Nayarit, the state of Mexico just north of Jalisco on the Pacific Coast, is enchanted. At the first touch of sunrise, we hopped on a small fishing boat with Sebastián Renner, a local chef, and headed out for a half day of fishing that included free diving with spear guns. (That evening, Renner showed an underwater video he had made—one could hear whales in the background.) Then a stop at a fish market where a huge tuna was being loaded up for the president of Mexico, followed by lunch at Renner’s restaurant, Makai, located by a gas station, across from the beach.
This seaside eatery was small, the type of place where one would order crab cakes. But, as I said, Nayarit is enchanted. Though burgers and crab cakes were on offer, Renner’s serious three-star European training yielded amazing fish charcuterie, tuna ceviche and sashimi, as well as dark slabs of raw tuna, ribbons of dried fish wrapped around creamy fillings, plus aguachile rojo and croquetas made from manta ray.
Later that day, dinner was at Restaurante Bar Fernando, a place that specializes in slow-grilled fish—pescado zarandeado—with a side of grilled tortillas filled with beans and cheese. Referred to as tacos zarandeados or tacos de frijoles, these are corn tortillas filled with mashed azufrado beans (the creamy yellow beans popular in this region) with cheese or an adobo sauce or both. In Mexico, it also is common to spread pork lard—usually a richly flavored version—over tortillas before filling them. The tortillas are then folded in half and grilled.
Our version calls for cumin, vinegar, oregano, lard (or oil), two cans of pinto beans, and Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese, plus guajillo, New Mexico or ancho chilies. Make a quick sauce in a blender, add to the beans in a nonstick pan, cook briefly, then mash. Brush the tortillas with oil, heat briefly to soften, fill, fold and cook in a skillet until the cheese is melted and the taco is browned on both sides. In Nayarit, even a simple grilled taco is enchanting.