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May 23, 2008 07:10 AM

Good Eats in Cozumel

We are headed to Cozumel in June. We would like some suggestions on good places to eat. Thanks!

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    1. We’ve owned a house in Cozumel for about 20 years and can’t count the number of times we’ve visited. One of our favorite past times is going out with friends that live on the island year round who take great pride in taking us to local restaurants. I’m happy to share a few of our favorites.

      The cheapest really good meal you’ll find is a take away breakfast of freshly made hot empanadas from 3 Patitos Empandas at the corner of Ave 30 and Calle 15 and fresh squeezed orange juice from Fruiteria Milpa across the corner on the same intersection. Four large empanadas and a liter of juice come to a grand total of $32 MXN or about $3 US for a meal for two. The empanadas are consistently great (our favorites are the cheese, potato and chicken) and the orange juice is so sweet that if we told you they dumped sugar in it, you would believe it. There are usually 3-4 different juices to choose from including a green one that’s really good too. You can also eat your empanadas while standing at the counter. But get there early as they close by noon.

      Cofelia's is a really cute breakfast and lunch restaurant with seating in a pleasant garden on Calle 5 less than a block from the waterfront. We've had various scrambled eggs dishes and the house quiche and everything we’ve tried has been good as was the jamica, an herbal tea-like cold beverage made from hibiscus flowers. Many restaurants in Cozumel serve jamaica but Cofelia’s is the only one we know that makes it from scratch (i.e. beginning by boiling the dried hibiscus flowers) as apposed to using a reconstituted concentrate. There is a really simple chipotle sauce on the table that goes went well with both the eggs and the quiche. Reasonable service (for Mexico), nice atmosphere and well prepared food.

      Rock'n Java serves a very good breakfast and lunch including a broad list of vegetarian meals, some American diner type options (like club sandwich and cheeseburgers) and homemade deserts. It’s located on the waterfront near the main Dive Paradise office - just north of the Barracuda Hotel.

      One of the meals we dream about when we aren’t in Cozumel is lunch at Pescaderia Santa Carlos, a great little fish place back in the neighborhoods. They sell a lot of to go orders of both cooked and fresh fish but in back are a couple tables where you can dine in. The conch ceviche is usually very fresh and a single serving is an ample appetizer for a table of 4. A plate lunch with a fillet entrée was $50 pesos on our last visit. A whole fried fish for one starts at around $60 pesos but can go higher depending on the weight. If you want, you can walk into the open kitchen and pick your fish out of the cooler. If more than one person wants the whole fried fish, order a larger one and share. The species of fish will vary depending on what was caught that day but if available, try the hog fish. Given the location, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised to find that English is spoken here. The easiest way to get to Santa Carlos is to drive east out Calle 11 past the circle at 30 and take a left onto Ave. 50B. That will be the second Ave. 50 you come to. Santa Carlos is on the right between A.R. Salas and Calle 3 and it's open only for lunch.

      El Candela, at the corner of Calle 6 and Ave. 5, does a big take away business but has tables under a palapa and a few more inside that usually fill with locals by about 2:00-2:30pm. For a set price of about $50 pesos, you get a choice of soup, a choice from 3 entrées, a choice of either rice or spaghetti, a choice of steamed vegetables or new potatoes and unlimited refills on jamaica, the hibiscus flower tea. The selection of entrées changes daily but usually includes a chicken cutlet stuffed with ham and cheese, the same pork in tomato sauce recipe that we've always loved at La Choza plus one or two others. Candela is only open for lunch and closed on Sunday.

      For authentic home style Mexican cuisine try La Choza, an open-air restaurant on Ave. A.R. Salas at the corner of Ave 10 featuring interesting soups, condiments, nightly specials and what we think is the best flan in Cozumel. The price of your entree at lunch and dinner includes a choice of soups. If you visit here for lunch, ask about the daily specials. Prices for the unadvertised lunch specials will be significantly cheaper than similar meals on the menu but your waiter won’t mention them unless you ask. Lunch and dinner favorites are the pork in tomato sauce and seafood either grilled or Vera Cruz style. Our son says La Choza serves the best beef fajitas in Cozumel and my brother says they have the best margaritas in the world. This place is a good choice for breakfast too.

