One of hundreds of bass caught in two days.

To fully appreciate a foreign culture sometimes you’ve just got to jump right in it. Otherwise you risk missing the little nuances that make places and its people unique. No doubt I’d deprive myself of memories if I didn’t at least try to learn the language while abroad, just as I’d completely whiff on the flavor of a place if I never challenged my palate occasionally with delicacies I’d liken to bait back home. This was the Bourdain-esk attitude Editor-in-Chief John Radzwilla tried to instill in me as we landed in Mazatlan, Mexico. Ultimately I was there to fulfill a lifelong quest for a 10-pound largemouth, but we had a couple days in this hopping southwestern coastal town on the Sea of Cortez to reel in a few snapper, find a decent dinner, and tour its thriving beer industry before, um, fully immersing myself in the drink. Here’s how it all went down.

Cervezas and Crickets

The streets surrounding our beachside hotel steered us toward cheap souvenir shops and Spring break tequila traps, but a deeper perusal revealed many cafés and street vendors where the spanish-language menus hinted their authentic food and prices. (We commonly ordered two cervezas each, chips and guac, and two shrimp taco plates for 275 pesos, or about $15 USD, and the locally owned-and-operated service was excellent.)

After lunch, we noticed an outdoor bar filling with ex-pat snowbirds, so we ducked in to gather on-the-ground intel. After draining a ‘rita apiece and winning the smiles of a dark-haired waitress with our friendliest Spanglish, we asked her recommendations on dinner, nightlife, and … beer.

Turns out, Mazatlan is home to the original Pacifico beer factory where it also brews Corona and Sol by the actual boatload. And what do you know? I like beer, and John likes beer, and we had a day to burn before going bass fishing, so the next morning we waited on the sidewalk with a class of high schoolers for the brew tour. After donning hardhats and safety glasses through which we imagined all the beer making processes that the company wouldn’t show us, we learned that Pacifico beer is much better than the Pacifico beer tour.

Here’s my quick traveler’s tip to Mazatlan: Skip the tour-de-cerveza and popular-but-seedy Joe’s Oyster bar—unless you’re really feeling loco—and instead take an Uber to El Presidio—now in my top five restaurants worldwide for ambiance alone. We dove directly into the culture with cocktails and appetizers, including a traditional mezcal with orange slices and crunchy fried chapulines (that’s crispy cooked crickets) and a platter of prosciutto sliced right off the leg in center courtyard. I had an amazing Shrimp Zarandeados (chipotle cream sauce) dish, and John had octopus; we ordered a bottle of Mexican wine and a bourbon capper–all for around $75 USD, a culinary experience that would’ve been $200-plus stateside. I’d return to Mazatlan for a night if only to take my sweetheart to El Presidio.

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