El Pitillal is a traditional Mexican district in the Jalisco city of Puerto Vallarta that has managed to retain its unique culture and charm despite the ever-increasing popularity and gentrification of Vallarta. It awaits 5km away from the beachfront Malecon and the city’s main “downtown” areas.
Locals often affectionately refer to El Pitillal as “Piti-York” – a playful spin on New York, because like the cosmopolitan east coast US city, there is always something happening in El Pitillal and it is very much the place to be if you are Mexican and living your best life in Vallarta.
Once upon a time, El Pitillal was its own independent town. However, urban expansion in recent years has seen Puerto Vallarta grow and grow until the lines between the two settlements have become blurred, and the coastal city has virtually engulfed El Pitillal.
Travel guidebooks and blogs seldom, if ever, reference the district of El Pitillal. Those who do take the time to venture here, just breeze through the area quickly, passing through the main square (zocalo) on a quick afternoon.
Since my partner is Mexican, I recently had the privilege of spending a month in El Pitllal. We live in Merida in the Yucatan but had been considering buying a house in Vallarta, and stayed with his sister in El Pitillal.
Rest assured, you are in good hands here and since I was able to explore accompanied by Mexicans who knew the area well, I was able to scratch well beneath the surface to discover the treasures of El Pitillal.
Visiting El Pitlllal Puerto Vallarta
Like many Mexican towns and barrios, El Pitillal is centered around a main square. The Plaza del Pitillal, nicknamed “Piti-Park” is flanked by the impressive Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel Catholic church which is locally renowned for its interesting (questionable?) neon blue Jesus in its interiors, and a bright blue catholic cross beside the entrance which is illuminated by night.
At all hours of the day and on all days of the week, El Pitillal is a popular rendezvous point among locals, who come here to meet up with their friends and family. During the day, oldtimers chew the fat and catch up on village gossip (“chisme”) with their amigos.
By nightfall, dozens of street vendors set up their tianguis (stalls) to sell toys, accessories, and street food eats. Pretty much everything edible here is great – all of these vendors have been serving and delighting Pitillal residents for years.
The hamburgers and the hot dogs are delicious and if you have never eaten the famous Mexican elotes, now is your opportunity to do so. “Traditional” elotes are made by mixing a cup of fresh sweetcorn with mayonnaise and adding a sprinkling of cheese, a squeeze of line, and a dash of chili.
In Pitillal, you can find papa-elotes which are made by mixing steaming hot boiled potatoes with sweetcorn and a mishmash of different salsas and hot sauces. The salchi-papas (sausages served with potatoes) are also something of a Pitillal specialty.
Where to Eat in El Pitillal
Arguably some of the best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta can be found in El Pitillal, especially if your idea of what constitutes a “good” place to eat means hearty, homecooked traditional food in a welcoming, unpretentious setting. Assuming you do not have a ton of time to dedicate to dining out in El Pitillal, the restaurants I would recommend prioritizing are Cenaduria Tia Anita (beloved for its traditional Mexican food) or PKDO for live music, depending on which day of the week you stop by.
Cenaduria Tia Anita
Where: 5 de Mayo 70, Centro Pitillal
Cenaduria Tia Anita is a cute tented restaurant that makes you feel as though you have stopped by someone’s home for a garden party. Their menu is short but sweet and revolves around simple and filling traditional Mexican meat and chicken dishes such as crispy flautas, gorditas, tostadas, and tamales.
The food is cooked right in front of you on the grills of the open-air kitchen which adds a fun level of spectatorship to the dining experience. For dessert, you should also order their jamoncillo.
Jamoncillo, meaning “little bones” in Mexican Spanish are tiny bite-sized Mexican milk candies that are extremely popular in Jalisco. The candies, flavored with cinnamon are super addictive and cost just 4 pesos (circa 25 cents) a piece! (So, like me, you can justify buying 25 of them!)
Where: Av. Francisco Villa LB, Las Gaviotas
PKDO bar, or “El Pekado” is actually on the outskirts of El Pitillal but is worth mentioning here as it is only a stone’s throw away from the district and is quite unlike anywhere else. During the day, PKDO functions as a Mexican-style “all you can eat” buffet restaurant, and by night, it’s a bar.