      El Turix is located on the square in front of the Corpus Christi Church on Calle 17 Sur between Ave. 20 & 25. The owners of El Turix, Rafael and Maruca, treat their guests to a home style Yucatan cuisine with preparations and dishes not found in very many other local restaurants. If offered on the evening you go there, this is an excellent place to try conchinita pibil, pork that is slow roasted in banana leaves producing a consistency and flavor that is not exactly like but somewhat similar to North Carolina style bar-b-que. Another featured dish is zodobachoy, a tamalé stuffed with ground pumpkin seeds and wrapped in chaya, a locally grown green similar to grape leaf. The deserts here are also excellent. (The coconut pie is not to be missed.) The kitchen in this place is spotless, the service friendly and the food is good.

      No visit to Cozumel is complete for us until we’ve had dinner (at least a few times) at our favorite tacqueria; Los Serra. It’s on Ave 30 not too far (and across the street) from the old Ace Hardware. It is one of those hole-in-the-wall places with inexpensive prices and good food that people who don't venture far off of the oceanfront don't think exists in Cozumel. The Tacos al Pastor con piña (grilled marinated pork with a slice of pineapple) at about 50 cents each and frijoles charos (bean soup) are both excellent. Other items we've tried and liked were the chuleta con queso taco (smoked pork chop with cheese) and the al pastor torta (grilled marinated pork sandwich.) If you visit Serra's be sure to sit outside, which makes for a much cooler dining experience away from the open cooking fires. Four to six tacos and a bowl of soup make a good meal for $4-$5. Like most tacquerias, this place opens after dark and will usually be hopping late into the night. While they do not serve beer, you can bring your own if you want.

      For a little bit of a splurge (but still reasonable for what you’re getting) try Manati - located in a very small old wooden building on the corner of Calle 8 and Ave. 10. Don’t be surprised if owner Leo Rojo not only takes your order but then goes back into the kitchen to prepare it as well. The menu features local ingredients in recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world. One of our favorites is the Mango chicken in puff pastry

      An evening visit to Michoacan's ice cream is a local tradition in Cozumel. There are quite a few locations around town including one on Ave 20 near 1st and another closer to the downtown square. We've sampled several varieties including the pineapple nieve (more of a sorbet than ice cream), strawberry and mamay; a tropical fruit that looks like it has cantaloupe skin but an oblong shape. It isn't Ben and Jerry's but it is more than decent and reasonably priced. A medium cup, which would equal two large scoops, was $14 pesos.

      If you’re interested in additional Cozumel reviews, we have a bunch on our web site at:

      15 Replies
      1. re: mediakzar

        Thanks so much! We had a GREAT meal at El Turix. Our 6 yr old son had a fresh, ripe mango smootie (all fruit with a little ice) while we had mango daquiris (sp?)For a starter they gave us oaxacan cheese (melts like fresh mozzarella) and fresh zucchini blossom quesadillas. We had the pork slow-roasted in banana leaves and a wonderful shark dish (baby shark that was poached then cooled, shredded and then fried with tomatoes and onions) that was amazing. Both served with warm tortillas. Coconut pie (w/ homeade crust) that did not disappoint. Rapahel regaled us with tales of the hurricane ("3 days and nights people locked themselves in their bathrooms while the wind was blowing wooosh wooooosh") he then gave us directions to a great family fish place at Chen Rio beach on the east (windward) side of the island. El Turix was mentioned in a NY Times article on Cozumel and as a "Slow Food" member.

        Chen Rio: We had great conch seviche and a fried "family style" snapper. We insisted that we wanted a WHOLE FISH not fillets and then the waiter took us seriously. We were surrounded by mexican families and only one or two other american tables where we saw some TREMENDOUS margaritas. A large lagoon/ surf-pool nearby was filled with children playing in the water; families on the beach.

