(and a primer on Mexican antojitos…)
Sometimes we come across new business ventures in Puerto Vallarta that, despite the associated entrepreneurs’ best intentions, are prone to failure for a variety of reasons. Then there are those that are either blessed by intangible good karma, or are the result of careful strategic planning, or involve previously unavailable products and services (imagine that!), or any combination of the above. Macareno, a new casual eatery in Versalles—an antojería, actually, but more about that in a minute—definitely falls in the latter category.
Before we dive into the particulars of this amazing restaurant—I’ve returned twice since my first visit, some three weeks ago—and how it taps into our foodie psyche so successfully, it might be helpful to understand a couple of important words/concepts related to Mexican food you actually may already be familiar with: antojos and guisados.
(Or if you want to cut to the chase, just skip the next five paragraphs.)
Do you ever get a craving that you must absolutely fulfill? The word antojo literally means ‘craving’ and it refers to anything you may be in the mood for at any given time, from a swim in the ocean to a movie night, to a particular dish or meal, of course. In Mexican cuisine, the word also specifically refers to the foods you find at local mercados or prepared by street vendors, usually in the morning or evening (midday reserved for the main/formal meal of the day throughout Mexico). More specifically, all those tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, tamales and so forth that you’ve ordered out and about at informal eateries or small, family-style restaurants, fall under the antojo category.
In Spanish, we often add the suffix ‘ito’ or ‘ita’ to refer to something that is small and/or precious (my mother used to call me Paquito, for example, and for better or worse, I am far from little!). So if someone says ‘Quiero mi propia casita,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘I want my own little house, but perhaps the house must be precious or special.
When the suffix is added to the word antojo, we get antojito, or the plural, antojitos, which in most cases doesn’t mean you crave a little bit of something. Rather, the word becomes seductive when it falls off your mouth, and the craving becomes ‘gotta-have-it’ indispensable. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about!
Guisados (or guisos)
A guisado refers to many savory dishes and stews prepared by cooking ingredients in a sauce or broth. Of course, such a broad definition applies to all types of dishes around the world. In Mexico, there are a handful of ‘staple’ guisados, such as chilaquiles or picadillo (prepared with ground beef), and then there are regional variants. You can find dozens of unique guisados throughout México, most of which share a common trait: they can be, and are frequently served over a freshly-made corn tortilla and eaten as tacos. Moreover, while there are taquerías that serve specific types of tacos (beef, carnitas, pastor, etc.) there are those that specialize in serving tacos de guisado.
Putting the two concepts together, an antojería is a place that serves guisados, and what makes them wonderful is that you usually go in wanting to fulfill a specific antojito or craving, but being exposed to a variety of other options, more often than not you end up enjoying all sorts of dishes you were not even expecting to explore. I’m feeling hungry already, and I hope you are, too!
Back to Macareno
Macareno is the brainchild of Paco Toris, a young entrepreneur who comes from a long family line of local taco makers, including his mother, one of the güeras from the legendary Tacos Las Güeras, kittycorner from El Brujo restaurant in Colonia Emiliano Zapata. He could have easily continued the family tradition, “but I did not want to make tacos,” he adamantly explained when I met him. “It takes a lot of work and dedication, and I did not want to follow the same path.”
When a small locale became available in Versalles next to the very popular Lamara ceviche restaurant, Paco challenged himself, coming up with an evolutive concept that effectively pays homage to his family trade elevating it to new levels of creativity while keeping his offerings affordable, and of course, delicious!
As you sit down at Macareno, you are presented with a well, organized one-page menu that starts with the answer to a basic question: ¿Qué tenemos? or ‘what do we offer?’ Macareno offers tacos, quesadillas, molletes, chilaquiles and cactus huaraches. Think of these as ‘vessels.’
Next is a list of guisados or fillings for your ‘vessels’ that includes meat-based and vegetarian options. So it’s up to you to decide to mix and match as you navigate your way through a variety of delicious combinations. For example, you could order an asada taco, a marlin quesadilla, a mole mollete and so forth.
The beautiful thing is that every combination is individually priced, so based on your appetite and/or budget, you can indulge for as little as $25 pesos for the least expensive combinations and still get the complete experience. Of course, since any one of these items is small enough, you will want to try several of them in one seating. And there are enough possible combinations that you’ll want to go back like I have, to try different items on subsequent visits, with the guarantee of comedera con sabrosura, or ‘eatery with yumminess,’ the restaurant’s motto.
The restaurant itself is pretty basic, with room enough for 18 or-so patrons, but everything, from color layout to decor and menu design, is conceived with one goal in mind: that you leave the restaurant with a full stomach and a happy soul. And there is the icing on the cake: since Paco is personally associated with (next door) Lamara owner, Josué Arana, you can actually order from both restaurants at either one of them! Also, Macareno does not offer alcoholic beverages, but I imagine one could order a beer from next-door Lamara without a problem.
Finally, it is worth noting that Macareno opens 9-5 (closed on Mondays), so this is a morning/afternoon antojito experience that is totally worthwhile.
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