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    Puerto Vallarta: An LGBTQ+ Dream Vacation

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is an idyllic locale made famous in the early 1960s when Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr filmed Tennessee Williams’ classic movie, The Night of the Iguana. Richard and Elizabeth Taylor liked this charming town so much that they built their own abode there, a structure that now still stands as the luxury boutique hotel Casa Kimberly.

    Now, next to Palm Springs and Provincetown, it might just be the LGBTQ+ vacation spot of one’s dreams. The beautiful beaches, the restaurants, the tropical vibe, the affordability, the warm weather, the cabarets/theatres/drag shows, the cobblestone streets, and the gay-friendly bars all make for a welcoming destination for our community. Wherever you go, you’ll strike up a conversation (or maybe more) in one of the most sociable and safe towns on the planet. Plus, there are quite a few direct flights from the Bay Area, so it makes a convenient getaway, especially during the wintry Northern California months.

    The Gay Gourmet visited recently and here are some of my top picks for, as the locals call it, PV:


    The historic Zona Romantica is where all the action is, so if you want to stay within walking distance of all the fun spots, that’s my district of choice.

    Pinnacle – This is a great location that’s walking distance (and a funicular ride) from the Zona Romantica and the beach. A  hotel/condo complex of 3 buildings, it is modern, design-forward, and gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Pinnacle 180 is my favorite building because the ocean views are spectacular, but Pinnacle 179 (smaller units) is equally stunning. Pinnacle 220 offers lovely modern condos, but the view of the ocean is a bit obstructed. A plus? 180’s Signature bar has a daily happy hour that is the friendliest LGBTQ+ bar in town, with a panoramic view to match.

    Casa Kimberly – A former San Franciscan, Janice Chatterton, has turned the two-building home of Taylor and Burton into a luxury boutique hotel. It also houses the very fine Iguana Restaurant and Tequila Bar. Accommodations are sumptuous with inspiring views, but it’s a bit off the beaten track, north of the river.

    Almar Resort – Billed as one of PV’s few luxury LGBTQ+ hotels, this location (while at the south end of the Zona Romantica) is right next door to the Blue Chairs (the Mantamar Beach Club). Both the Blue Chairs and neighboring Green Chairs beach resorts are favorites for the LGBTQ+ crowd, but the online reviews seem to favor the service at the Green Chairs. I haven’t stayed at the Almar, but the rooms look lovely. I have dined at the hotel’s rooftop The Top SkyBar, which has 270-degree views, formidable margaritas, and drag shows to boot.


    Tuna Azul – Right in the middle of the Zona Romantica (upstairs on the second and third floors), this affordable neighborhood eatery is known for its ahi tuna tostada marinated in orange ponzu sauce. There are great tacos, fajitas, and tempura rock shrimp—but it’s cash only. Tuna Azul has a full bar and a decent wine list as well.

    La Palapa and El Dorado – These are two Zona Romantica beachfront restaurants, literally in the sand with the waves crashing before your very eyes. At La Palapa for a sunset dinner, I had a delicious house-made tortilla soup, an amazing pear salad with fresh greens and balsamic, and homemade coconut shrimp (light, crispy, and non-greasy). A plus is the live, roving mariachi bands (be sure to tip them!), as well as potent margaritas, and wine selections, too. At El Dorado across the street, we opted for a seaside lunch with roasted panela cheese, guacamole, and popcorn shrimp, fried calamari, and grilled mahi mahi tacos. The full bar includes an extensive wine list with selections from Mexico, Spain, France, and Italy as well.

    Qulture – This is a quirky art gallery cum bar and café that’s a perfect spot for lunch. Qulture is in Emiliano Zapata, an artsy off-the-beaten path (but still walkable) neighborhood. Standouts include: strong, yet tart, margaritas; cheese-stuffed and bacon-wrapped jalapeños; yummy “puffy” tacos; and upscale bar food. This chic eatery is budget-friendly—plus, it hosts a contemporary gallery space to see some quality local art.

