Forty years ago, Zihuatanejo was empty, isolated and spectacular, rocky mountains plunging to a curving bay. It wasn't hard to guess that one day this quiet Mexican village would boom with tourists. Only the flashy resort Ixtapa just up the coast stole its thunder, and Zihuatanejo faded into a worker community.
This has changed too. Now both are such hot destinations that they go by a single name, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. And tourism has replaced agriculture as the main industry.
Corn is important too. Perhaps that is why restaurants liven up plain white rice with a few golden kernels.
Rather than the neat sprigs of cilantro one sees in the United States, cilantro here is plucked in long stems with feathery tops.
Market shops display soft cakes of tamarind, some of it red with chile, also sea salt, and sacks of coffee grown in the hills of Guerrero, the state where the twin resorts are located.
Fish stalls sell such varieties as cocinero, rongo, salema, medregal, cuatete, ojon and boba.
Seafood is so abundant that it is almost taken for granted. But what every inhabitant eats most often contains no seafood at all. It is the meat and corn stew pozole. The official day to eat pozole is Thursday, and restaurants hang out signs announcing that they'll have it that day.
What local people prefer is white pozole with pork. And what they drink with it is mezcal, not from Oaxaca but produced in the hills of Guerrero from Agave cupreata, known in this region as papalote.
In the early days, one flew from Mexico City into Zihuatanejo in a tiny propeller plane that bounced scarily through the clouds. There were no stewardesses. You helped yourself to drinks and snacks from a drawer. The terminal consisted of two banana trees, an open air structure that shaded a counter with a typewriter, a water bottle and a couple of bathrooms.
The simple home cooking of the past has given way to Italian restaurants, sushi bars, gelato shops and hamburger joints.
The grilled burgers are very good, I hear. They're served Mexican style, with pickled vegetables and jalapeños. I saw this view of Ruben's several times a day from my hotel. It was frustrating to be so close and not have time to go there.
The super rich have their own majestic villas, molded onto steep, rock-crusted hillsides. The mode of architecture, using natural components such as palapa roofs and earth tones that blend with the landscape, is so typical that it is known as "Zihuatanejo style."
It's a big change from the past, but the seafood is still good, and it's easy to get there, only a couple of hours nonstop from Los Angeles.
Delia (right) offers a comida corrida, a set meal that includes rice, beans and handmade tortillas with the main dish.
Or you can mingle with locals at places such as the Cenaduría Callita on Nicolás Bravo in downtown Zihuatanejo, not far from the market.
You go to Callita for fried tacos dipped in guajillo chile sauce and buried under lettuce, tomato, pickled lalapeños and crumbled queso fresco. Or tamales with atole, followed by fried bananas in syrup. Not fancy but a real feast, just like the old days.