Agua Fresca

I can’t count how many times we have sat down in a little restaurant in Mexico after shopping, errands, or just being tourists. Hot, dusty, and foot-tired, we are here for the day’s comida corrida, an inexpensive mid-day meal that is the closest thing to a Mexican home cooked meal, except a bill comes at the end. Nevermind that. We appreciate a basic, well prepared, three or four course lunch that invariably includes a cold pitcher of agua fresca. Maybe there will be a choice between two fruit flavors. Maybe no choice, and we are happy with whatever we get. 

Aguas frescas are nothing more than fresh, tropical fruit blended with water, and lightly sweetened. You can get fancy and use carbonated water for a bubbly version.  A copious amount of ice assures that the pitcher is running with condensation, leaving a wet spot on the tablecloth.

Common fruit options are papaya, piña (pineapple), sandia (watermelon) and naranja (orange), in which case it’s called a naranjadaLimón (lime) agua fresca is also common, which is a limonada. Guava would be good, too, but be sure to strain out the buckshot seeds. We always ask for ours with no sugar, or poco — a small amount. We are no match for the Mexican sweet tooth.

I used Archimedes’ Principle to get an exact proportion of three parts water to one part fruit by filling a quart measuring cup with 2 2/3 cup water, and dropping in chunks of fruit until the water level reached the four cup mark. A little tidbit of knowledge from science class too many years ago, and in this case, maybe precision carried to an unnecessary degree.


  • 1 part chopped, fresh fruit to 3 parts cold water 
  • Sweetened to taste with sugar or stevia, or not sweetened at all, if the fruit is sweet enough
  • Lots of ice
  1. Mix well in a blender with sweetener of choice until fruit is pureed.
  2. Strain. 
  3. Pour into an ice-filled glass. 

Proportions of water and fruit are up to you — more watery or more fruity, depending on your taste. Straining out the fruit pulp is optional. Add a bit of fresh ginger or mint to the blender, if you have them on hand, but if not, your agua fresca is more true to the refreshing beverage that accompanies an everyday comida corrida in Mexico.

Notes ~

~ If you use carbonated water, puree the fruit, adding a little bit of plain water if needed to get it moving in the blender. Strain, and add carbonated water.

~ If you are not adept at skinning a pineapple or papaya, here’s how to do it. For a papaya, cut off about 1/ 2″ (13 ml) off the top and bottom. Cut off the top of the pineapple about 1″ (26 ml) below the stalk and 1/2″ off the bottom. Stand fruit on end, and using a sharp serrated knife with a slight sawing motion, slice from top to bottom, removing a thin slice of peel. A serrated bread knife is good for this. Proceed all the way around. The thinnest slice will minimize waste. Cut the papaya in half lengthwise, and scoop out seeds. Cut the pineapple in quarters lengthwise and cut out core.


Día de la Independencia at El Molcajete


El Molcajete provided the perfect setting for our celebration of Independence Day in Mexico on September 16. Set on a lake shore. Mountains in the background. Menus in hand. This was the way to say, “Viva México!” An afternoon of eating, drinking, laughing and chatting. What better way to celebrate our adopted homeland.

A molcajete is the carved, black basalt bowl with a grinding tool, the mortar and pestle of Mexico, the first food processor in the Americas. With a molcajete, endless varieties of salsa are created, chocolate and coffee beans are ground, seeds and spices are blended into a smooth paste for mole, the rich sauce that dresses chicken, turkey, and pork.

El Molcajete, our local restaurant, boasts the world’s largest molcajete as its namesake. A for real, carved basalt molcajete that weighs close to 8,000 lbs. (3.5 toneladas) and is big enough to make 350 quarts of salsa, is registered with Guinness World Records.


An order of Chingaderas started us off while we enjoyed the vista and decided what to order next. A chingadera loosely — and politely — means “whatever”. The menu description, “totopos sobre una cama de frijoles banandos con carne en su jugo y queso fundido“, included a lot of “whatevers”: fried tortilla chips on a bed of seasoned refried beans with meat in its broth and melted cheese. Dip in a tortilla chip and scoop up a bit of everything. Yummy.


After commenting on how high the lake is now after a couple of rainy months, and gazing at the distant mountain whose name translates to “good for nothing”, I remembered a conversation with a neighbor a few months before.

Me (en español): Why is it called Good for Nothing?

Beto: Because you can’t do anything with it, not even climb it.

Me (to myself): A mountain has to be good for something?


Wanting to make the afternoon at El Molcajete last as long as possible, we slowly studied the menu and discussed all the options, reminiscing about past meals we had enjoyed here.


We had already tried the signature dish, Molcajete, a steaming, hot molcajete of seafood, chicken or beef, or a combination, with avocado, grilled onion, green chile and a nopal cactus pad, topped with local fresh cheese, and served with corn tortillas.


We settled on Arrechera. Rather, Russ did. I had already decided I was too full after the Chingaderas to eat another bite. When his plate arrived, I took one look and my appetite returned. Sweetheart that he is, he shared it with me. Marinated, grilled flank steak, grilled onion, chile and nopal cactus pad, refried beans, and guacamole con mas totopos.  The plate was also carved from basalt and very, very hot.


