When I first arrived in Sayulita in late 2016, a mini bus rattled along an unpaved and unforgiving road, depositing me at the periphery of town. I followed the dusty road skirting the Sayulita River (a true misnomer) and wandered into a town square that pulsed with a hummingbird heart. Now, a four lane road shuttles visitors into the heart of Sayulita with great efficiency.
“So much has changed in the last seven years,” remarks Vanessa Lucio, a Colorado native who lives part-time in Sayulita.
She’s not wrong.
Six months after my original visit, officials opened the new highway linking the marina town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle to Punta de Mita and Sayulita. It links into a greater infrastructure initiative that connects Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara.
Build it and they will come.
Like mushrooms after the rain, five-star properties are springing up along the Punta de Mita coast. The tourism board estimates a staggering 5,000 hotel rooms will open in the next five years.
It’s all pretty remarkable progress considering Riviera Nayarit only decided to brand its 320-kilometre stretch of Pacific coastline as a tourism destination just ten years ago.
While well-heeled globetrotters check-in to the enclave of Punta de Mita, nearby Sayulita clings to its low-key village surfing and fishing roots. With little in the way of attractions, I pass the time perusing boutique shops and bumming it at the beach with my baby. But mostly, I eat.
With the exception of two new Subway restaurants in my beloved Sayulita (what fresh hell is this?!), this visit greets me with a sensible mix of hi-low dining. Expat-owned restaurants mingle with local establishments and run the gamut, from white linen dinner service to street meats. Blow the budget one night and then lick your wounds with dollar tacos the next. It’s my favourite type of self-loathing.
During my trip, it becomes something of a Mission Impossible to unearth Sayulita’s best taco. And ceviche. And margarita. In my pursuit of identifying Sayulita’s best bites, I beg locals to recommend their favourite haunts while scouring Yelp and TripAdvisor for the Internet’s opinion. After ten days of eating my way through Sayulita, here are the eateries you simply must dine at.
Fusion: Los Corazones
Los Corazones / Jennifer Hubbert
Hassle factor: None
Hours: Dinner only; 5 PM until late
Seated at our high-top table at Los Corizones, I have a bird’s eye view of the grill. Cooks bent over a flame-licked grill perspire under the watchful eye of Oregon-born owner, Katherine Londos. She’s a tornado of activity: checking reservations, wiping the edges of freshly plated dishes and sharing laughs with patrons. My impression is that she truly gives a #$I^. (Pardon my language.) And you know what? I can taste it.
I visit twice during my stay, first savouring a tuna steak with mash and Caprese salad accompaniments. Round two delivers a juicy steak with flash-grilled vegetables.
Los Corazones’ menu is concise; all killer, no filler. Seats are limited so reservations are advised.
Street tacos: Tacos El Ivan
Style: Street tacos, margaritas and beer
Hassle factor: Low
Dinner (4 pm onward)
Tacos El Ivan has two locations, a street-style barbecue on Av Revolucion and a sit-down restaurant on Calle Marlin (the southwest corner of the main square).
The restaurant’s interior does not brim with charm but worry not, this is the home of Sayulita’s tastiest taco. All tacos pale in comparison to Ivan’s al pastor – pork – taco. Shaved from a spit of meat and topped with grilled pineapple, they’re petite enough that ordering four won’t earn you any wide-eyed stares. Sure, you’ll want to order some of their other tacos - and by all means, go right ahead - at 13 pesos a pop, it’s an affordable exploit. If after circumnavigating their entire menu you don’t crown al pastor as king of all tacos, immediately email me to advise of my error.
International: La Rustica
Style: pizza, pasta, desserts, craft cocktails
Hassle factor: high
High chairs: yes
You’d be hard-pressed to miss the crowd dining at centrally-located La Rustica. I dined here two years ago and was keen to see how it had changed, if any.
What’s most apparent is La Rustica's Western appeal. Slick branding, a handsomely appointed bar and iPad menus are a little slice of Los Angeles in Sayulita. Staff are proficient in English and quick to up-sell. Photos of dishes are presented via tablet in case you want to visually savour your selection before committing. It also means the restaurant can adapt its menu on the fly. The façade would come off as overproduced but truly, the kitchen walks its talk.
