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Dec 19, 2006 02:28 PM

Authentic food in Playa del Carmen ...

We will be staying at a hotel in Playa del Carmen next week. What do you recommend for authentic local food, in restaurants or stands, in the area? Our group ranges from very adventurous chowhounds(lived in Peru for years) to "yecch, it has cheese on it" (age 9). Also, for a novice, what are distinctive local specialties?

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  1. I believe a posted on Playa del Carmen a few months ago... you can use the Search feature to find it.

    Overall... Playa del Carmen is where people from Mexico's interior vacation (as opposed to Cancun). Most places are authentic & quite good. The surrounding area does not have the culinary pedegree of Mexico City, Puebla or Oaxaca... but there are some great regional specialties to try:

    > Ceviche & Seafood Cocktails... particularly Campechanas & the elusive Cocunut based Ceviches
    > Coconut Shrimp
    > Fish Grilled in Hoja Santa
    > Fish baked in Cilantro Sauce
    > Whole Grilled Chicken in Chipotle Rub
    > Anything in the Zik, Pibil, or Tikin Xic styles of the local Mayan cuisine
    > Chaya-Agra (Chaya... a tropical forest green leafy is made into smoothies that are a must have)
    > Tropical Fruit (Some of the best Pineapples, Coconuts, Custard Fruit & other tropical fruits you will ever have)

    Oh and one last thing.... when in the Yucatan... don't have margaritas... have Pina Coladas. Pineapples are of Mexican origin... the coconuts are native... its common to find them absolutely fresh, served in a pineapple hull and will cost less than a margarita.

    Also, this is also one of the few towns on the Riviera Maya where you can have mainstream Mexican cuisine (other places focus on the regional specialties).

    3 Replies
    1. re: Eat_Nopal

      If you prefer a drink that's not quite as sweet as a piƱa colada, ask for the tequila drink that Mexicans drink: the paloma. It's tequila, a pinch of salt, and Squirt, over ice. Delicious.

      1. re: cristina

        I usually have my tequila straight, mixing good tequila with soda is a crime! Thats what ron & brandy are for.

        I just think that if you are in the Mayab you should drink more of a local drink. It kind of bothers me to see people in the Cancun Zona Hotelera eating at places with Mariachis, Neon colored Margaritas & Chile Relleno combinations with little Mexican flags sticking out from the rice.

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Hmmm...did I say good tequila? LOL... You're so right, just give me a caballito of Don Eduardo reposado and a sangrita on the side.

          But for a mixed drink with tequila, a decent blanco in a paloma is delicious and much more popular among Mexicans than the tourist-ubiquitous margarita.

    2. I was in Playa a few years ago and my absolutely favorite restaurant was Yaxche Maya Cuisine. It is on 8th St between 5th Ave. and 10th Ave. If I were going back it would be the first restaurant I'd want to go to.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Jeanne

        That is quite a find.... not only do they have carry all the famous specialties of the Yucatan... but they claim to have won the award for best regional cuisine in Mexico.

        BTW... they have Xtabentun (Anise spiked Honey liquor) on the dessert menu... that is the right spirit to have for an authentic Mayan experience.

        1. re: Jeanne

          Jeanne, I emailed the website for the restaurant to friends who live half the year in Akumal. They've been there every year for about 10 years and had never heard of the place, but they were thrilled and are going to eat there tonight.

          1. re: cristina

            I will second the recommendation of Yaxche. I ate there and had a very good and different meal, not the usual "mexican" food served in Playa. We sat in a small back garden and it was really pleasant.I also ate a few times at La Floresta out by the hiway for a great shrimp taco. One night I just strolled through the main part of town eating taco al pastor from any spit I saw. It was about three years ago, I hope the two new piers have not caused the place to be overun, it was such a nice laid back beach town.

          2. re: Jeanne

            My girlfriend and I made it to Yaxche for her birthday in early June. We were not impressed at all.

            For starters, there was a "theme-iness" to the place, which kinda made it seem to Mayan cuisine what the Olive Garden is to Italian cuisine, although admittedly the place is more romantic and tasteful than what you might find in a shopping center parking lot, but it's still going in that direction. More importantly though, the food was bland. Yes they had all the regional specialties, however they dumbed them down while, not surpringly, jacking up the price. If you want the Disney version of Mayan food, Yaxche's the place. If you want the real deal, you're going to need to drive around some. Honestly the best food I had the whole trip was at little no name roadside places, with zero frills, and terrific cooking. That and the Lomo al Roquefort (Tenderloin in Roquefort sauce) at El Asada de Manolo on 10th Ave in Playa. That meat was literally a revelation.

