With no railroad to take miners from east to west across the United States, many skipped the treacherous transcontinental wagon journey along the Gold Rush Trail, sailing south and crossing much narrower Mexico instead, embarking for San Francisco from Mazatlán. “Most of what you see today is not a colonial city or one of the government-driven resort developments like Cancún. It’s part of what makes Mazatlán unique.”
“The restaurants here are more individual,” he adds. “There aren’t many of the buffets you fi nd at all-inclusive resorts, and there are more independent places where chefs can create something of higher quality, be more creative.”
The Pedro y Lola menu is tight. A simple double-sided sheet, it mixes local seafood favourites and Mexican standards, with a smattering of North American dishes for diners who came exclusively for the sunshine.
At Gomez Rubio’s recommendation, I sample the Pedro y Lola shrimp. This chef’s special doesn’t disappoint. Served on a bed of fresh oranges floating on a Cointreau-accented green chili sauce, flavours swirl, with the giant, juicy shrimp providing a delectable finish.
As much as creativity, it’s the provenance of such dishes that sets Mazatlán dining apart. The shrimp, oranges and chilies are all local. Nearly everything is. Sinaloa is a cornucopia. A few blocks away, Mazatlán’s central market overflows with fruit and vegetables. When the city is hurricane free, small-scale fishermen sell to restaurateurs on city beaches.
“Of everything we serve,” Gomez Rubio tells me, “I’d say that more than 90 per cent of it comes from right here in Sinaloa.”
Knee-deep in the water to safely guide his boat onto the sand, Jose Alfredo is bringing in his day’s catch. A broad grin hints it’s been a good morning in the mangroves, but also reveals the deepening crow’s feet that come with nearly two decades spent fishing tropical waters. But even after 19 years working the tiny fishing port of La Brecha, he laughs at the idea that he’s a veteran.
“Some of the guys have been fishing here for 40 years,” he smiles. “I’m still a rookie.”
I’ve come to La Brecha — one of 14 small-scale fisheries in Sinaloa’s Teacapan region, and one of its richest — with Oscar Simental, a retired airline manager and Teacapan local who’s showing me around this fertile agricultural region just south of the city.
Here, rows of tomatoes shine on the vine. Towering coconut palms alternate with stout mango trees, and fishermen haul a bountiful catch of red snapper from the region’s abundant mangrove forests. Everywhere you look, food is growing.
“This is a rich agricultural valley,” Simental says. “Dig anywhere and you’ll hit water a few metres deep. Dams and irrigation aren’t necessary. The area supplies peppers, mangoes and coconuts not only to Mazatlán, but to Guadalajara and Mexico City.”