Joe Jack’s Fish Shack
Basilio Badillo 212, Colonia Emiliano Zapata
12 PM - 11 PM daily
Type of food: Fresh seafood is their specialty, particularly their famous Fish and Chips which are All You Can Eat on Fridays. Most dishes have a Mexican-inspired flair.
What I’d heard about it beforehand: Have I mentioned All You Can Eat Fish & Chips? This is considered THE place to go in Vallarta if you want it done right. I’d also heard they had lots of different fresh mojitos (in reality, they have the traditional mint (the menu describes it as “hand-muddled [with] fresh lime and rum”, strawberry, ginger, and pineapple).
Atmosphere: Joe Jack’s is very laid-back, but also perfect for dinner or to take guests. The average patron is in some form of casual Friday vacation clothes (lots of khaki), and there were some women in simple, summery dresses and sandals. The whole restaurant has a warm feel, with vintage prints hanging and tall votive candles that add a quiet ambiance to the whole room. If you eat downstairs, the space is next to the bar and kitchen and is a little cramped, but I noticed the bar’s TV wasn’t turned up loudly and the kitchen staff flows with a sense or order and purpose – no banging pots or pans would distract you from your date. If you prefer to be outside, the roof has also been converted into seating with umbrellas, and this is the only part of the restaurant I could imagine a larger party fitting. Part of the fun of the place is that comfortable, welcoming atmosphere you get downstairs, and I’d recommend trying it, especially if you like to people watch and are there just for the Friday night special. Get there early though – people will be lined up down the street waiting to get in.
I should also note that their logo is a fabulous busty, pin-up-esque cross between the St. Pauli girl and The Little Mermaid. Don’t be surprised if you see someone ogling their logo-printed coaster while they’re eating. I’ve heard second-hand that the illustration is actually based on La Adelita, an infamously voluptuous Mexicana folk hero from the Revolution, and the vinyl pants of Bettie Page. I also really like their newspaper-style, tongue-in-cheek menu…be sure to unfold the whole thing to really get the full effect.
Service: My waitress was kind and attentive. The only thing I was disappointed in was that when I ordered my Fish & Chips, she asked if I would like coleslaw on the side. I said “Sure, why not…” when in reality, I usually only eat a few bites. Let it be noted that I then had to clarify that my meal definitely came with French fries (I don’t compromise on fries…). When I got the bill, it turned out an extra $25 had been added on for my coleslaw. Later, I noticed it was in the menu (along with string beans and carrots, mushy peas, rice & beans, and more fries), but I wish my waitress had let me know. However, it’s a small price to pay for a waitress that won’t treat you like a tourist but will still speak to you in English!
Drinks: There are so many fun drinks on this menu! Personally, I had the Sangria Cooler (available made with red or white wine), and it was sweet and fruity in all the right proportions. The average Mexican beers are $25 each, but they also serve Bohemia, Heineken, and Sol Cero Non-Alcoholic beer. By the way, we weren’t sure why there are two prices for some of the drinks on the menu. My only thought is that there must be two sizes, but the menu doesn’t specify. On price alone, visitors might indulge in more than one drink, but if you’re local then you might have one (or a Pepsi), and then go to your favorite dive for specials as the average specialty drink is about $65.
Here are a few other drinks I wouldn’t mind trying:
- The El Mex-jito (“our famous mojito with Hornitos 100% agave tequila and fresh lime”) for $60/75
- The Mermaid Martini (“alize, Absolut citron, lime”) for $65
- The Kick %#! Mai Tai (“a powerful blend of white and gold rum, pineapple, orange and amaretto”) for $70
- I’m also pleased and intrigued that in addition to offering Pepsi products, various juices for $30, hibiscus agua fresca, limonada, and orangeage…they also offer an Arnold Palmer for $30.
My red Sangria Cooler, served in what looks to be a recycled votive glass
Dress Code: One step up from beach wear: be casual and comfy. Depending on what time you go, you’ll also see people in their dressier vacation clothes.
Price Range: $$-$$$ if you get drinks, too
My order: I ate with just a date, and for starters we tried the Shrimp and Avacado Tostadas Louie ($75). They were different than I expected – light and fresh shrimp but too sweet for my taste (think “seafood salad”) when I expected something saltier. Don’t get me wrong – we wolfed them down, but don’t get this expecting any form of guacamole-type food.
Shrimp and Avacado Tostadas “Louie”
Next we had the Fish & Chips ($115, photo above) which I think I’ve mentioned are just amazing. I’m always impressed with the clean taste of the beer batter (even on a busy Friday you don’t taste old oil), and by the delicate, melt-away white fish. As for the chips, they serve restaurant-style, lightly battered thin fries, and while I wish they were the authentic hand-cut chips we’ve heard so much about from our British friends, they’re always salty, hot, and served with vinegar as well as ketchup.
We also tried the Fish Tacos “Baja” ($95), which is the same batter-fried fish in taco form with tons of cabbage and creamy Baja sauce. I was disappointed that the tortillas, although very authentic, were a little stale. They were served with baked beans on the side, and we appreciated that they weren’t sickeningly sweet.
Fish Tacos “Baja”
The Good… Great atmosphere and delicious, fresh seafood, and friendly staff that really will bring you all the fish and chips you can eat without judgment.
The Bad… It can get extremely crowded and busy during high season, and particularly on Friday nights. This place is not for the claustrophobic, particularly downstairs. They don’t take formal reservations.
…& the Hungry… I can’t recommend enough what they do best: fresh, battered deep-fried fish. The fish tacos are also terrific if you don’t want to go straight for the Fish & Chips.
Should you spend your hard-earned peso? If you’re in the mood for something off your diet, most definitely.