Along with old traditions and new trends, hot chefs are spicing up Mexico’s culinary landscape, as recently evidenced in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
Easy, relaxed, paradise-on-earth Zihuatanejo, or even its more modern-looking sister Ixtapa, is not the first place we would’ve thought of to head to for a gustatory renaissance. That just shows how little we know. A recent visit revealed a rainbow of fragrant moles, enticing desserts and, most importantly, a clear snapshot of what’s happening in Mexico’s food scene.
Zihuatanejo’s municipal market is a friendly one, perhaps because it’s not daunting for amateur foodies to navigate. This is where we found gorditas de horno—thick, oval-shaped cookies heavy with Mexican brown sugar. We walked by thick cuts of beef and pork waiting for a brave cook to snatch them up, past bunches of herbs and trays of pan dulce, past shiny turnips and spicy-looking chilies and “pine tree” oil said to help bronchitis, all the way to the juguerias—fresh fruit juice stands—and the fondas—casual eateries where the smells of home-style meals made the entire place sing. The benches lining the counters quickly filled up with people coming in for lunch. On the fondas’ menus: fried fish, a variety of moles and pozoles—a thick stew made with hominy that’s among our favorites in a Mexican menu—and plenty of homemade tortillas.
Area restaurants are no less generous, exalting both international and indigenous flavors and ingredients. Palapa-style eateries serve the catch of the day right on the beach, while other restaurants, like El Murmullo, showcase Thai and other types of cuisine.
The most recent FOOD & WINE Festival in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo—which took place in March and takes place annually, although as of press time dates for next year’s festival were unavailable—expanded our palate’s horizons beyond Zihuatanejo’s borders to the good, the great and the downright adventurous of Mexico’s limitless cuisine. At the annual 32 Tastes of Mexico event on beautiful La Ropa Beach, after dipping our feet in the warmest ocean water we’ve felt in years, we tried everything from manta ray empanadas to chocolate-covered escamoles—fat ant larvae. The next day, we chased those down with some tejon (badger) meat and a small, tentative bite of a chapulin taco, but were none too thrilled with the crunchy, grassy taste of the sauteed grasshoppers. There were plenty of less-risky options on hand, including mouth-watering chicken tamales, stuffed pork belly, lobster tacos, moles of different colors and so much more.