The delicious buffet options include dishes like pollo a la plancha (grilled chicken breast), carne al pastor (pork cooked on the spit), frijoles (refried beans), and flavored rice. Saturday afternoons are particularly special (and reservations come highly recommended) as you can enjoy live mariachi music as you dine, yet with zero tourists.
(The vibe is quite unlike places like El Parian Square in Tlaquepaque where a show is put on specifically for the gringos and the prices are extortionate.)
On the other days of the week, different live musical acts are hosted, often Mexican banda (music hailing from Sinaloa and the north of Mexico). PKDO also sells excellent cantaritos – tequila cocktails served in a clay jar.
Where: Emiliano Zapata 190, Plaza del Pitillal
Cafe Shekinah is a cute little spot where we would often go for breakfast in El Pitillal. It is actually located underground and can be reached via a flight of stairs that lead beneath Plaza Pitillal.
While Cafe Shekinah is not an especially beautiful place and is quite simple in its aesthetics, the food and the service are unparalleled. This is a real authentic local place – most of the patrons are Pitillal residents who come for breakfast or are students and professionals who sit working and studying from their laptops.
The chilaquiles rojo (deep-fried tortillas drenched in a spicy tomato sauce and covered in sour cream, red onions, and cheese) are delicious. So too are the eggs made “al gusto”. (I recommend the huevos rancheros).
Cafe Shekinah also sells a wide range of excellent smoothies and liquados that they will prepare and blend with fresh fruit right in front of you.
Restaurante Los Patrones
Where: Abasolo # 143 Planta Alta Esq, 5 de Mayo, Centro Pitillal
Restaurante Los Patrones is a no-frills eatery that sits off just Calle 5 de Mayo. They are best known for their selection of flavorful tacos, which are served with a side of fresh guac and are best when washed down with a fresh lemonade prepared in-house with a dash of basil and mint.
The restaurant has a cute tradition where patrons are supposed to ring an old bell mounted above the entrance doorway when they leave if they are satisfied with their tacos. Suffice it to say, you hear a lot of bells ringing when you dine here.
Where: Benito Juárez 219 D, Centro Pitillal
Ask any Pitillal resident where they should head for the best tacos in the area and the majority of them will answer with the same thing: Tacos Neto. This much-loved local eatery is practically always crowded – so much so that you will often see people waiting around for a table.
Rest assured though, if your schedule allows, the food is well worth the wait. Of the selection available, one particular option that stands out is the birria tacos.
Birria is a Jaliscan stew that is made by marinating meat (usually mutton but beef, goat lamb and chicken can also be used) in a mixture of garlic, herbs, dried chilies, and vinegar, and then cooking it in a broth. While the soup version is nourishing, it is also popular to serve scoops of birria in a taco.
Birria tacos are served virtually everywhere here, so the fact that people line up specifically to eat birria tacos at Tacos Neto speaks volumes about the quality of the place. Another great aspect of dining here is that the prices are very affordable and yet they definitely don’t scrimp on the portions or the quality of the produce used.
Raspados and street food in El Pitillal
There is an excellent little stall selling raspados and tejuino on the intersection of Calle 5 de Mayo and Calle Independencia, where the two join to meet Calle Priscilliano Sanchez. Raspados are Mexican drinks made by mixing chips of ice with homemade syrups (jarabes).
They are extremely refreshing on a hot, humid day (of which there are many in Vallarta) and you could liken them to Italian granita. A small (“chico”) raspado costs just 43 pesos while a large will set you back 90.
Most flavors and syrups are made from tropical fruits. For example, mango, coconut, and guava.
Things to Do in El Pitillal
In some ways, El Pitillal shares a lot of resemblance with the old town part of Puerto Vallarta. The district boasts cobblestone streets that feel reminiscent of a bygone era and part of the charm of visiting is simply found in taking the time to get lost in the random streets and passageways that veer off from the main plaza.
