I’ve lived in Guanacaste for a little more than three years, and ever since then I’ve been in search of Mexican restaurants that sell the original al pastor-style meat, spinning on a spit, with a pineapple on top: as God intended it!
Those closest thing I found was a couple of restaurants in Nosara and Tamarindo. But the al pastor never tasted like the real deal. They were places that aspired to be Mexican, but with menus created by Americans.
One day, I passed by something I had always dreamed would be in Nicoya (where I live): On March 27th of this year, on a corner in downtown Nicoya, Johel Israelsky opened the restaurant Al Pastor, with a menu full of irresistible Mexican delicacies.
Their trademark is the meat. The meat at Al Pastor is from a special cut of pork. Some places call the cut a boneless pork chop, but it’s filleted in a butterfly pattern and then marinated in Mexican spices.
These spices include achiote, chile powder, garlic powder, oregano, coriander, salt, pepper, and vinegar. The secret lies in marinating for 24 hours. Then the meat is placed on the spit and is cooked with charcoal. That’s where the flavor comes from, and it’s quite a wonder.
The meat is used for tacos, which are served on tortillas produced in Hojancha. It’s also used for the gringas, which is like a covered taco but with a flour tortilla and cheese.
Combos include a burrito or a torta, the latter of which is a type of sandwich that has avocado and chipotle pepper, as well as meat, cheese, and other ingredients.
The combos cost around ¢4,000 and vary according to the number of extras you choose.
In addition to the al pastor, the restaurant offers steak and chicken, or if you’re vegetarian, you can get mushroom tacos; but for me, it‘s all about the flavor of the pork al pastor.
The menu also includes a sopa azteca, which is broth made with tomato and chicken and accompanied with tortillas, cheese, and avocados.
In addition to spoiling myself with my favorite meat, I can also drink craft beer here – something that’s rare in Nicoya. They sell Guanaca, which is produced in Hojancha by the Guana Beer Company.
Al Pastor makes their own salsas. They are free and you get as much as you want. The red salsa has habanero, morita, and Panamanian peppers. The green salsa is made with jalapeno and is my favorite.
The only reason I don’t consider this my favorite place to eat in Nicoya is because they use styrofoam plates. Styrofoam is a very environmentally unfriendly material.
Location: Downtown Nicoya, from the Ulises gas station 50 meters west, behind the Naco lubricentro.
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. To 10 p.m.
The good: The kitchen is clean and you can watch how they prepare your dish. Everything is made upon demand. Prices are fair.
The bad: The food is served on styrofoam plates.