          3. I liked El Faisan y El Venado, on the highway at the corner of the Juarez. Huge place with Yucatecan specialties, kid-friendly, cheaper and homier than Yaxche. I had relleno negro, which was excellent.

            I also hear great things about steaks at the butcher--something like HR Monterrey?

            1. Re: Authentic Mexican restaurants in Playa del Carmen, Playa is growing like crazy. For the last few years, we've gone at least once a year, sometimes twice. We still love Playa, but it's unbelievable the changes that happen even in a few months and, unfortunately, the water side of Playa is quickly changing into a mini-South Beach. Also, it's a very popular European vacation spot so you'll find a lot of restaurants reflecting those cuisines. There is even a section referred to as "Little Italy" with some good pizza and pasta restaurants, and you'll find quite a few German and French restaurants also. After the hurricane, a lot of the local mom and pop places in Playa proper chose not to re-open, or more often, found they couldn't afford to.

              Of course, you can still find authentic Mexican if you search them out, mostly away from the water and the touristy Avenida Quinta (5th Avenue). Some local specialties are sopa de lima (a delicious chicken soup brightened with lime juice) and Cochinita Pibil (pork rubbed with achiote and baked in a banana leaf). I agree with both recs from Mary Shaposhnik above, including HC Monterrey - a very casual butcher shop that also cooks food. Get the arrachera (flank steak) platter that comes with half an avocado and a roasted onion.

              For seafood - El Cejas. Everything is always good. I love the seafood empanadas, ceviches, and grilled langoustines.

              Yaxche is good - and a very pretty restaurant too, especially if you eat in the courtyard, but I don't think our last couple of visits were as good as the first time we tried it a few years back. But definitely worth a visit if you haven't been there yet. They've also expanded and are still as busy as ever. I copied one of my earlier posts on Yaxche:

              Yaxche Mayan Cuisine is one of the few restaurants serving traditional Mayan and Yucatan cuisine, along with 'upscale' versions. Beautiful space with an outdoor courtyard in the back (especially at night), friendly service, and wonderful food. The bread is served with a delicious, addictive creamy garlic sauce. Some of the highlights I would recommend were: "Tsic": Tortillas layered with a lobster, corn, chile ceviche. "Malix" a creamy soup made with chaya (a leafy, spinach-like plant). "Ixchel" - shrimp sauteed with coconut and guajillo pepper. And one of their specialties "Kukulkan" - lobster grilled with fruit and xtabentun (a honey liqueur made from a flower with a flavor like anis). Also be sure to try this liqueur with Kahlua in the house after-dinner drink called a "Mayan Kiss".

              A current favorite (our last visit was in April) and the spot we dine at every time we go to Playa is El Trapiche, past the "Little Italy" section - north of 5th Avenue (calle 28). Excellent Mexican specialties with an extensive menu with lots of authentic items to choose from, and great Margaritas (though I prefer my tequila straight, with a side of sangrita). Everything here has been good - chiles rellenos, chipotle shrimp, the soups, grilled meat and seafood, mole enchiladas, chiccharones, carnitas, lengua. I always get the Chiles en Nogada.

              BTW, our favorite splurge non-Mexican restaurant is John Gray's, hidden on a side street off 5th Ave on Calle Corazon. The chef is from the Ritz-Carlton. The restaurant is upstairs while the bar is street level.

              I also highly recommend the maps below - lots of details and restaurant information. The Playa map is going to be updated in February:


              1 Reply
              1. re: Rubee

                I was last in Playa Feb. '07 and was disappointed to see that El Trapiche had closed. There was not a replacement - just empty space. I'll be down in a few weeks and will report back if soemthing else interesting has moved in.

              2. If you are adventerous check out the shrimp tacos at Doctor Taco on 10th ave between 8th and 10th st. They were the best we've had and very cheap. It is a local place, a hole in the wall where they keep their beers in a cooler out front, but the food and the salsa bar is great. Definitely the best tacos I've ever had, we couldn't stop eating them! It is a small place, but worth checking out. El Oasis has fantastic ceviche and fish tacos. It seemed to be predominately locals and is located on 12th st between 5th and 10th ave. And if you have really picky eaters (and we all do) there is a great pizza stand right next to El Oasis called Pizza Pazza. I saw one local bring in some slices to eat with his friends at El Oasis.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jules127

                  There is also another new location of Dr. Taco on the beach road to playas Mamitas and Tukan.