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Narrowing Down the 12 Best Restaurants in San Pancho Nayarit

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We first visited San Pancho in September 2019, there were only a handful of restaurants and street stalls open for food and very few people around. When we returned in January of 2022, it was a completely different place. For starters, it was a busy season, so there were plenty more people, and more restaurants, shops, and cafes were open. But there had also been a lot of new restaurants added to the town.

We set about the challenging task of narrowing down some of our favorites to discover what were (at least for us) the best restaurants in San Pancho.

Walking the streets in search of the best restaurants in San Pancho
Trying to find the best restaurants in San Pancho

Difficulties Finding the Best Restaurants in San Pancho

One thing you might notice about trying to find great restaurants in San Pancho is that the Google reviews (which we often use to gather intel about restaurants) are wildly skewed. This is often the case in a tourist town where the majority of reviewers don’t have the opportunity to compare local restaurants.

People blow in, compare their restaurant experience to what they are used to at home, and leave either glowing reviews or devastating ones, generally leaning toward the former. For this reason, there are plenty of restaurants here with 4.7, 4.8, or 4.9 ratings that are mediocre at best, especially when considered against the local restaurant offering. In fact, over 75% of the restaurants here have a rating of 4.5 or higher, which isn’t that helpful when trying to find somewhere to eat.

Our next step was to research other blogs and articles reviewing some of the local restaurants. Unfortunately, this was also a bit of a dead-end as many of these articles were out of date or listed had over 20 restaurants. Unfortunately, there aren’t much more than 20 restaurants in town, again, making it very difficult to narrow down our search for the best restaurants in San Pancho.

Without much intel available, we had no choice but to reach for our stretchiest pants and set about the daunting but delicious task of sampling San Pancho’s best restaurants ourselves.

Discovering Authentic, Unique, and Fresh San Pancho Restaurants

Though you won’t go hungry if you are looking for standardized western cuisine or greasy bland tex-mex, San Pancho also has the goods when it comes to fresh, authentic, and unique restaurants.

San Pancho is maturing as a holiday destination and developing its own culture, style, and feel, distinct from nearby Sayulita and other beach towns on the Riviera Nayarit. One part of the emerging culture is a focus on quality local ingredients.

You will have to weed out a few restaurants that don’t bring much new or interesting to the table, but you can also find some real gems here.

Why Are so Many Great Restaurants Opening Up Here?

One reason is the various new cultural influences at work here. There are three major and distinct permanent or semi-permanent groups that call San Pancho home. The first group is the local community who have always lived here. This community, for a long time, owned traditional local restaurants and food stands on the main street near the beach but they are slowly being pushed further from the beach and now the tourist district thanks to the gentrification of the area.

The second two groups are non-locals. One is made up of an influx of ex-pats from Mexico and around the world who are attracted to San Pancho’s counter-culture movement which includes, surf, hippy, artisan, and bohemian elements. The third group is older wealthy Americans and Canadians who live here on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.

What happens when cultures mix? Well, one thing is that diversity and multiculturalism become expressed in the food offerings. Start your day with blueberry pancakes, grab a buddha bowl with quinoa and spinach for lunch and chow down on tacos al pastor for dinner. It’s a culinary journey that can take you all over the world in San Pancho’s main street called Avenue Tercer Mundo which translates to Third World Avenue.

This article obviously represents our opinion, and your tastes may be different. But for what it’s worth, this was our takeaway.

If you came here to get standardized ‘western’ food or watered-down Mexican, the end of the main street closest to the playa is becoming increasingly packed with restaurants offering chicken wings, cheeseburgers, stirfrys, and bland greasy fajitas.

Healthy nourishing whole food options can be found in the middle section of the Avenue between called America Latina and Calle Asia. Here you’ll also find Mexican restaurants serving a variety of typical Mexican and American dishes, which in our experience weren’t anything to write home about.

Then, amongst it all, a handful of really interesting fresh, authentic and modern restaurants challenge the expectations of what you can find in a tiny vacation village. These restaurants offer a broad range of experiences with regard to style, price, formality, cuisine, and approach.

Price Guide to Restaurants in San Pancho

Like most places in Mexico, affordable dining is very much available. However with the influx of cashed-up foreigners who come here to holiday, live temporarily, or relocate permanently, the number of high-end restaurants with high-end price tags now outweighs the affordable options.

We have used a price guide to help you find the best restaurants according to your budget.

The price guide provides average costs for a standard meal plus one drink. 
Costs may vary depending on how hungry you are and what you decide to order. 

$ = $100 pesos ($5 USD) per person
$$ = $200 pesos ($10 USD) per person
$$$ = Between $300 pesos ($15 USD) - $500 pesos ($25 USD) per person 

The Best Restaurants in San Pancho

So let’s get started. Here is our list of the best restaurants in San Pancho from top to bottom.

Su Pancha Madre

Sopes from Su Pancha Madre, the best restaurant in San Pancho
The picture does not do this sope justice!

Our favorite restaurant, or more accurately food truck, in San Pancho, is Su Pancha Madre.