    Café des Artiste – Here you will find fabulous, sprawling, upscale French-Mexican fine dining in a lush, tropical garden that has some of the best food in PV, under the guidance of celebrity chef Thierry Blouet. The starter of homemade breads and breadsticks is definitely worth the calories. Despite its claim that it’s a “32-year tradition,” I’d forego the pumpkin soup and opt instead for the foie gras crème brûlée—a perfect appetizer that embraces sweet and savory. The roasted Asian cabbage with Jerusalem artichoke mousseline and an Asian sauce is divine as an intermezzo. We split the charcoal-seared ahi tuna with seeds, green tomatillo salsa, and watercress (and a bacon taco!) for our main. The habanero chili with passion fruit mousse dessert is to die for. The full bar has creative cocktails and an extensive wine list.

    Tintoque – This may be the best and most innovative restaurant in PV. Its riverside dining experience is guided at the helm by talented, young chef Joel Ornelas. We decided not to opt for the 6 or 9 course tasting menu and instead ordered à la carte. The tasty offerings we chose included a flavorful blue corn tortilla with a tangy tomatillo sauce, a seasonable pickled vegetable acar (the vegetables were cut into airy, light strips of deliciousness), a corn esquite with winter truffle and pecorino (kind of like a corn risotto, but without the rice), and a lovely dulce de leche pastry for dessert. The wine list has a number of terrific Mexican choices, including the Valle de Tintos Chenin Blanc that accompanied our meal.

    Jardin Nebulosa – A wonderful day trip to the colonial mountain mining town of San Sebastian del Oeste takes you to this magical restaurant that might be the highlight of our trip. The restaurant, which means “cloud forest,” is set in a mountainside landscaped garden with waterfalls, birds, and greenery. Each of the courses that comprised our tasting menu brunch had a different pairing with a unique raicilla cocktail. Raicilla is a Mexican liquor, like tequila or mezcal, made from agave in Jalisco (often grown in the mountains). The taste is a bit stronger than tequila, but not smoky like mezcal. All of the courses are served on organic tableware: small tree trunks, stones, and craft-thrown plates. The homemade breads—choke cherry, burnt corn husk, and pine sugar—arrived first with a fresh orange juice mimosa.

    Our first course was a fresh cantaloupe, pear, papaya, and tangerine tart with kefir yogurt, which we paired with a “paisaje (panorama) raicilla” cocktail (herbal liqueur, cana brava water) as well as a Sierra Occidental raicilla cocktail (with lemongrass, black tea, citrus, and grape). The next course was a deconstructed vegetarian taco, comprised of a soft blue corn tortilla, panela cheese, cauliflower chorizo, and black bean purée, all accompanied by a serrano pepper and tomato sauce. Next came a skewer of squash, carrots, zucchini, beet, tomatoes, cheese, jocoque (sour cream), and pico de gallo with nopales cactus and tomato. That course paired nicely with a fermented pear drink. A tasty rabbit taco course followed (coincidentally, we were there on the first day of the Lunar New Year 2023, the Year of the Rabbit!). It was served on a soft blue corn tortilla with squash and avocado purée, and all the elements of this offering complemented each other beautifully. Accoutrements included pickled potato, purple cauliflower, and carrot. A cold brew coffee with raicilla, spice syrup, and orange liqueur was a lovely pairing. The only disappointment in the meal was the dessert course: a chocolate tomatillo (tamale) that unfortunately didn’t look very appetizing and also didn’t have much taste. But all in all, it was a phenomenal meal in a gorgeous setting—and all for $115 for 2, including tip!

    Ocean Grill – This is another excursion restaurant. You can either hire a boat to take you there and back from PV, or take a taxi to Mismaloya (where Iguana was filmed) and then take a short boat ride to this special restaurant hidden in a private cove on a secluded beach. It’s almost as if you are taking a trip to Polynesia when you arrive at this hidden gem, with its thatched roof décor on a pier literally hanging over the water. The restaurant’s ahi tuna sashimi is a piece of edible art, as well as a tasty choice. The fresh-from-the-sea grilled mahi mahi, along with the tropical drinks, are winners, too.

