Día de la Independencia at El Molcajete

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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.

But I digress. 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.

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An order of Chingaderas started us off while we enjoyed the vista and decided what to order next. A chingadera loosely 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Little Hot Grill

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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~ 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rancho El Limón

Rancho El Limón, forty-five minutes out of Puerto Vallarta toward the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Jalisco, is a real, honest-to-goodness organic farm. Every Sunday, Alison brings the ranch’es bounty of cherry tomatoes, mixed salad greens, fennel, arugula, freshly laid eggs, and sometimes a giant Mexican squash or watermelon, to the market at the La Cruz Marina.

Since the Sunday Market began, Alison and her table of organic harvest are all we have known about Rancho El Limón, so Russ and I jumped at an opportunity to visit the ranch when we were invited to an open house. It was a chance for a number of us who participate in the market to tour the ranch, meet Alison’s partner, Manuel de Jesús, and learn about the other side of Rancho El Limón, the Pura Vida Spa.

The day was one of those bright, sunny Mexican days, when the sun seems too bright, the sky almost too brilliant. Alison and Manuel had a lunch ready for us under the cool shade of mango trees, featuring — what else — a huge salad of homegrown ingredients, with local fresh cheeses and corn tortillas. We would have expected nothing less. Even the salad dressing of pureed tomatoes came from the land.

Alison was formerly involved in a venture that sold chimeneas made to her specifications. This interesting stove, made of fired, glazed clay, comes with racks for cooking over the chimney, and that is exactly how the tortillas served with lunch were heated over a fire of mango wood. This type of stove, in one form or another, is found all over the world, and Mexico has a long tradition of relying on chimineas for heating and cooking. This one was a beauty in form and function.

A large, clay horno, or oven, was just outside the kitchen. It had recently been used to cook pizzas, but they were not on the menu today. Hornos, made of adobe clay, also have a long history in Mexico, and are seen in backyards throughout the countryside.

After lunch, we were taken on a tour of the house, with its spacious dining room, well-appointed guest rooms, and breezy walkways. Manuel has owned the ranch house and its thirty hectares of farm land for over twenty years. The house has a comfortable, welcoming feel, perfect for an afternoon with friends.

This was when we learned about the other business side to Rancho El Limón, known as Pura Vida Spa. Winter visitors and busy Puerto Vallartans can spend a few days enjoying the treatments for body and soul, with massage, steam baths, stretching exercise, and other activities that sooth and relax.

The highlight for me, beside the organic lunch, great ranch house, hospitable hosts, pleasant companions, and shady garden setting — in short, everything — was the tour of the greenhouse, the source of our weekly, organic salad fixings. Rancho El Limón produces its own compost and worm castings for pesticide- and chemical-free produce.

The afternoon ended with a walk to the calm Rio Ameca, a far cry from the raging river it can become during the summer rainy season. Sculpted ficus trees and wild flowers lined the walk. The dogs romped. A perfect afternoon.

Alison is at the Sunday Market at the La Cruz Marina, and can tell you more about Rancho El Limón, its organic produce and spa activities. As long as you are there, buy some salad greens and cherry tomatoes. Her tomatoes are as sweet as candy.

Alison is also at the Sayulita market every Friday from 10 am until 2 pm until May 13. She is organizing a summer market at the Bucerias Bilingual Community Center that will begin Saturday May 7, also 10 am until 2 pm. The BBCC is two blocks behind Carnes del Mundo on Calle 16 de Septiembre, #48.

Rancho El Limón has a web page with more information and photos. It is between Ixtapa and Las Palmas, but don’t try to find it by yourself — the maze of ranch roads are tricky to negotiate.  Alison can provide detailed directions if you want to visit.

Rancho el Limón
Las Palmas, Jalisco
044 322 110 1689 English
044 322 174 8986 español
From within USA/Cananda 858 736 9004
email: info@rancholimon.com,  rancholimon@gmail.com

Taco Cuervo in Bucerias

Tacos from Taco Cuervo

Renewing our FM3 residency documents is about as much fun as going to the dentist. Long lines, interminable waits, looking for the nearest copy machine when we are told we don’t have every copy of every piece of paper required, the trip to the bank to stand in another line to pay the fee, back to the immigration office … all necessary to be legal residents of Mexico. Finding Taco Cuervo so close to the immigration office was one very pleasant part of this whole operation.

Taco Cuervo in Bucieras, Nayarit, is one of thousands of street carts in Mexico selling quick, cheap food. After years of eating at almost every one we ever encountered when hungry– and it is easy to feel suddenly starving while walking past a street cart and smell chile-inspired cooking aromas —  we gave up the habit after a number of upset tummy incidents, deciding they were not the most sanitary source of good eats in Mexico. Common sense prevailed, when I realized all we had to do was question the vendor as to how the fresh veggies were disinfected. Now I know to ask, “Usa cloro o microdyn para limpiar las veduras?” “Do you use clorox or Microdyn to clean the vegetables?”

I phrase the question so that the answer can’t be yes or no, as in, “Do you disinfect the vegetables?” Given the Mexican propensity to usually answer agreeably, we will often receive “Yes” as an answer, even if it is not the case. By asking a specific question, I get a specific answer, and this time I was told, “Uso microdyn porque no me gusta el sabor de cloro en las veduras.” “I use microdyn because I don’t like the taste of clorox on the vegetables.This was exactly what I wanted to hear, so Russ and I wasted no time sitting down and ordering a taco de lengua (tongue) and a quesadilla.

Elvia, the cook, took a knob of masa, formed a ball, and pressed out a perfect tortilla in about ten seconds. For those of you who have never tried to make a uniformly round tortilla, this isn’t as easy as it looks. I know, because I once struggled to make perfectly round tortillas while the six-year granddaughter of my instructor whipped out geometrically perfect tortillas, laughing as she watched my efforts. Or maybe she was really laughing at my results.

Alondra, Elvia’s ten year old daughter, garnished my taco with cilantro, then handed it and the quesadilla to us so we could choose from six different, freshly made salsas. Elvia explained that the best salsas are made with a molcajete, a large stone bowl made from basalt, but that she had so many salsas to make each morning, she used a blender. Modern Mexican cooks love their blenders and I don’t blame them for preferring the ease and speed.

It is common to see children working alongside their parents at small, Mexican businesses, be they food carts, hardware stores, or pharmacies. Their help with the family income is important, but this can sometimes be disconcerting when you see a thirteen-year old filling prescriptions or serving beer.

Filling choices for tacos and quesadillas are lengua, chorizo, asado de res (grilled beef), carne adovado (beef marinated in a spicy adovado sauce), cheese, and peruano beans. Chopped cabbage, onions and cilantro are added as garnishes. You get to add salsas. The only difference I could see between the tacos and quesadillas is that the quesadillas are much larger, have cheese and are folded over on the grill. Both are made with corn tortillas and both can have any of the same filling choices.

Taco Cuervo is located on Avenida La Palmas at the intersection with Heroe de Nacozari, the main highway through Bucerias. It is right across from the Oxxo convenience store. Elvia opens for business every day of the week except Sunday, with hours from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

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