If you haven’t noted by now, sampling the local cuisine and dining out is one of the highlights of visiting the area so definitely come hungry. There is a very special ambiance in El Pitillal on Friday and Saturday nights when many older residents don their best dancing shoes and take their boom boxes down to Plaza Pitillal and dance to cumbia music.
Join in if you want, or grab some street food or an ice lolly (paleta) from the nearby Michoacana ice cream store and enjoy watching. In September, El Pitillal residents go all out to celebrate Dia de Independencia (Mexican Independence Day).
The official holiday falls on the 16th of September, but locals celebrate throughout the entire month and something is going on here every single day. Mariachi perform to delighted audiences for free in the bandstand of Piti-Park and there are unique performances whereby people dance to banda music with their horses.
Check out the local stores
One of the most interesting things to do in El Pitillal is to window-shop at the unique stores that line the main streets (in particular, Calle Independencia and Calle 20 de Noviembre). Although the traditional “high street” is a dying concept in many places, that definitely isnt the case in Pitillal.
You can find stores selling virtually every item imaginable – from gorgeous Quinceanera ballgowns and wedding dresses to bric-a-brac, beauty products, and independent clothing stores.
Arguably one of the most fascinating to explore is El Vaquero (“the cowboy”) which sits at 243 Calle Independencia. The store sells leather cowboy boots and belts, as well as hats and other Ranchero clothing items.
Stroll through Parque Lineal
Parque Lineal is a small park and walking trail that runs just behind the El Pitillal district. Locals often come here to jog, walk their dogs, etc. and there are always lots of huge lizards around which are interesting to see.
On a clear day, the views over Rio Pitlllal (Pitillal River) with the Sierra Madre mountains in the background, are unparalleled. (Unfortunately in the rainy season, the water is often a muddy brown but it is still naturally beautiful).
How to get to El Pitillal
Several public buses run between downtown Puerto Vallarta and the Malecon and El Pitillal. A ticket is just 10 pesos per person each way, although you should note that a lot of workers use them for their commutes to and from work so they are often full. (And there is no air con.
Look out for buses that read “Pitillal, Coapinole”, Guadalupe Victoria” and “Demonio Blanco” as they all pass through El Pitillal. They are all white in color so it’s not the easiest to distinguish between them all.
Arguably the easiest way to get to and from El Pitillal is to take a taxi. Uber runs in Puerto Vallarta and is actually a safer option than taking a cab on the street.
From most locations in the downtown area, Zona Romantica and Conchas Chinas, you are not looking at more than 60-100 pesos each way. (Circa $3-$5).
Is El Pitillal Safe for Tourists?
Safety in Mexico is something that is very personal but as a white solo female traveler, I felt very comfortable in El Pitillal. Most of the time I was out and about with my partner but I often popped out by myself to grab a coffee or to pick something up from the store and would not hesitate to tell you that you would be fine doing the same.
Other expats have mentioned to me before that they felt less comfortable in El Pitillal as compared to the gentrified expat areas of Vallarta. (Just based on how it looked in comparison rather than any real or perceived threat of “danger).
Let’s not stereotype residential Mexican neighborhoods as being “dangerous” just because there are fewer white people around.
During the day, you ought to be completely fine in El Pitillal, although it pays to use the same common sense safety precautions as you would anywhere else. (For example, do not walk around wearing expensive jewelry and accessories or with your $2,000 DSLR camera dangling around your neck).
Puerto Vallarta is very safe on the whole and El Pitillal is no different.
Final thoughts on visiting El Pitillal
El Pitillal can be an enriching place to visit during your time in Puerto Vallarta. Sure, most people visit the Jaliscan coastal city to relax at luxurious hotels and resorts and swim at Jalisco beaches.
However, having a day exploring a residential barrio and learning more about “real” life in Mexico is a great way to inject some culture into your annual vacation.
Do you have any further questions about visiting El Pitillal or things to do in the PV area in general? Please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
I have been living in Merida in the Yucatan for the past few years and I am more than happy to assist with any questions you may have. Safe travels and enjoy Mexico!
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo