Sexy Food: Destination Mexico

Escape the April showers and head to Zihuatanejo for a sunny culinary experience.

The 2012 travel climate in Mexico is different than in years past. A combination of the depressed economy and media hype over the supposed dangers of traveling south of the border mean that the usually-thriving Mexican tourism industry is experiencing a lull. What this translates to for you, my little Seattle songbird, is mucho savings in the sand and sun. Especially this spring, when the low season is fast-approaching and hotels and resorts are slashing prices left and right to try and meet their bottom lines.

The first question many ask: is it safe? I just returned from two weeks in Zihuatanejo and I can assure you, I’ve never felt safer on the streets of Seattle than on the bustling avenidas of that tiny, quaint town. Of course this may have had something to do with the fact that for every taxi, motorscooter or BMW on the street, there were an equal number of military vehicles with machine gun-wielding soldiers out to protect the peace.

As with any urban life or travel, the name of the game is be smart. Leave your Gucci loafers back at the ranch, ditch your emeralds for the night, and by all means, don’t be a drunken frat boy in search of a 3am tattoo, but if your activities span from dining at the Mercado to tequila tasting in one of the many boutiques around town, you’ll be just fine.

Zihuatanejo has some particular things to recommend it. First off, it’s a nice combination between a laze on the beach vacation and one rooted in experiencing exceptional regional cuisine. Playa La Ropa, the resort sector of Zihuatanejo, is one of the best beaches in all of Mexico for its calm, warm waters and protection of the surrounding bay.

There are several resorts directly on the beach from the Viceroy  (where I stayed, modeled after the Viceroy in LA with prices to match) to the timeshare haven Club Intrawest. But the real deal on Playa La Ropa is to stay at one of the boutique hotels overlooking the beach and bay. The choices range from uber-luxe Tentaciones to Casa Que Canta, famous because the film “When a Man Loves a Woman” was shot there. A quick few dollar cab ride from one of these perches will take you to the beach or to town. Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Zihua (as the locals call it), just make sure to negotiate the rate before getting into the cab.

Culinary choices abound in Zihuatanejo, and I tried everything from haute cuisine to street food during my time there. My advice is to skip the schmancy, fusion-style overpriced restaurants and go lowdown local. Carmelitas for breakfast or lunch is an absolute must; don’t miss the chili relleno, probably the best I’ve ever had. The Mercado (market) is a lively place with folks peddling everything from molcajetes (mortar and pestles) to mahi mahi. The only problem I had with food at the Mercado was choosing which stall to dine in that day.

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Pozole, the famous Mexican hominy stew, is native to Guerrero, the state in which Zihua lies. Restaurants specializing in pozole called pozolerias ladle up generous bowls of the stuff, especially on Thursdays, which is pozole day in Mexico. The most lively pozoleria in Zihua is Santa Prisca a place where tourists and locals alike go for live music, great pozole and a platter of chicharrones and other fried things so big the idea of polishing your plate is a pipe dream.

If you’re looking to escape the dreary spring and soak up some sun, there’s no better place than Zihuatanejo. After a quick plane change in LA, you’ll be on the beach by afternoon, sipping margaritas and chasing away the drizzle of Seattle’s spring with clear, calm 80 degree days.