Su Pancha Madre is run by the talented Mao who takes extreme pleasure in ensuring his patrons leave with plans to return. The specialty here is sopes, all different types of sopes. Sopes are similar to tostadas with toppings served on a tortilla, however, the tortilla base used for a sope is a thick and soft tortilla base.

Su Pancha Madre serves a rotating selection of sopes and you can generally expect to find at least one meat, one seafood, and one vegetarian variety being served each night. Mao makes a special effort to ensure each sope is created with the highest quality ingredients.

We were not expecting our favorite meal in San Pancho to come from a food truck, but these delicious sopes took us by surprise.

Su Pancha Madre also has its own line of beer available for sale at the food truck while supplies last!

Ikan Cocina Marina

Ceviche tostada from Ikan Cocina, a restaurant in San Pancho worth a visit
Ceviche tostada from Ikan Cocina, a restaurant in San Pancho worth a visit

Some of the best modern interpretative Mexican food we have in the Riviera Nayarit and extremely well priced. Named after the Indonesian word for Mackerel, it should come as no surprise that the specialty here is seafood. Their delectable menu showcases the Mexican specialties of tostadas, tacos, and fresh seafood with their own unique and inspired Asian spin on regional classics.

There are meat and vegetarian options if you’re not into seafood, the suckling pig, in particular, was one of our favorite courses.

If you’re having trouble selecting from the menu, which is understandable, they also have a chef’s selection named “Omakase” which translates into ‘trust’ in Japanese.

La Perla

The view from La Perla, the best beach restaurant in San Pancho

At the advice of our hotel, we decided to grab lunch at La Perla, the bar and restaurant on the left as you enter Playa San Pancho from the main road in town.

Honestly, we were a little bit wary of eating at the beachfront bar as we have had many experiences in Mexico and elsewhere when restaurants trade on their prime location, rather than their attention to food or service.

We were pleased that our instincts proved wrong with La Perla. While they might not be doing anything to revolutionize dining, they are nailing the basics and delivering quality Mexican classics. La Perla had some of the best fish tacos we had during our time on the Riviera Nayarit and delicious ceviche and agua chiles to match.

Coupled with a cold cerveza overlooking the Pacific Ocean and you cannot go wrong with this lunch option in San Pancho.

Continue Reading: Is San Pancho Worth Visiting? 5 Reasons Why We Love It

Yasmina’s Itzalanyasayan

The health craze that we have seen spreading throughout the world over the past couple of decades may not have caught on entirely throughout Mexico, but it has in San Pancho. Compared to other destinations in Mexico, San Pancho’s organic and healthy food scene is first-rate with the best option perhaps being Yasmina’s Itzalanyasayan.

The restaurant is the vision and a dream of Yasmina Vazque. Yasmina’s goal was to bring healing to the body through the power of healthy, organic foods which is shown throughout the quality of food Yasmina serves to her patrons. The name “Yasmina’s Itzalanysayan” comes from Yasmina’s name herself as well as the first syllable from each of Yasmina’s children.

The creative and innovative menu is as unique as it is varied with Yasmina’s unique spin on Mexican classics such as jamaica and seaweed tostadas as well as more global fare like her mushroom ramen.

Yasmina’s Itzalanyasayan also creates a culinary experience outside of just lunch or dinner. Special touches like the herbal tea and an amuse-bouche provided before the meal invite the feeling of fine dining without the pretentiousness.

Arigato Bake and Brew

Wasabi guac…yes please!

Run by a duo from opposite sides of the world, the pair at Arigato Bake and Brew bring their cultures together in San Pancho by combining Japanese and Argentinian flavors into a culinary masterpiece. Eating Argentinian lomitos alongside Japanese handrolls with wasabi-flavored guacamole may not be the first meal that comes to mind when considering what to eat in San Pancho, but what these guys are doing works…. and well.

Outside of delicious food, these guys also brew some of the best craft beers we have tasted in Mexico. A selection that rotates depending on their whims, the options may be few but are guaranteed to be delicious.

The Cerveceria Artesanal

The food was soo good, I forgot to take a photo!

Come for the craft beer, stay for the burgers. The Cerveceria Artesanal may be one of the best bars in San Pancho but it is also one of the best places to grab a pub feed. The Cerveceria Artesanal serves up classic bar food with burgers, sandwiches, hummus plates, a range of cheese and charcuterie boards, and, of course, fries.

For beer enthusiasts, The Cerveceria Artesanal showcases five taps with rotating brews from around Mexico. It is one of the best spots to sample craft beer on the Riveria Nayarit. When we were there the beers on display were from Cerveceria Bahia de Banderas located nearby in Bucerías, Nayarit and Seven Mares Cerveceria in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

With live music by local artists playing Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the lively, fun atmosphere is only another reason to visit this happening pub.

