865 Second St., Manchester, N.H.You know a restaurant has promise when several people tell you, unsolicited, that you must go there. For several months, we’d been told we had to stop by this new Mexican place in Manchester.Last fall, Puerto Vallarta Mexican Grill opened up in the Mallard Pond Plaza, and we are happy to say that our friends did not oversell the experience.
The cozy place, tucked away in a small strip mall (and when we say tucked away, we mean blink and you’ll definitely miss it), does not look like much from the outside. But when we walked in we were pleasantly surprised to see not only how bright and colorful it was, but also the quality of the furniture and décor. Great care was taken in putting the restaurant together.
We received a warm welcome upon our arrival and we were seated by the window, close to the bar. Puerto Vallarta is split into a dining area and a bar area, the latter decked out with flat-screen TVs. On the night we dined, the bar section was the popular place to be, with many interested in the soccer game on TV. We were handed menus, which are immense. This seems to be a common theme among the Mexican restaurants we’ve visited, but the eight-page tome at Puerto Vallarta may be the largest we’ve seen. I appreciate variety, but be prepared to take time to sift through the many entrée options featuring beef, chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes. Quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas, nachos and burritos are only a few of their categories. You name it, they have it. I successfully talked The Dining Companion into splitting a Vallarta Sampler ($11.50) to start. The appetizer is a sampler in the true sense of the word in that it is replete with selections from different corners of Puerto Vallarta’s menu, and not just items from the appetizer section. It comprised a ring (think Chinese pupu platter) of cheese quesadillas, flautas, wings, chimichangas and stuffed jalapenos. In the center was a container filled with sour cream and guacamole.
The guacamole tasted like it was freshly made, and had a pleasant consistency that was neither mushy nor chunky, and was a real hit with TDC. We both really enjoyed the crispy jalapeno poppers, which had a thick, spicy cheese filling. TDC also raved about the flautas, spiced chicken wrapped in a deep fried tortilla. The appetizer was so big it could easily have fed four or more people. We ended up bringing half of it home.
It took a while, but I finally decided on the Chicken Fajitas ($13.50) for my entrée. The great thing about fajitas is you can hear when your dish is on the way to the table. The heaping pile of fajita makings, served sizzling hot, included tender chicken, yellow and green peppers, onions and tomatoes, served alongside three fresh, warm flour tortillas, rice and beans, and fixins’ such as guacamole salad and sour cream. I managed to eat two fajitas piled high with the well-seasoned filling. Although I was missing the shredded cheese that never made it to my plate, the night we dined, our server was also working as the bartender so I didn’t bother to try to flag him down. This oversight was the only issue we had with our meals.
TDC narrowed down his entrée options to the list of various taco offerings. He chose the Tacos De Carnitas ($11), three soft corn tortillas filled with juicy pieces of pork wrapped in tin foil. He assumed they did this to help seal in the juices and keep the meat tender as that was definitely the result. The tacos came with a cup of fresh pico de gallo, which he sprinkled onto each taco, and a tomatillo sauce which was red rather than the traditional green. It was a nice flavor addition with a mild pepper taste. If we weren’t on Our Gourmet duty, we’d have opted out of the dessert round. We were stuffed full, thanks to Puerto Vallarta’s generous portions, with a stack of to-go boxes. We contemplated taking dessert with us but most wouldn’t travel well. So we took a deep breath, shifted around in our seats, and made room for two very tasty desserts.The flan ($3.75), a traditional Mexican custard, served with whipped cream, was the best I have ever had. It was the right texture and level of sweetness and tasted homemade. You know something is good when it evokes childhood memories, and this dessert brought me back to eating my late grandmother’s rice pudding. The flan was that good. TDC chose the Fried Ice Cream ($4). The vanilla ice cream is battered with corn flakes before being quickly deep fried. It is then served covered in and surrounded by chocolate sauce and whipped cream topped off with a cherry for good measure. Although he didn’t see it listed on the menu, he also tasted what appeared to be coconut in the batter. He said there’s just something deeply satisfying, and delicious, about eating the enigma that is ice cream which refuses to melt. Both of us were happy with our decision to plow through.Overall, our visit lived up to the hype. Not only was food and atmosphere top-notch, we stuffed ourselves with food and enjoyed a few alcoholic beverages for $75, before tip and tax. You won’t go hungry and you won’t bust your budget. We think Puerto Vallarta is easily in the running for the best Mexican food in the city.