Chef Jorge González’s eyes lit up when Forbes Travel Guide told him it wanted to discuss local dishes famous in the Riviera Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. A man who talks passionately about three things — food, surfing and his family — González has found the perfect spot as executive chef of the fabulous Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico. “Everything has to do with enjoying the sea [and surf] and then eating,” he said with a laugh.
In fact, González started his career at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel some 16 years ago. He left and spent some time in various high-end kitchens around Mexico and made guest chef stints in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.
After launching Pasquinel Bistrot at Four-Star Rosewood Puebla in 2017, he rejoined the Four Seasons just in time to work on developing the menu for Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita’s new Dos Catrinas restaurant, which celebrates contemporary and traditional Mexican cuisine.
“I want you to try something that is really authentic,” the talented toque said. “I want you to learn a little, so you can talk about it when you return [home]. Our guests travel all over the world and they want to try what Mexico has to offer.”
Creating a traditional menu for an audience that may understand Mexican cuisine to be something more akin to Tex-Mex is a challenge. But González had a good plan.
“You have to start with something very traditional like a guacamole, which everyone on the planet knows,” he said. “Here you have the basic dish, then you add chicharrón [fried pig skin] or grasshoppers. So, you have the traditional part and the part to explore and learn.”
The menu, which offers tastes of Oaxaca, Mexico City, Puebla, Nayarit and many other states, gives you the chance to explore the nation from starters through dessert. The wine list offers bottles from the country, but also blends made by natives living elsewhere, such as Juguette, a label from a Mexican national living in South Australia. A cocktail cart moving from table to table affords you the chance to try another local favorite: smoky tipples made with Four Seasons’ own mezcal blend, Los Mitos.
Savor all these flavors while sitting in a restaurant designed by Colombian architect Saúl Sasson, who spent months immersed in Mexican culture to create a space that melds traditional handicrafts and materials with a contemporary Mexican aesthetic. The result is chic and modern with pops of color and fun.
To further explore the nation’s flavors after your Dos Catrinas meal, check out the chef’s top tips for regional specialties, which just happen to coincide with some of the best surf spots in the Riviera Nayarit.
Where to try it: Restaurante Acela on Chacala Beach
In his spare time, González likes to head to the laidback beach town of Chacala, about 90 minutes up the coast from Punta Mita. After catching a few waves, he sates his appetite at a relaxed eatery right on the sand called Restaurante Acela, which he says serves the best Zarandeado-style fish.
“Zarandeado is a technique for preparing fish,” González said. “We believe it comes from Mexcaltitlan [the original island home of the Aztecs before they settled in Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City], and we believe that the technique is pre-Hispanic.”
The fish is butterflied and cooked whole, with bones and scales still on. “Traditionally, it is simply covered with lime, sea salt and cooked [in a metal grill] over wood,” the chef explained with delight as he seemed to be imagining the flavors. “You arrive, pick your fish and they cook it fresh for you.”
While at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, order chef Eduardo Zorrilla’s take on Zarandeado at the open-air Bahia restaurant.
Dish: Tacos de Carne Asada
Where: Tacos on the Street in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
There can’t be a list of regional Mexican dishes without mention of tacos de carne asada and, for González, the best that he has ever tasted are at Tacos on the Street in the nearby marina town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.
The same family has been making these grilled rib-eye steak tacos for more than two decades. Stop by in the evenings Wednesday through Sunday to dig into these sensational flame-kissed specialties.
You also can have a version of these meaty tacos at Dos Catrinas, augmented with guacamole and roasted onion.
Dish: Banana Bread
Where to try it: On the beaches of San Blas
Banana bread is another Riviera Nayarit specialty. You can find a particularly traditional version in the tropical area of San Blas, known for its world-class birdwatching.
“If you go to the beaches of San Blas, they offer you banana bread,” González said, “They bake it in tins, the old condensed milk tins…this is the traditional way [to make it].”
Surfing is also a big deal on this shoreline, and for a wave-catching chef, what could be better than a potassium-packed pan de platano to restore your energy after a morning on the water?
Sink into a contemporary take on banana bread at Dos Catrinas, served with cardamom and vanilla ice cream.
Dish: Aguachile and Ceviche
Where: Makai Restaurant in Punta Mita
Another great surf spot offers the chef’s top pick for regional seafood specialties — aguachile and ceviche. One of his favorite dishes is tacos dorado de chicharrón (crunchy fried pig skin tacos), topped with ceviche. He also enjoys Makai’s aguachile, a simple dish made with fresh fish or shrimp and raw vegetables (usually cucumbers) seasoned with lime juice, cilantro and a generous pinch of chili.
Sample two types of aguachile (chile de arbol-infused red and super-spicy habanero-packed black) at Dos Catrinas, made fresh with the catch of the day.
Where to try it: On the boardwalk in Puerto Vallarta
“[Tuba] is a drink that they sell here in the region,” the chef said. “It’s water from the palm of the coconut, and they sell it on the boardwalk [in Puerto Vallarta]. They serve it with chopped apple and chopped nuts. My father loved it. It reminds me a lot of him.”
If you don’t have a chance to sip tuba along Puerto Vallarta’s famous Malecón promenade, opt for it in dessert form at Dos Catrinas. This tuba mousse is refreshing enough to beat the Punta Mita heat.