The DoughJoe

Best cafe in San Pancho Nayarit
The breakfast at DoughJoe is big enough to share

Undeniably the best breakfast along the Riviera Nayarit this San Pancho restaurant is sure to be a hit. The DoughJoe’s specialty is donuts and their creations are definitely some of the best pastries in the area if not in Mexico. The donut menu changes regularly and sells out early.

Outside of donuts, The DoughJoe also specializes in breakfast classics from the southern United States. If you don’t like sweets for breakfast, I am sure you can make a bit of room for their buttermilk biscuits, hashbrowns, and homemade sausage. Just like the portions back home, the DoughJoe doesn’t skimp so bring your stretchy pants or a friend to help you finish off these big breakfasts.

Outside of mouthwatering and filling breakfast options, the coffee at DoughJoe is top-notch and among the best coffee you’ll find in San Pancho.

El Gallo

A plate of enchiladas from El Gallo, one of the best restaurants in San Pancho.
You can’t forget to eat Mexican food in San Pancho

Our top pick in San Pancho for local Mexican fare, the ladies at El Gallo know their way around a kitchen. In our opinion, their specialty is enchiladas. El Gallo serves enchiladas in more ways than we even knew existed. Red (salsa rojo) enchiladas. Green (salsa verde) enchiladas. Frijol (bean sauce) enchiladas. Pipian (peanut-sauce) enchiladas. The list is endless just as the variety of ingredients to fill your enchiladas is endless.

Beyond enchiladas, El Gallo also dishes up standard Mexican street food like tacos, gorditas, quesadillas, and tlacoyos filled with your favorite veggie or meat. The chilaquiles, one of the staple Mexican breakfast foods, are also crowd-favorites from El Gallo.

Outside of outstanding Mexican food, El Gallo also is the place to be on Friday nights with their regularly hosted salsa night featuring live music and uninterrupted dancing.

Dolce Jardin

*Unfortunately our stomachs got the best of us and we failed to snag a photo of the pizza here.

The surprisingly small beach town of San Pancho boasts more than its fair share of pizza joints but the best one by far is Dolce Jardin.

Italian-style pizza straight out of their wood-fired oven, the pizzas here can satiate any hangover and are large enough to feed two (trust us on this one).

Outside of delicious pizza, Dolce Jardin also has a selection of family-style pasta that is equally as delicious.

Bistro Organico

This buddha bowl is both healthy and delicious!

Tucked away in one of the nicest boutique hotels in San Pancho, Hotel Cielo Rojo, is the healthy and delicious Bistro Organico. This San Pancho restaurant serves breakfast and lunch year-round and dinner during the high season.

The menu centers around plant-based and seafood options. For breakfast, you can find omelets, huevos rancheros, avocado toast and pancakes. For lunch, marlin and quinoa quesadillas, shrimp burgers, and buddha bowls.

Outside of the delicious menu, Bistro Organico also boasts some of the best coffee in San Pancho as well as one of the most inviting settings tucked away in the airy courtyard of the Hotel Cielo Rojo.

  • Address: Asia 6, 63734 San Francisco, Nay.
  • Hours of Operation: Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday from 8:00 am – 2:00 pm; Friday & Saturday from 8:00 am – 1:00 pm and 6:00 – 10:00 pm
  • Cost: $$

Taquería Los Arbolitos

Tacos, tacos and more tacos!

One of two true local Mexican cantinas on the menu, Tacqueria los Arbolitos is clearly one of the best restaurants in San Pancho if judged by the queue. Located directly across the street from the stunning Pal.Mar Hotel Tropical, this local haunt is a must if you are looking for something simple and authentic. It is the place to be at night for tacos.

The menu is simple and strictly local with street food staples like tacos and quesadillas filled with veggies and meat of your choosing. The condiment bar allows you to dress your tacos any way you want.

Expect to find standard Mexican street food like tacos and quesadillas filled with your choice of meat. If you’ve had your fill of tacos, Taqueria los Arbolitos also specializes in volcanos or pellizcadas.

Chido Greens

The food was so good, we forgot to get a photo (a common occurrence)

Last but not least on our list of the best restaurants in San Pancho is Chido Greens which translates to “Cool Greens”. This small cafe on the main avenue is one of the hottest new members on the block with doors opening in March 2020 despite the global pandemic. Their ability to battle the hand dealt amidst the crisis is a testament to their delicious food and freshest produce.

Chido Greens specializes in salads with a salad bar range that rivals the trendiest healthy food restaurants at home. Outside of their incredible salads, the menu is varied and everything is delicious and changes regularly. Healthy smoothies also round out the menu and are the perfect way to start off your morning.

If you are staying in San Pancho for a while or enjoy cooking your own meals, Chido Greens also offers a weekly organic basket with fresh vegetables, juices, bread, and more which can be picked up in the store or delivered straight to your door (free on Fridays).

What we came to find during our time in San Pancho is that finding the best restaurants in San Pancho isn’t that hard after all. Most of the Google ratings can be trusted because there are in fact lots of restaurants in San Pancho worth a visit. Hopefully one of the restaurants on our list of the best restaurants in San Pancho is what you are looking for. Let us know in the comments below!


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