Marco, our waiter, and a local high school student, couldn’t have been cuter in his revolution-inspired outfit. He waited attentively on us, checking to see if we needed more of anything, refilling my glass with ice, bringing Russ another cerveza. The place was packed, and he managed to keep up with all his tables.


To get to El Molcajete, go south out of Mascota toward the lake, Presa Corrinches. Continue through the small settlement of La Providencia to the lake shore where you will find El Molcajete, the first restaurant on the left.  Open seven days a week from 11 am until 9 pm. I hope Marco is your waiter.

For readers who don’t live close and are wondering where in the world this is,  Mascota is a county seat, a “municipio” in the state of Jalisco, on the west coast of Mexico, and is about two hours by car east of Puerto Vallarta. Don’t be confused by the sign in front that says Restaurant “La Terraza”. This was the former name before the record holding molcajete was acquired, and a new sign is not yet in evidence. Such is Mexico. Viva México!




Little Hot Grill


La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, our little town, has a sweet, little restaurant, The Little Hot Grill. We live in an area very popular with foreign tourists, winter visitors, and expat residents. Fancy restaurants cater to this clientele, with fancy prices to match. The Little Hot Grill features very good, very real Mexican cooking, with prices affordable for the Mexican residents, as well as for us expats who watch our budget.

Eye-popping orange and blue tiles in the kitchen and the prettiest doors anywhere in La Cruz set The Little Hot Grill apart from other eateries. Marisol, the proprietress and cook, has a sweet disposition and smile to match her welcoming restaurant.


The first time I ate here, I had Enchiladas Suizas. They were so good, it was hard to order anything else for the next several visits. Cheesey, creamy, filled with tender chicken. I was stuck on them.


Some of our friends are of the opinion that Marisol’s Chiles Rellenos eclipse her Enchiladas Suizas, though that’s a hard call. Relleno coatings this tender, eggy, and delicate are not always found in other restaurants attempting the same dish.


When we met friends for lunch recently, all five of us ordered Chile Relleno, and I found myself in the position of having to order Enchiladas Suizas para llevar (to go) just to have a photo of lunch beside Rellenos. Dinner was taken care of very well that day, much to Russ’es delight.


Friday is the day for Chiles Rellenos, but every day has different specials, with no set agenda. You just have to show up to see what the day’s special is. It might be Pozole with Pork, Birria, Mole Rojo, Mole Verde, or Caldo Tlalpeño pictured below.


Marisol tells me that her customers include visitors from all over the world — Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and even guests from the Four Seasons Hotel in our area. That last tidbit is worth more than any gushing Trip Advisor review, of which she has many.


Marisol’s pico de gallo — fresh salsa, which literally translates to beak of the rooster — is special for its cucumber chunks, which give a pleasing crunch and freshness, and not usually found in pico de gallo.


Her salsa roja is wonderful, but the tortillas are special. They are made from nixtamal, dried corn treated with lime to soften the outer hull and then ground. Marisol uses a blend of nixtamal and masa dough for tender tortillas, made to order with an industrial-looking tortilla press.


In our conversation, I learned something new about our town. The local tortillaría sells nixtamal at seven each morning to cooks who want to make tortillas with a better corn flavor. I had assumed that only tortillas made from packaged Maseca, a dry, coarse corn flour, were available in La Cruz. I guess this ignorance reveals where I am at seven every morning, and where I am not.


If you eat at The Little Hot Grill, treat yourself to a freshly squeezed juice — orange, carrot or beet. I had a cool blend of beet and carrot, bright and refreshing. Also offered were agua de guayaba (sweetened guava water) and iced jamaica (hibiscus tea). Different fruit aguas are offered on other days.


Eggs any style are served for breakfast, which includes Huevos Rancheros and Huevos a la Mexicana. A variety of tortas — sandwiches made on bolillos, Mexico’s crusty rolls — are on the menu, including the popular Torta Cubana.

The Little Hot Grill is open six days a week, closed on Sundays, from 8 am to 5 pm. Starting in December, hours will be 8 am to 9 pm, seven days a week. The Little Hot Grill is in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on the corner of Calle Camaron and Calle Atun, the road that leads down to the fish market at the marina. Look for the pretty doors with the lilies.


~ This is one of the few times I have used so many photos in one article. Let me know if this takes an inordinate amount of time to download, and I will delete some. There were so many photos that gave a good sense of the place and food, that it was hard not to use them.


Ocho Tostadas is Much More Than Eight Tostadas

Early October on the west coast of Mexico does not mean falling leaves and cooling temperatures. Venturing out of the cool of the house for an errand run to Puerto Vallarta is not an attractive prospect. Until Ocho Tostadas comes to mind. Lunch! We get to have lunch in Puerto Vallarta! Yes! I want to go to town today! I don’t care if it’s a humid 92 degrees. Now that shrimp cocktail is fixed in our thinking for today’s lunch, 92 farenheit, (“feels like 101”, says weatherdotcom) is no deterrent. Cool camarones, here we come.