        2 beers, big bottle water, conch and snapper for two=440 pesos + tip

        1. re: hobokenhound

          Every tree taller than 7 meters on Cozumel was destroyed in the hurricane, including all the banyans in the square in San Miguel, where the birds sang. The ring road was destroyed and rebuilt in 90 days, to a better condition than ever. The almond trees (almendros) are the first to make a new skyline. The restaurants you sampled on the windward side lived a living hell for 6 months. Bob's Marley completely disappeared. I'm pleased that you patronized them. Nature is a truly powerful force.

          1. re: hobokenhound

            I'm so disappointed. Our cruise line is skipping Cozumel next week. I've been salivating over the thought of 3 Patios Empanadas, the pumpkin seed mole at El Turix (and the Coconut Pie!) and the conch creviche at Playa Bonita! Hope this flu stuff blows over soon and all the restaurants can hang on to business. Hate to go there down the road and only find Senior Frog's and Carlos n Charlies left .

            1. re: hobokenhound

              El Turix is no more. After walking all the way there from the central square area, Rafael told us that they are converting the building to condos. He recommended a place just a couple of blocks away, on Ave. 30 on the east side and a couple blocks down: Tortuga. Nice enough - we had a few of red snapper variations, of which the one with almonds was the best.

            2. re: mediakzar

              Does anyone know if Cofelia's is still there? And if not, do you have another recommendation for the hibiscus flower drink, perhaps even where to purchase the dried flowers to take home? My mom had this drink once and loved it, so it would be a nice treat for her on our upcoming trip.

              1. re: tokyo

                The beverage is called agua de jamaica, and any of the local supermarkets will have dried flor de jamaica, either pre-packaged, or loose stock. It reconstitutes very simply, sweeten and strengthen to your taste. No problem taking it out of the country.

                1. re: tokyo

                  I’m sorry to advise that Cofilia’s is no longer open but there are lots of places that you can try jamaica, the hibiscus flower tea. In fact, a lot of places include it with free refills as part of lunch specials. One of those mentioned in my old post above is El Candela, at the corner of Calle 6 and Ave. 5. The tacqueria Los Serra usually has it by the bottle but sometimes runs out. A good place to try it where I think it is made from the flower rather than from concentrate is Sabores Loncheria, a Concina Economica located in a yellow house on Ave. 5 between Calles 3 & 5.

                  It’s offered in so many places, you should just ask the waiter at any restaurant that you find yourself in.

                  You can buy the dried hibiscus blossoms in packages or in bulk form at just about any super market (like Mega, Chedraui or San Francisco Asis). You’ll need to boil the flowers and sweeten to taste but we usually buy it in the bottled concentrated liquid form in the soft drink section of the same stores.

                  1. re: mediakzar

                    Thank you Veggo and mediakzar for your replies. This is very helpful!

                    1. re: mediakzar

                      mediakzar ( or veggo--mi amigo),

                      Have you eaten at or heard reports on Playa Bonita recently? I've seen some grumbling around that says it's service and food quality have gone down hill since new owners/management came in. Just verifying if that's a correct impression. It's wife's favorite lunch stop in Coz when cruising. I'm trying to get her to switch to Chen Rio if shes' heading to the east side in April. So appreciate some recent color. Thanks

                      1. re: crewsweeper

                        crew, I enjoyed a nice plate of conch ceviche at Playa Bonita not long ago in September. On the windward side, Coconuts, PB, and Bobs Marley Bar (sic), AKA Paradise Cafe, are all good.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Thanks. I knew you were in PdC recently didn't know if you made it across to Coz on the ferry. I happen to like the ceviche at Rasta's or whatever the name of the week is. I've enjoyed the ceviche gorditas at PB too. Not a fan of th e food at Coconuts but love the view--inside and out, LOL. Could be the grumblings I heard were just a one time rant. I'll give the wife a choice.

