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Playa + Isla - LONG report!

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I planned a long weekend in Rivera Maya for my husband at the end of Feb. We flew in and out of Cancun and had planned to spend four nights in Playa del Carmen. The hotel we stayed at in Playa was so crazy and loud, that we checked out after two nights and went south to a very relaxing spa for a night (Essencia) and then north to Isla Mujeres for a night.

On our way down to Playa, we stopped in Puerto Morelos for a seafood lunch at Pelicanos. It was a very relaxing way to start our trip. The restaurant is right on the beach in the heart of the 'town'. Puerto is just about a three minute drive off of 307 -- so it's very easy to stop there if you are heading further south like we were. I've read Pelicanos is a bit touristy and expensive, but it's very clean and plesant, right on the beach and it's an easy way to start an eating vacation. We ordered guacamole, mixed ceviche, octopus w/ butter and garlic, and a half kilo of peel + eat shrimp. The shrimp were perfectly sweet and fresh steamed for us and served on a plate of ice. Very delicious! The ubiquitous guac was also quite nice with fresh corn chips. Mixed ceviche was huge - essentially served on a platter, not a plate! Very, very fresh and tasty. I could have passed on the octopus w/ butter and garlic -- it was overcooked and the veggies it was served with were mushy. Of course, we drank micheladas and cheladas to wash everything down!

On to Playa, we spent the afternoon at Mamitas -- which is supposed to be the hippest beach club. We had more guac with our beers at the club. Fun people watching! They also have a full menu and if we weren't so full from lunch, we probably would have ordered some more ceviche.

Our first night we went to HC Monterrey right around the time that they were closing (maybe 9 pm) and ordered steak arranchera, which is a thin cut of marinated steak (flank, I think) that is well grilled. The steak is served with either an onion or a potato roasted in tin foil. We had one and one. Both seem to have been sitting down in the coals of the grill for some time, slow cooking. The onion was completely sublime -- sweet and incredibly carmelized. Totally delicious. After dinner, walking back to Quinta on 1st (I think), there are a few little late night taco stands -- so even tho we were quite full from arranchera, we had a couple of tacos. Nice way to top off the night.

The next day for lunch we drove back to 307 to eat at La Borrega (right across fr McDonalds). If you eat one place in Playa -- GO TO LA BORREGA!! We ordered lechon (roasted pig) by the kilo and a lamb soup called consume borrega. Both were completely incredible. The pig was succulent, tender, juicy and perfectly salty. Delicious pig. And, the borrega -- wow. It was the best expression of lamb I've ever had! Served w/ limes, cilantro, chopped white onion and hot slasa. The stew is a clear broth, with big pieces of lamb and little chick peas. The flavor is so rich and delicious, I wanted to order another bowl.

That night, we ate at Negrosal -- a pretty upscale place -- after having delicious aged tequilas on the roof deck of our hotel (Hotel Basico) with sangrita at sunset - lovely. We sat outside and the breeze was awfully nice. The grilled octopus was fantastic, but the rest of the meal was unmemorable. It was the most exepensive meal we ate in Mexi, but still only about $130 with aps, entrees, a desert and a bottle of wine and cocktails included.

Afterwards, we stopped at the most adorable little bar on the far side of quinta (in the high numbers -- after the street stops being a pedestrian plaza) which just served mezcals by the shot. I've never really drank mezcal before. I wish I could find the name of the bar, because it was so adorable, but I just googled it and I can't find it. It was a very small bar with a few tables out front. The menu had about twenty mezcals served by the shot - and that's it, nothing else! We ordered two different ones and they are served with a small plate of sliced oranges and a bowl of spiced dried beans (I think these called habas or habitas when I was in ecuador). The server explained that if we haven't had mezxal before, it's strong -- so we should cut sips w/ oranges and beans. It worked lovely. I highly recommend this lovely little bar -- I hope someone on this board can tell us all the name.

Next day -- we checked out of our crazy hotel and stopped at Oasis also on 307 near la Borrega (I understand there are a couple of Oasis -- so you don't necessarily have to go to the one on 307 -- but we did). Seafood is the order of the day - and we ate ceviche, a cocktail and fish tacos. All very fresh and tasty.