Shrimp cocktail took some getting used to when we first came to Mexico. Brothy. Warm. With catsup instead of horseradish sauce.  Some things you just have to accept as a difference in culture, and cóctel de camarón is one of them. Peeled shrimp are served in their cooking liquid, with a healthy topping of chopped tomato, onion, cucumber, avocado and squeezed lime juice. But for us, hold the catsup. And order it cold.

We sought shade in Ocho Tostadas and began with a starter of fresh, delicious ceviche on crisp tostadas, totally blanketed with perfectly ripe, sliced avocado.


Our favorite hot sauce, Salsa Huichol, added heat and color. Ocho Tostadas, like many restaurants in Mexico, does not skimp in the bottled hot sauce department. And among the table offerings, there is invariably Maggi, a hydrolysed vegetable protein based sauce used to impart a meat flavor. Its ubiquitous presence is one cultural anomaly I haven’t got my head around yet. Nor have I ever tried it.


As fluent as mi esposo is, when he asked for the fresh veggies on the side, our waiter thought he meant broth on the side also. So Russ was served this beautiful dish of brothless shrimp, which was nothing to complain about; we knew it would become so much more.


A quick word to our waiter set things right for my order. Next came generous servings of cool broth for Russ, and cut-up vegetables and excellent tostadas for both of us. They will always bring more veggies, for — what has become for us — a liquidy, cool shrimp salad, full of good things. Perfect for a hot Fall day.

Cócteles can also be ordered with octopus, snail or scallops, or any combination of these, including shrimp. We have tried all the combinations, and have settled on shrimp cocktail as the favorite. But don’t let our tastes stop you from trying something new.


Tostadas always accompany cóctel de camarón and Ocho Tostadas prides themselves in their proprietary tostadas, a new concept for us. They were so good — corny, crisp, with a light taste of salt on the surface. Russ tried, but our waiter would not divulge the maker. He did send us home with a bag full, much to mi esposo’s delight. The rest of the menu looks inviting, but so far we can’t get past the cocktails and ceviche tostadas.


If you go to Ocho Tostadas, or have a Mexican shrimp cocktail anywhere else, I suggest you order it cold, not hot. And ask them to hold the catsup.

Mariscos 8 Tostadas (its proper name) has three locations in the Puerto Vallarta area, and has recently opened in Guadalajara. We ate at the marina location on the corner of Calle Quilla and Calle Proa. They are also at 344 Calle Niza in Colonia Versalles, and in Nuevo Vallarta at Junto al Antiguo Delfines. In Guadalajara, you can find Mariscos 8 Tostadas at 1053 Avenida Terranova. Check Trip Advisor for map locations. Open 11 am to 6 pm, seven days a week.


Vera Bakery in Bucerias satisfies the sweet tooth

Vera Bakery in Bucerias, Nayarit, is a delight for the pastry lover. Owner and baker Christian Calvento is my market neighbor at the new La Cruz Sunday Market and I wish he were my next-door-neighbor at my home in La Cruz. But if he were, I’d weigh 200 pounds by now. His pastries, cakes, and other tasty treats are so tempting, I’m gaining weight just looking at these photos.

Christian, an Argentinian by birth, came to Bucerias by way of pastry jobs with the Marriott Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, Disney cruise lines, and then the Four Seasons in Puenta Mita, where he worked as a assistant pastry chef for four years, learning everything he could from the head pastry chef. Bucerias was his next stop, when he and his partner, Jorge, opened Vera Bakery, named after his mother, from whom he first learned to cook as a youngster.

The menu changes from day to day, but regular items include cinnamon rolls, chocolate chunk muffins, cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, brownies, quiches and breads. Elodia speaks perfect English and will wait on you with a smile.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much are these next four worth? All four, plus the one at the top, were taken by Christian. Uh, Christian, do you want to start taking the photos for my blog?

One of the sweeter legacies of the European occupation of Mexico is pastries. Spanish nuns and French bakers gave Mexico delightful desserts for those who tener un paladar delicado (have a sweet tooth). Culinary influence went in both directions, as chocolate from the New World traveled back to Europe, adding a new dimension to  Old World cakes and pastries.

If you pop in for a pastry, be sure to try the coffee, roasted by award-winning Bacio, a Mexican coffee company. Christian feels that this special blend of beans from the states of Chiapas, Vera Cruz and Guerrero, is the best he can offer.

Christian does special orders for birthdays, weddings, and parties. For the holidays, he will be baking Bûche de Noël, the yule log cake, a Christmas favorite in France and of our many French-Canadian visitors. Savory yule logs with fillings such as roquefort cheese with ham are also planned, as are baguettes and small, appetizer-sized empanadas.

Vera Bakery is located in Bucerias, Nayarit, Lazaro Cardenas # 101, in the same block as Mark’s. Phone: (329) 298-1962. Open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday 8 am- 8 pm, Sunday 8:30 am – 3 pm. WiFi available.


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