Mazatlán, Mexico: Part One – Land of the Deer and a Meal of My Dreams

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As I stepped off the sold-out flight and onto the tarmac, the warm, humid afternoon air enveloped me, carrying the familiar aroma of Mexico. The stunning geography of Mazatlán, with its maze of inlets, few patterns of civilization, and verdant agricultural land, made it easy to imagine how deer once roamed here. I had arrived in this Pacific coastal city of half a million people in the state of Sinaloa, eager to experience Day of the Dead and All Souls Day celebrations.

My first priority was finding the perfect spot for lunch – Atol, a restaurant with a five-star rating on Yelp. I was determined to fulfill my friend’s wish for me to have “the meal of my dreams.” The hotel driver met me at the airport and transferred myself and other guests in an air-conditioned van to our beachside hotel, Pueblo Bonito Mazatlán. After admiring the gorgeous view of the sea from my third-floor patio, I headed back downstairs to meet a friend and hail a “pulmonia,” a local golf cart, for our open-air ride along the Malecón to Atol.

As we made our 3 pm reservation at Atol, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the prospect of indulging in some delicious Mexican cuisine. The historic city of Mazatlán, also known as “Pacific Pearl” and “Fish Land,” had a lot to offer, from its Day of the Dead celebrations to its stunning geography and rich cultural heritage. But for now, my focus was on savoring that meal of my dreams. The aroma of Mexico’s cuisine wafted through the air, tantalizing my taste buds and building my anticipation for what was to come. Would I find the man of my dreams, or at least a meal worthy of my friend’s good wishes? Only time would tell.

Mazatlán captured my heart as we strolled along the picturesque Malecón. Despite being categorized as a “Level 4” destination due to safety concerns, this seaside city surprised me with its eclectic blend of rundown and revitalized structures rising from the sand. The aroma of freshly grilled fish wafted through the air as I passed by cozy seafood shacks and the historic opera house, beckoning me to discover the unfiltered essence of Mexico, untouched by touristification. As we rode along, I was surrounded by a lively mix of locals and Mexican tourists enjoying the vibrant Day of the Dead festivities.

First Meal of Mazatlán: Atol

Atol, a traditional corn drink inspired by Day of the Dead, has been open in Mexico for just over a year. The stylish restaurant is located in a former school building with a black exterior and discreet sign above the door. We were warmly welcomed by the owner’s mother upon arrival.

Chef Daniel Bernal Vega has traveled extensively throughout Mexico, including Oaxaca, Yucatan, and his native Culiacán, Sinaloa, and creates regional dishes with an artistic flair. The menu features layers of flavors carefully crafted with love, dedication, and deliciousness. Guests can enjoy explanations from Chef/Owner Daniel as he works at the bar, assisted by his sous-chef.

I devoured several dishes from the “Menú Degustación,” including bolita istemeña (a ball of double cream cheese topped with peanut mole, smoked plantain, and pumpkin flower), cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork wrapped in a banana leaf), tamal made from local fermented masa, crema de requesón, and dried grasshopper on top for crunch. I also tried the molote de lengua, beef tongue atop a chocolate mole with crema de huitlacoche.

All dishes are served in beautiful Mexican pottery dishware created by Uriel Rodriguez of Alma de Barro in Puebla. The corn tortillas are made before your eyes. A filling meal for two, including wine and beer, was reasonably priced at just over $50.

Atol is open for breakfast as well, making it a great spot to visit daily. After my delightful dining experience, I set the bar high for future meals in Mazatlán, which will be featured in Part Two of my Travel Buzz report.

BY LESLIE WESTBROOK   

Source: Montecito Journal