If you’re in Greenwood, you’ve got roughly a million choices for Mexican-esque food. We’ve got all the chains: the Chipotle, the Bell, the Don Pablo’s, On the Border, Qdoba. We’ve got little, individual spots like Roscoe’s Tacos. Mainly, though, there are several similar Mexican-family-owned limited franchises like Puerto Vallarta, El Rodeo, Mexico Lindo, and El Meson. And Margarita’s. And, and, and. Most of them share the same table-and-chair scenario: brightly painted booths, tables, and chairs with burros, or sunsets, or palm trees. Or all of the above, plus fruits or native costumes or. You get the idea. The menus are similar and it’s all much more legit food than at any chain. Which is great. And one would think that, as ostensibly similar as they are, these are all interchangeable. But, God is in the details, as someone said, and Puerto Vallarta off Main Street reigns supreme among its peers in Greenwood, Indiana because they remembered to be totally awesome at the details.
Firstly, and most importantly, they have what might possibly be the best salsa in Indiana: unbelievably fresh, the overwhelming greenness of exactly enough cilantro, the sharp bite of finely diced white onion, a little garlic, maybe the brightness of citrus and maybe not, all in the perfect tomato base. I have never, ever met a fresh tortilla chip I didn’t like. But not all salsas are good. This one is very nearly perfect (Mexico Lindo, with your god-awful watery-whatever-that-is, this is why no one likes you). The only problem with the Puerto Vallarta salsa is that they don’t bring you enough of it to start with. But the service is sterling and fast and, frankly, if you ask for salsa, it’s like asking a House Elf— you’re going to get your salsa, and some good cheer, besides. (Intensely professional, and let me be very clear on this, “House Elf” = High Praise.)
And here would be a good time to point out that service is another detail the good folks at Puerto Vallarta get right. On evenings and weekends, there aren’t more friendly servers anywhere and they manage to be super-friendly without being either over-bearing, disruptive, or uncomfortably familiar. Much like the salsa, the service (on nights and weekends) is basically perfect. Nights, weekends, and weekdays, the service is super-rapid, but the lunch shift tends to the brusque: efficient but ever-so-slightly inhospitable (though not on the level of incommunicative that is reached by the servers at El Meson, who also manage to be only marginally faster than a puddle of flan moving uphill).
The menu covers the usual suspects: burritos, fajitas, tacos, you know, Mexican food. What separates Puerto Vallarta from the other Greenwood Mexican joints is quality. Puerto Vallarta has managed to hit the Goldilocks zone for tamales: They’re wrapped in a coat that is neither too thick nor too thin. This would seem to be an easy thing for a Mexican restaurant to manage but judging from the inferior tamales at El Meson, Lindo Mexico, and El Margarita, well, tamale-wrapping is a difficult craft which only the fine folks at Puerto Vallarta have mastered, at least in Greenwood, Indiana.
The fajitas always smell like a smoky and carnivorous heaven. They’ll set you back a clean fourteen dollars. I can’t tell you if they’re worth it: they smell like they are. My most-favorite dining companion can’t step away from the burritos loco (chicken, beef, rice, beans, jalapeño, tomato and cheese sauce, all for $8.25) to try the fajitas. And I can’t step back from the combination plates ever: The number 6 is one burrito (get bean), one taco, and one enchilada and the number 14 is one burrito (get bean), one enchilada, and one tamale. Both options are $7.99 and delicious (and nourishing, I’m sure) choices. I’ve never had anything else there, even though there are roughly 24 combination plates. I bet they’re all good. Fajitas aren’t on the combo plates, but who needs fajitas when you’ve got enchiladas, burritos, and tacos/tamales? There are vegetarian options, too, it should be noted, and I don’t know what to tell you if you’re gluten-free except, hey, you should avoid the chips.
If you’re looking for something that I haven’t listed, Puerto Vallarta also has (this is funny to me) shrimp cocktail and what they refer to as “Hawaiian Plate.” The Hawaiian Plate is grilled shrimp, broccoli, pineapple, and mushroom served over a bed of rice and topped with cheese sauce. Now, I get the pineapple and seafood thing, but this seems like it should be called “Cancun Beach Plate” or something. But maybe that’s because it has neither ham nor Spam and, well…it’s just funny, okay? And, probably pretty good to eat. If you like shrimp.
Margaritas are $15.25 for a pitcher. I don’t know if they have wi-fi because the service is so quick, I’ve never been not eating while at Puerto Vallarta. As a special bonus, they’ve repainted the women’s bathrooms, which are now a fresh, if intense, coral and no longer a nauseating and overpowering pepto pink. This is a good thing and if you’ve been in that restroom in the past, ladies, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And hey, they’ve got a customer loyalty card: ten meals and get one free (They use a star-shaped paper punch to mark it, squee!).
Anyway…Puerto Vallarta? Of course, you ‘arta. Ask for extra salsa.