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Straightforward Mexican at Puerto Vallarta

J.J. Rees | Friday, March 20, 2009

As many students come back from a spring break spent at much more temperate locales, those who went to the Mexican beach town Puerto Vallarta might be tempted to reminsce about their week in the sun by visiting a restaurant of the same name on Grape Road in Mishawaka.

However, despite a few perks, Puerto Vallarta – the one a few miles from campus – proved to be mostly forgettable.The restaurant itself, tucked into a plaza, fails to leave an impression. It seems to have been half-decorated. The walls have been left their dim burnt orange color “for now,” and the few paintings and decorations are allowed on the wall until their more sensible replacements arrive.

It’s possible that the restaurant offers too much variety, not permitting itself to focus on a few dishes. However, one looking for Mexican food would surely find whatever they are after.Puerto Vallarta offers 26 combination platters (priced $6-9) outside of their regular menu, which includes burritos, fajitas and other standard Mexican dishes.

But with a kitchen that must be relatively small, considering the restaurant’s size, the staff might do well to hone their skills on dishes like the flautas (corn tortillas rolled around a chicken filling, then fried), the quesadillas or the burritos, which already have a good start.

Puerto Vallarta’s horchata (rice milk with cinnamon) is silky with a fairly strong cinnamon taste that made a second glass undesirable. The appetizer sampler was the clear standout of the meal, with chicken taquitos, shredded beef quesadillas and nachos covered by ground beef, cheese and beans. The savory, rich tastes were fantastic way to begin the meal.

A huge amount of food was required to fill the massive plates, and the large burritos were a good start. The Vallarta Vegetarian Burrito (beans, rice and lettuce wrapped in a flour tortilla and smothered with guacamole and fresh tomatoes) was an undeviating combination of the ingredients and, at every point of the meal, was too much to eat.

The flautas were crusty and had a fitting texture. The taste of the fresh tomato topping made up for the plain flavored chicken. In general, the shredded beef was slightly too thick and too tough, although juicy and full-bodied in the tacos and quesadillas.

The cooks paired sauce and cheese well, especially when the two were matched with the savory chicken. The enchiladas proved to be simply too much, and the over-serving of cheese did not help the cause.

The real highlights of the meal were the bookends: The aforementioned appetizer sampler, and the dessert treat, which consisted of fried tortilla sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with honey, and topped by a surprisingly tasty dollop of whipped cream. This unexpected gift is typical of the service, which is laid back but efficient and quick. Cokes were brought out quickly after the horchata refills were ruled out.

Another peak of the meal was the live music. Upon entering, at least on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, one is greeted by a pleasant guitarist playing and singing songs. This music provides excellent entertainment or just background music.Puerto Vallarta delivers straightforward Mexican food with very comfortable prices (the most expensive entrée is $13). Nothing is extremely disappointing, but not much leaves an impression. The restaurant does gain points for the appetizer sampler and the live music, but otherwise it only offers a wide variety of standard fares.