                        2. re: crewsweeper

                          It’s been over a year since we were last at Playa Bonito so I can’t help much on that one. I’ve always liked the food at Chen Rio but on more than one occasion there, had one waiter in particular who tried to overcharge on the whole fried fish, which is not priced on the menu because it is based on the weight of the fish. If you do go and want the whole fried fish; just make certain to get confirmation on the price for that item before it is cooked.

                          I would tend to agree with all of Veggo’s suggestions and also add the beachside restaurant at Cedral Beach, which can be a little hard to find but is a pristine setting.

                          Photo below was taken 4-5 years ago and is of our son showing all that's left from one of those whole fried fish.

                          1. re: mediakzar

                            Love the photo. Thanks for the tip on the whole snap. I doubt if my wife and sister-in-law would go for that. If I were along, we might have checked out Cedral. I always think of El Cedral where they've tried and failed to get some Maya village up, forget there's a beach too, so haven't stopped there. But if it's a bit hard to find, I don't think my wife would venture around in a taxi to find it.

                      2. re: tokyo

                        Not sure froom where you originate, tokyo, but if it's the US, you can find flor de jamaica pretty readily here. In either a larger grocery store that caters to Latinos or in smaller stores that cater to Mexicans.

                        1. re: GabachaYucateca

                          Thank you Gabacha. I live in a small town in the northern Midwest (four hours north of Detroit). Our trip to Cozumel is probably my best bet for the time being! :) But, you're right, several cities in southern Michigan would most likely have it available.

                    2. I just returned from Cozumel and we had a delicious dinner at Casa Mission in a charming restaurant. Good ceviche, good fish, coconut shrimp was excellent.

                      The restaurant is some 5-6 blocks from the ocean front. The streets and avenues are a little strange but well laid out. All the streets north of the Playa Del Carmen ferry are even, all the streets to the south are odd numbers.

                      1. We are in Cozumel now and have tried out a couple of the newer restaurants in town. Arabian Tacos is located at #899 Calle 11 near Av. 45. It is across the street from the sports fields. If driving east on 11 from Centro, you’ll need to drive past and make a U-turn.

                        The owners are a husband of Lebanese descent and his Mexican wife who runs the front of the house. The husband’s father does some of the cooking.

                        Chicken, beef and pork are marinated with Middle Eastern flavors, grilled and served with melted cheese as tacos on little rounds of bread similar in texture to pita. Three condiments including a cucumber tzatziki sauce are included on the side. In addition to tacos, the restaurant serves kebobs, shawarma and falafel. Prices range from $15 pesos for the tacos to $35 for other items. In a couple visits, we’ve tried the chicken and pork tacos, pork kebob and humus plate. All of those were consistently good. We’ve also tried a couple deserts: baklava and type of pudding with cinnamon. The pudding was terrific but we probably wouldn’t order the baklava again.

                        Coffee Mak is located between Calles 11 & 13 just south of the circle on Av 30 (aka Pedro Joaquin Codwell). There is a small parking area right in front of the restaurant with a couple tables outside by the door and 4-5 more tables inside.

                        We’ve enjoyed both breakfast and lunch at Coffee Mak and everything from the cappuccino to the breakfast egg combos to the lunch time fajitas were visually appealing and tasted good. The fajitas are not marinated as much as the traditional style but we enjoyed the clean flavors that allowed.

                        Prices are very reasonable. A lot of care was taken in the presentation and the service was attentive. I should mention that everything is made to order so don’t go into Coffee Mak thinking you’re going to get in and out quickly. This isn’t fast food.

                        We have also noticed that Tres Patitos Empanadas is opening at night. They are still closed in the middle of the day but now available for late night snacks. Yeah!

                        1. Went to Buccano's last week and had an amazing meal there. The place is a beach club near the airport during the day, but they do dinner there on Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations are a must. The menu:

                          I had the goat cheese, shrimp, and green apple quesadilla as an appetizer and a special (Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp and mushrooms) for dinner. The food was outstanding.