Editor’s Note: Travel is complicated right now, but we still aim to bring you travel inspiration for the future. Enjoy this culinary walk through Mazatlan, Mexico.
Mazatlán, Mexico is not only a foodies’ paradise but a seafood lover’s dream.
I started my trip to Mazatlán at Mariscos Beto. Huge banners shaded the plastic tables and chairs by a crumbling curb. Waiters bustled around the crowded sidewalk, juggling plates loaded with shrimp and ceviche to a convivial Spanish-speaking crowd.
I’d sampled Mazatlán’s legendary seafood in dozens of settings over the years, and have often found my favorite foods at humble establishments. Beto’s just might be the ultimate experience in my quest for the best seafood in Mazatlán.
Seafood shines in this port city, one of Mexico’s first Pacific coast destinations. Its commercial fishing and shrimping fleets are among the country’s largest.
Sportsfishing in Mexico
Sportfishing is a major draw, with anglers catching and releasing massive marlin and sailfish, and taking their tuna and wahoo to fancy and simple restaurants.
The city’s historic center sprawls inland from the port and marina, filled with cargo and cruise ships and all manner of fishing vessels. Women sell shrimp on the street in one neighborhood, while the public market in the heart of downtown is filled with seafood delights. Just about every menu around features the local bounty.
Mercado Pino Suárez in Mazatlán
Local chef and caterer Gustavo Amalorda led me on a seafood tour at Mazatlán’s Mercado Pino Suárez, the perfect place to begin a food journey. Located beside the 19th-century cathedral, the market is housed in an open-air structure designed much like Gustav Eiffel’s ornate nouveau ironwork.
Our tour started at a small stand called El Tigre with a ceviche sampler of impeccably fresh sea bass, yellowtail and shrimp in several preparations. I lean toward the basic tomatoes, onions, chiles, cilantro and lime version, but was pleasantly surprised by one with shredded carrots.
We visited the requisite fresh fish stands to go eye-to-eye with snappers and squid and sampled salty dried shrimp, creamy fish paste and killer shrimp tamales. Back on the street, we checked out an ice cream stand for a palate cleanser.
After winding our way through downtown, we came upon women selling shrimp from ice-filled plastic buckets at umbrella-shaded stands. The quality varies, as some shrimp has been frozen (the boats go out to sea for several days at a time).
In the off-season, the shrimp comes from farms. Gustavo picked out some healthy-looking specimens and we tromped across the street to El Ancla de Oro, a dark cantina where our shrimp was cooked while we sipped chilled Pacifico beers, first brewed in Mazatlán by German immigrants around 1900.
Our final stop at the tiny Cerveceria Tres Islas brewpub involved beautiful fresh oysters from Piquillas, a small seafood cafe next door.
Where to Find Fresh Seafood in Mazatlan
Seafood sizzles on restaurant grills at palapas on the sand and elegant mansions in the Centro Histórico. I spent a fun afternoon at one of the palapa-shaded restaurants beside the city’s marvelous malecón. The seaside promenade runs along the edge of several downtown neighborhoods and is popular with just about everyone.
Cliff divers perform in one area while families frolic in the nearby saltwater pool. El Muchacho Alegre, perched above the sand, commands great views of the islands just offshore and the curving coast lined with hotels in Mexico‘s Zona Dorada (Golden Zone).
It bustles with energy as musicians in cowboy hats played accordions, drums, trombones and guitar in regional banda music with a polka-like beat. I tried the ceviche mixto with fish, shrimp and tender octopus, accompanied by a salty margarita while watching others devour chilled oysters, giant coconut shrimp, fish tacos and bacon-wrapped calamari.
For fancier fare, I checked out La Mazatleca, a hip beach restaurant/bar in the Golden Zone. A mix of business workers and holiday-makers sat at picnic tables in the air-conditioned interior—the tables on the sand were far too warm on a summer afternoon.
My favorites in a parade of dishes were the chorreadas, maíz patties topped with pork, shrimp and octopus.
At pretty El Presidio in a restored mansion in the Centro Histórico, the chef slices hamachi (yellowtail) into sashimi with a little kick that makes you return for more. A leisurely, boozy lunch of cooked shrimp smothered in garlic bits on the beachside terrace at La Concha in the El Cid El Moro Beach Hotel remains one of my favorite memories.
Mariscos Cuchupetas in Villa Unión
Presidents, celebrities and regular folk happily head an hour inland from Mazatlán to reach Mariscos Cuchupetas in the small town of Villa Unión. Manuel Sánchez, an unassuming gentleman of many years, created the region’s most famous restaurant.
It’s grown over the past three decades to incorporate add-ons to the original house, resulting in a jumble of raucous rooms. Walls are loaded with photos of famous diners who belly up to crowded tables and devour huge spreads.
Two wonderful friends carted me off to Villa Union one sunny morning, singing Boy George hits as we drove through the countryside. The restaurant was beginning to fill as we were led to a prime table overlooking the scene.
Waiters rushed about as the noise level gradually increased and our food began arriving.
There was an overflowing platter of tangy ceviche and another of aguachile, raw shrimp marinated in lime juice and spicy chiles. The whole fried fish was an absolute knockout, with chunks of fish deep-fried and packed along the fish skeleton.
Señor Sánchez came by the table to chat, directing his crew all the while. The setting, food and companionship were all outstanding. My quest for ultimate seafood experiences has made me shameless.
It’s one of the first things I mention when meeting anyone, from general managers to drivers of Mazatlán’s famed pulmonías, open-air taxis.
On a recent visit to Mexico, I happened to ask friends about their favorite seafood experiences. A few hours later, we were on our way to Mariscos Beto. We drove through a busy, rapidly developing part of the city near a newish marina and modern Mexico resorts.
Traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, was heavy as we swung into a parking place near our destination and weaved through the tables to our destination—an oilcloth-covered plastic table with four chairs.
Our friends took charge of the ordering, and the shared platters quickly became a blur of tasty sensations. Green and white cucumber slices encircled pale pink shrimp and bright white pulpo (octopus) lightly cooked in lime juice on one plate.
Another was piled high with tomato-studded ceviche. A platter of shrimp smothered in crisp garlic bits followed, with icy cervezas and limonada. It was a seafood bonanza that left me craving a return visit—as have all my adventures in flavorful Mazatlán.
For more information about visiting Mazatlán, Mexico, visit their tourism site at GoMazatlan.com
Author Bio: Maribeth Mellin is a freelance travel journalist whose articles and photos have appeared in dozens of publications. She’s the author of several books on Mexico, including the award-winning “Traveler’s Mexico Companion.”