    For Entertainment in PV, there are many choices: The Palm Cabaret (splendid drag shows, solo cabaret, and musical theatre); La Catrina Cantina (we saw one of the original Platters singing there); Incanto (great Broadway performers); Nacho Daddy’s (singer Amy Armstrong is terrific); and Act2PV for theatre. There’s no shortage of gay bars, including my favorites: Blondie’s (friendly, younger crowd, outdoor space); Mr. Flamingo’s (an institution); and Garbo’s (older crowd, piano bar).

    A great and fun outdoor activity is to travel south of the city to the verdant Vallarta Botanical Gardens, one of the world’s largest arboretums and a welcome respite to the buzz of the city.

    One last recommendation: when arriving in PV at the airport, don’t talk to the salespeople selling timeshares prior to exiting the airport. It’s a scam and you’ll waste time that could be spent lolling on the beach.

    Bits and Bites

    The cost of fine dining: Lately, I’ve been dismayed at some of the high prices of dining out. When we dined at Miller & Lux at the Chase Center, the valet parking was a whopping $50 (and not even on a game night!). Hint: there’s on-street parking to be had for free (and don’t go when there’s a stadium event). Additionally, my foodie pal Tony sent me an invite for a Ritual private fine dining event at $590/person. Really? Instead of paying those kinds of prices, Tony swears by InKind, which saves diners money by offering discounts at some fine local restaurants.

    Time to cross the Bay! Visit Oakland’s “Oakland Restaurant Week” is back again this year and takes place March 16–26, with the San Francisco Bay Times as a sponsor. Neighborhood gems, Michelin star restaurants, and even food trucks will once again be part of the fun. Participating restaurants are offering lunches for a very affordable $15–$35 and dinners for a reasonable $35–$65.

    As of press time, this highly anticipated new venture should be open. Acclaimed Michelin star chef Srijith Gopinathan (formerly of Campton Place) is debuting his new southern Indian restaurant Copra on Fillmore and Post at the site of the former Dosa.

    Matthew Accarino of SPQR fame is opening a more casual Italian bistro around the corner on Bush Street (former site of Charles Phan’s Out the Door), named Mattina (guess why?).

    Hard to believe but the venerable Mustards Grill in the Napa Valley is celebrating 40 years. Bravo!

    It looks like another fave, the iconic Cliff House, will re-open this year. But there’s no word yet on who the new operators will be. Stay tuned.

    A Gay Gourmet favorite, Original Joe’s, will be opening in Walnut Creek, but you have to wait until 2024 for the ribbon cutting. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the new Little Original Joe’s on Chestnut Street (where construction has started) will open “this summer.”

    Sandy’s muffuletta sandwich shop should be opening this spring in the Lower Haight after its successful pop-up at Maison Courbeaux in Pacific Heights. Love that this saves us a trip to New Orleans!

    I’ve just been introduced to a fantastic new, cold distillation gin called Oxley. Manufactured in England, it has bright botanicals and a clean, crisp flavor made with fresh frozen citrus peel. It’s perfect for a classic martini, but I’ve also sampled some great Oxley concoctions (like the Sips Ahoy, with ginger, lemon, and Thai basil) at the super-fun and dog friendly Sea Star bar on 3rd Street in Dogpatch (be sure to spot the Instagrammable octopus chandelier!). This luxe gin is available online and also in San Francisco (besides Sea Star) at such cool watering holes as: The Treasury, The Third Rail, Bellota, Absinthe, The Good Good Culture Club, Wildhawk, and The Beehive.

    Visit Puerto Vallarta:
    Oakland Restaurant Week:
    Mustards Grill:
    Original Joe’s:
    Sea Star:
    Oxley Gin:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on February 23, 2023