Dining out often is something that anyone with a modest budget can do in Mazatlan - and we do! Getting together with friends over a meal is a popular activity and big part of the reason the lifestyle here is so enjoyable. I have found that the quality and variety of restaurant meals has improved quite a bit since 2009. The prices have risen too, and yet it is still very reasonable. The salad above is called the Citrus Salad at La Tramoya, an indoor/outdoor restaurant on Machado Square - one of many. I believe the cost was 70 pesos, maybe 85. At approximately 13 pesos to the Canadian dollar, you can do the math. The ambiance of sitting out of the sidewalk under cheerful umbrellas on a sunny, warm day, while a random guy played clarinet just a few yards away, is free.
At the same restaurant in the evening, one can enjoy a delicious and excellently prepared steak in a red wine reduction and roasted onions for 180 pesos - about $15. While this may not be "cheap", it sure isn't anywhere near what we would pay in north america.
The most expensive thing about this meal is the glass of white wine which was 55 pesos. Some places charge as much as 80 pesos per glass. While the availability and choices of wine with meals has improved in the last three years, the price per glass is very close to north american prices. It is much cheaper to be a beer drinker in Mazatlan. You can, however, buy a decent bottle of Chilean wine at the supermarket for 70-80 pesos. Mexico does make wine, but I'm afraid its not very good.
The range of choices and prices for meals is wide. Of course, the least expensive way to go is to eat mexican food where the locals eat. Taco stands are popular. A corn tortilla filled with chicken, beef, pork or fish and lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes is a perfect lunch for 20 pesos (average) - and fairly nutritious. Hot dog stands are also common, but you probably don't want to eat one too often if you value your health. Small kitchen restaurants with a few plastic tables and chairs will cook up tacos, quesedillas, and tostadas - all a variation on a theme - meat or fish and vegetables on or wrapped in tortillas, either soft or crispy. They won't mind a bit if you grab a bottle of cold beer from the tienda next next door to drink. They typically offer local beverages or soda, but not alcohol. Some places may offer more variety on their menu, such as a fish or chicken filet with rice and vegetables for about 30 or 40 pesos.
I think hands down the best inexpensive place to eat for lunch in historic centro is Paulina's Cocina (kitchen) on Sixto Osuna. In 2009, it was a little "hole in the wall"with a limited menu. This winter, their premises has been moved just down the street with more space inside and with tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk. Every day, they offer a lunch special with two or three choices of main dish including salad or soup and dessert (usually home-made rice pudding or flan), along with a non-alcoholic beverage, for $60 pesos. Come hungry. They also have a great dinner menu with barbecued ribs to die for, and a full wine and drink list.
Of course, cooking your own meals is the least expensive way to go, particularly if you stick to locally grown fruits and vegetables and stay away from north american items which are much more expensive and treated like "specialty" foods. Simple meals of fish, rice, tortillas and vegetables are best. The big gringo grocery stores like Mega are reportedly more expensive than the ones frequented by the locals such as Soriana's. Fresh fish and seafood can be purchased directly from the fishermen at a couple of spots near Centro. Shrimp is usually about 80 pesos per kilo. Dorado or Mahi-Mahi is the most common type of fish filets, and the most inexpensive.
It is possible to live and eat in Mazatlan on a very limited, fixed income such as Social Security. I know of many people who do. They don't spend a lot eating in restaurants however, and likely stick to the small local kitchens. For a somewhat higher budget, life is still very affordable even eating out three or four times a week - something unthinkable for most of us in north america. I know many retired couples (who are not wealthy by any means) who eat out every single day (at least for dinner) and don't consider it breaking the budget at all. Mike and I did more dining out this past winter than ever before, but we did try to cook at home at least three or four times a week. (Really - we did try!) If we just didn't have the wine habit, and switched to drinking beer, we'd be much less lighter in the wallet!