Food Tales

In Sleepy San Pancho, Find a Lively Dinner Party Under the Stars

by Anna Petrow
The lush patio at Hotel Cielo Rojo. All photos by Anna Petrow.

While on a holiday in a quiet little town on the coast of Mexico, Anna Petrow finds a dinner party in an enchanted courtyard — and sips tequila until the stars come out.

SAN PANCHO, Mexico – Stroll the tiny cobblestones streets of San Pancho, a slightly sleepy little pueblo on the western coast of Mexico, to a patio oasis that comes to life at night in the courtyard of Hotel Cielo Rojo.

Ivy and native plants cover the walls, and colorful textile-covered tables are set with indigo-dyed napkins and bright birds of paradise. Stemmed glasses are ready for generous pours of Mexican wine — the perfect start to a long and winding meal full of flavor.

Every seat on the patio offers a peek into the open kitchen teeming with action: chefs working in unison to churn out nine courses featuring fresh, local produce and ingredients from nearby farm partners. Tomato tartare (made by slow smoking tender tomatoes in a house jus), yellowfin crudo with green apple and radish, and crab-filled, parsnip-leaf quesadillas feel like the sort of cooking you’d encounter in a fine dining restaurant in an atmosphere that’s more like the home of your most vibrant foodie friend.

Gisela owns the place, and she’s an entertainer extraordinaire. Her commitment to quality ingredients highlights the beauty of the Nayarit region of Mexico. Her gift for bringing people together to appreciate the cooking traditions of Mexico and the nation’s growing industries, like wine, make her dinners legendary. On the night I was there, a couple brought their baby, another brought their dog, and more than a few local regulars wandered in to partake in the fun. Together we soaked up the live music under the stars, sharing stories and a beautiful antique crystal bottle filled with Gisela’s añejo tequila (she prides herself on producing on her own and is eager to pass it around for guests to sample).

Perhaps the most delightful part of the evening is wandering up the steps into your very own cozy canopied hotel room, to dream the dreams of the well-fed and immensely satisfied. (You’ll rest well knowing an excellent breakfast awaits you in the morning.)

And while there’s plenty to enjoy within the walls of this little gem, there’s much to explore in town: Nearby, the beach is full of locals and visitors alike, relaxing with picnics, books, and umbrellas. Artisan shops abound. One favorite, Elote Arte, sells beautiful handmade linen clothing, woven bags, and beaded jewelry. Grab a fresh-squeezed citrus margarita on a rooftop along Avenida Tercer Mundo and take in the local scene from above, or try out the taps at Cervecería Artesanal San Pancho if you’re in the mood for a brew. Whatever you choose, settle in — the slow pace and the sweet tastes of San Pancho will have you in a dream state that lasts throughout your vacation.

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