While it’s somewhat unambitious to travel all the way to Mexico for pizza, La Rustica's pies are among the best I’ve tasted all year. Creative toppings and flavour pairings sit atop a crisp dough. You’ll leave La Rustica with a full and satisfied belly - and a much lighter wallet.
Travel bloggers who have lived the experience:
Kara Mercer of karamercer.life
Carrie Colbert of carriecolbert.com
Fusion: El Conejo
El Conejo / Jennifer HubbertRange: $$$
Style: American/Asian-Mexi fusion, tequila bar
Hassle factor: Low
All day; 3-6 happy hour special
Tucked away in a white-washed alley, El Conejo offers a stylish gastro retreat from the hubbub of the bustling streets that flank it. It’s newer on the scene and impeccably trendy. It all makes sense when you dig a bit deeper into its origins. Colorado natives Vanessa Lucio and KC Slager partnered with Suerte brand tequila master distiller to open El Conejo. Street level boasts a hip dining salon with a generous sit-up bar, while upstairs offers an oversize sofa, terrace seating and a covered private room suited to group tastings and small receptions. There are two Airbnb rentals overlook the rooftop lounge.
El Conejo / Jennifer Hubbert
Catch a happy hour special – one beer, tequila shot and taco for 100 pesos – or dig into their fusion menu. The tuna poke was the best thing I ate during my 10-day stay in Sayulita and any of the tacos are worth a try.
Casual: Naty's Cocina
Hassle factor: Low
Go for: Lunch, reliable cheap street tacos
High chair: Yes
Naty’s is something of a local intuition and thanks to its dollar tacos you’ll rub elbows with beach-goers and local workers alike. Order from the counter that looks into a large kitchen where staff prepare a massive amounts of veggies, stewed meats and agua frescha.
Line up at the right of the storefront, select beans or rice as a base and then choose your savoury filling. Chipotle chicken and beef mole were my favourites. Next, dress your tacos with cabbage, onion, a dollop of pico de gallo (fresh salsa) and guacamole.
Naty’s hosts a few bar stools and three picnic tables; patrons don’t linger long so you won’t have to wait too long for a seat. What it lacks in ambiance it makes up in value so don’t feel embarrassed if you visit on the daily.
Tierra Viva / Jennifer Hubbert
Fine dining at Tierra Viva
There’s nothing wrong with the eats served up at Terra Viva – my tuna steak was our table’s winning entrée – but something felt a little…je ne sais pas? I was satisfied but I wanted to be surprised or delighted. That said, a visit to Tierra Viva is warranted for the hungry multi-day Sayulita traveller.
Ocean views at Don Pedro’s
Come for the ocean views, stay for the ocean views. Great service and ambiance are liberally served up at Don Pedro’s but you’ll pay for it. Queen clam ceviche, a generous serving of thumb-sized mussels a la Provencale (drenched in a garlicky white whine sauce) and spicy tuna sashimi tostadas pleased my palate but just didn’t prove to be as memorable as other meals we enjoyed.
After a few days I threw caution to the wind. A beach vendor pushed his cart over the hard-packed beach, dishing up heaps of ceviche on crispy tostadas. Like moths to a flame, locals buzzed toward him. I took it as a good sign; it was evidence enough for me. Was it delicious? Yes! Was it unbelievably affordable? Yes! Was I nervous about eating raw seafood from a beach vendor. Still, yes!
Craft beers and bites at Palmar Trapiche
This “tropical beer garden” is an ambient gem. Situated a bit off the beach under a canopy of palms, long tables invite craft beer enthusiasts while pocket enclaves give the feel of "forest living rooms." A palapa-style bar serves up taps of craft beer, back-lit by a neon sign that reads NOS GUSTA MUCHO ESTAR AQUI or "happy to be here."
As a craft beer enthusiast hailing from Vancouver the beer is "alright." It’s also quite expensive compared to mass-produced national brands like Pacifico and Corona. You’ll pay 65 pesos ($4.50 CAD) for a craft brew and just 30 pesos ($2 CAD) for a bottle of Corona.
Palmar Trapiche’s bites were creative and tasty enough for a snack but don't compete with the kitchens in town.
That said, the beer garden is a great little enclave for those who want to get off the beach for a bit.