fem feast

Shhh! Peek inside this secret dinner in Puerto Vallarta

Oculto mixologist Regina Garcia pouring one of her signature drinks.
Oculto mixologist Regina Garcia pours one of her signature drinks. Photo: Facebook/Oculto

Do you have a sense of adventure and an insatiable appetite? Look no further than Oculto, a private dining experience that celebrates the flavors of Mexico with a queer twist.

From the quartet that created El Arrayán Concina Tradicional, Oculto (Spanish for “hidden”) serves up secret dinners, a private in-home chef adventure, and cooking classes. Chef and manager Carmen Porra and her wife, wine expert Claudia Victoria, reimagined their passion for food and libations for their new venture. They invited chef Diego Sánchez and mixologist Regina Garcia to join them.

The secret dinner experience unfolds in a nondescript building about 15 minutes outside the bustling Zona Romántica. Three-course dinners for 8 to 12 guests remain a mystery until the dishes arrive at the table, but rest assured — each celebrates local ingredients and regional specialties. For those looking for an even more hands-on experience, Porra and the team will accompany guests to Puerto Vallarta’s local markets to procure ingredients for their meal.

Once inside, Oculto becomes a world of its own—a broad room with a wall separating the kitchen from a long wood communal table. Cocktails can be enjoyed on the plush midnight blue sofa, accented with pillows featuring indigenous designs. Oversized clay tiles line the floor, and exposed brick curving into arches around the room’s opaque windows. What happens at Oculto stays at Oculto! 

Guests enjoy a private dinner at Oculto, Puerto Vallarta.
Guests enjoy a private dinner at Oculto. Photo: Facebook/OcultoFacebook/Oculto

My girlfriend and I attended a special dinner to celebrate queer women. We start with a cooking class, where I learn the art of making sopas, a traditional Mexican street food. 

Throughout the process, Porra imparts her wisdom of Mexican ingredients and foods, sharing the knowledge and passion she gained in El Arrayán’s kitchen for 14 years. 

The soft mixture, made with simple ingredients including masa harina, water, salt, and oil, comes together easily to create the perfect vessel for the homemade salsa I tackle next as I flip onions, peppers, and tomatillos on the grill for the perfect char.

No food processor here. Instead, we use a traditional stone mortar and pestle, smashing the ingredients together to create a beautiful tomatillo salsa. 

A woman smashes the tomatillos in a stone mortar and pestle in a cooking class at Oculto in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
The author smashes the tomatillos in a stone mortar and pestle in a cooking class at Oculto in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Heather Cassell.

The dishes I make become the first course of our special dinner with six of Puerto Vallarta’s queer women leaders, with dishes that draw inspiration from Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz.

In addition to my modest assistance, Porra crafts a meal to honor our group. She makes tortillas from a unique heirloom pink corn called Pink Xocoyul or Xocoyul rosado, which comes from Mexico’s Tlaxacaltecan region.

We assemble tacos with the Pink Xocoyul tortillas, loaded with sweet and savory pork, black beans, pickled onions, plantains, and cilantro.

We indulge in Capulin cherries and papaya with custard and a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

The conversation is as enlivening as the meal itself — eight unique women sitting around the table talking about queer life in the United States and Mexico. We talk about the legacy of the lesbian movement and the joys and challenges of creating spaces for queer women. And that’s a meal worth celebrating.

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