We then drove down 307 to Hotel Essencia for some supreme quiet and relaxation. We picked this hotel bc the restaurant is supposed to be quite good. Well, it's not that great. Granted, we only spent one night there, but dinner just wasn't all that special. To be frank, I remember absolutely nothing of what we ate, because it was so unmemorable The breakfast the next morning, however, was quite spectacular -- chilquiles (a ubiquitous breakfast dish made from left over tortilla chips from they day before in a sauce to make them a little soft -- I hope this is an apt description, but maybe someone can fill in further if not). We also had a big poblano pepper roasted and stuffed w/ scrambled eggs and chorizo. The drinks were quite good -- made with fresh squeezed juice (we didn't have drinks for breakfast -- but I'm just now remembering how tasty they were!).

On the way back north to Isla, we stopped again at La Borrega for more lechon and borrega. I ordered a large bowl of borrega, intending to share it with my husband, but I ate the whole thing myself, bc it was so incredible. GO EAT THIS SOUP!

On to Isla -- We stayed at Hotel Secreto - right in town - lovely place. We had some tequila at La Adelita on the main drag -- which has about 150 different bottles. It's a great place if you really like good tequila to sample many different ones -- but it is quite expensive (relatively). We walked aroudn town and there was a little kids program on a stage set up on the plaza -- so there were street vendors selling some delicious foods! I got a flan/creme caramel that was totally delicious and an elote (corn w/ mayo, cheese, lemon, salt, chili). Also -- there is this completely amazing popsicle and ice cream place right near the plaza -- again, I wish I could remember the name. But, it's right on a corner, if that helps any. Anyway -- they make the most amazing flavored fresh juice popsicles. There are about 25 different flavors and I wish I could have tried them all. I got a rice milk one that was totally sublime. I highly recommend searching out this place.

Dinner was at one of the little seafood shacks near the port in town, where you sit on plastic chairs with your feet in the sand. It was called La Tigrena. I ordered a whole fish grilled -- and the waiter brought out a plastic tub with about ten fishes in it for me to pick. Some were HUGE -- I picked a nice small one and they served it up for me wonderfully. The best part about it is that the whole fish was about $5 US. Amazing -- in NYC it would have cost ten times as much. YUM.

All in -- good trip, great food. I can't seem to eat enough guacamole, tequila and sangrita or fresh fruit when I'm in Mexi -- I didn't note it always, but we ate guac or a shot or tequila with almost every meal and fresh fruit every day.

Hopefully some of you can fill in some of my blanks -- I should have written this right when I got back to town, instead of a month later.

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  1. Nice report. I just returned from a couple weeks in the same areas, and we like similar places/food. N to S: Pelicanos in Puerto Morelos - praiseworthy with everything you said, plus the best broiled conch with garlic (caracol al mojo de ajo) I have had anywhere.
    Playa- I'm a long-time fan of La Borrega (and there is one other place for the dish at calle 28 and avenida 30 on weekends), plus the arrachera and cebolla take out (yes, the perfect onion), Mamitas, Oasis, and Negrosal, all of which I frequented last week. At Negrosal, the grilled octopus appetizer with a dry chipotle rub is so delicious (and a huge portion) that it inspired me to attempt it at home. I bought the octopi, frozen, at my latin grocer today. I'll report if I stumble on a success. I had the chilean sea bass in corn husks for my entree and it was a disappointing mushy mess. The last time I had sea bass at Negrosal (4 months ago) it was in a banana leaf with some pibil seasonings and was delicious.
    The Mezcal bar as I recall is on calle 30, plus or minus only one block.
    You were perhaps polite in not revealing the name of the noisy hotel in Playa: care to share? Proximity between late, noisy clubs and sleep-seeking mid-life adults has been a problem in Playa for years.
    Veggo

    1 Reply
    1. re: Veggo

      Exactly, the nature of Playa is that it is very noisy! We used to stay at the Pelican Inn because they had such a fabulous breakfast but it got too much for us in our old age.

    2. I am so very jealous!

      For the first time in a long time, I have no travel plans for the Yucatan peninsula (or anywhere else). It's so depressing. I just have to read the Riviera Maya discussion forums and dream, I guess. I'd KILL for a plate of HC's arrechera about now.

      Beatrice

      1. Name of "crazy" hotel, please, or at least area -- so we don't inadvertently...