Vázquez, who is the gastronomic ambassador for all of Riviera Nayarit. Oyster cultivation is still an important industry in San Blas, and while they are delicious raw, this is a gourmet oyster dish you won’t find anywhere else.
Often billed as “Mexican moonshine” or “the next Mezcal,” this agave spirit is becoming increasingly popular. Like tequila, it’s only made in Jalisco; unlike tequila, which is only produced from blue agave, raicilla uses many different types of agave, like maximiliana and lechuguilla, for a greater range of flavors. Made mostly by small producers, production is still fairly limited and flavors tend to be fruitier and sweeter than mezcal. Raicilla produced from coastal agave gets more sun and tends to be higher in alcohol, whereas agave grown in the hills is more floral, citrusy and complex.
Move over coffee; capomo is ready for its moment. Capomo is a Mayan seed that grows on one of the largest trees in the rainforest, and (at least in the U.S.) it’s usually used as a substitute for coffee or even cacao. In Mexico, it is eaten raw or roasted, and is high in fiber, calcium, potassium and iron. The nonprofit Maya Nut Institute makes thin crunchy cookies from this naturally decaffeinated superfood, working with indigenous and rural women and youth. You can find the cookies in San Francisco (better known by its nickname San Pancho) at Bistro Organico and the EntreAmigos community center.
Instead of tequila shots (or in addition to tequila shots) try this seafood shot invented by David Elizondo at Buzzos in Bucerías, the biggest of the 23 coastal towns along the Riviera Nayarit. This corner restaurant is a favorite among locals and you may even be serenaded by a live ensemble playing Mexican banda music. Order a “balazo,” which means “gunshot” in Spanish. Your choice of shrimp, scallop or octopus is splashed with lime, Worcestershire sauce, local Salsa Huichol hot sauce and tomato juice.