Panga Fish

Panga Fish

Panga Fish

Panga Fish

Teeming with mahi-mahi, grouper, yellowtail snapper, and amber jack, the MesoAmerican Reef snugs up to the shores of Mexico’s Riviera Maya where the inhabitants of Puerto Morelos have known the secrets of pescado fresco for years. Spend some time in this quaint fishing village and, with a sizzle of butter, a clove of garlic, and a few insider tips, you can enjoy fresh fish like the locals.

Step One: Go Fishing

After you’ve savored your second cup of Mexican coffee and the dawn has surrendered to a brilliant, clean sky, meander down to the Puerto Morelos pier. You’ll find it on the sea side of the town square. Ask for Carlos Acosta. Carlos, a local fisherman, scuba dives and has an intimate understanding of the undersea caves and canyons where the fish hide. Hop aboard his panga style fishing boat and he’ll whisk you through the break in the rand and into the indigo waters where you’ll have dinner dancing on the end of your line in no time.

Panga Fish

Panga Fish

Panga Fish

Step Two: Present your fillets to the Chef at LaPetita’s

This beachy-garden style restaurant is a local favorite. Two short blocks from the pier down Avienda Rafael Gomez, its humble, concrete facade belies a sun-drenched heart where banana trees and coconut palms flourish in the sand and the salt air drifts in on the breeze. Drop off your fresh fish fillets, and though you may only have a company of two, ask the chef to create his especial authentic Mexican dinner for four.

Step Three: Meet the Locals and Invite Them to Dinner

Spend the afternoon poking through artsy, bougainvillea draped shops along the narrow streets of Puerto Morelos where you’ll discover Mayan treasures like smocked dresses, hand-crafted silver, and vibrant watercolor paintings. Stop by Alma Libre-the overstuffed book store with the open picture window-and peruse volumes filled with glossy photos of subterranean rivers and pre-Columbia pyramids. Ask questions. Strike up conversations. The locals are out-going and generous, both with their time and their friendship. You’ll meet some fascinating folks, and when you do, invite them to dinner.

Panga Fish

Panga Fish

Panga Fish

Step Four: Savor the Sea’s Bounty

Grab a table at LaPetita’s in the shade of a palm tree. Advise the waitress regarding your feast and order your new friends an agua fresca-a refreshing fruit drink made with figgy tamarind paste or syrupy sweet hibiscus flowers. When your meal arrives, spread the fare family style. Make sure your guests can reach the platter of garlicky fillets, the plate of piping hot tortillas, the clay dishes of avocados, garden ripe tomatoes, pickled red onions, crisp lettuce, and the glazed bowls of cheesy Mexican rice and silky smooth black beans. Kick off your shoes, dig your toes into the warm sand, and let the evening’s rosy glow claim the sky while you indulge in good conversation and enjoy the best fish dinner Puerto Morelos has to offer.