Im heading for my first visit to the Riviera Maya region and am looking for top picks. Ill be eating at Ambar (does anyone have experiences?) at our hotel one night out of convenience but would like to know of other places. All price ranges and all cuisines are ok. I read in another thread that I wont be able to eat El Sol cause I it exclusive to the hotel its in, is that true?
thanks for the help
We spent the second half of our honeymoon at the M.O. in Riviera Maya. We dined in all the restaurants on the property except the cafe in the spa. Ambar was good, but by no means the most amazing meal ever. Two nights we ventured to the Fifth Avenue district in Playa del Carmen. Both restaurants we dined at were recommended to us by the concierge staff at the M.O. Byblos was one of the places we tried and enjoyed. I cannot remember the name of the other restaurant, but it has an underground wine room/bar attached to it. Between the two it was by far my favorite. I loved their dark chocolate souffle. If you are looking for more authentic Mayan food our guide recommended Yaxche, also located in Playa del Carmen. Unfortunately we ran out of time and were unable to try it. I hope this helps.
I suspect the one with the wine cellar/tasting room and the chocolate souffle was Negrosal, on 16th st. between 1 & 5 aves. Glass floor in the dining room? it's the only place I know of that even attempts souffles. I had a Grand Marnier souffle there that was a little goopy in the center, but I don't mind a little goopy. Negrosal does the best grilled octopus appetizer I have ever had, and does chilean sea bass in banana leaf that is excellent. I order the same items every time.
Byblos on 14th st. is french food, mainly. I used to live above her restaurant and the aromas from her kitchen were torture!
Although we love the convenience of staying at an all inclusive, we've never, ever had memorable food at one (but I must admit that we never stayed at the true high-end resorts either...)
Top picks in Playa depend on what you're looking for. Me? I like local stuff and will seek it out in the back streets and alleys, rubbing elbows with locals. Many travellers don't share this enthusiasm. Its also been a couple of years since I've been to Playa, so things may change...
5th avenue is a great place to walk and have a few drinks, but the majority of restos are purely tourist driven and not that great (hotel staffers may have other opinions, thinking this is what you want).
Reiney1 mentions an underground wine room/bar - this sounds like Alux (its on Juarez, west of the 307) and any taxi driver will know it. It is an amazing place - if not for a meal, then at least for a drink or two as the entire place is a dry cenote (underground cave). The couple of times we were there, the humidity was overwhelming, drinks welcome, dining not so much, but a great place to even walk around for the cost of a drink.
I've suggested La Bamba Jarocha in the past (on 30th near 36th). A fantastic local seafood joint with the likes of fish, soups, crab, seafood cocktails, etc. Wait staff don't speak english, but pretty much anyone can get by.
Reiney mentioned Yaxche. I've eaten there twice. Quite a place, perhaps overpriced, perhaps overhyped, they bring traditional Mayan dishes to haute cuisine. Successful in their endeavor? I dunno, you'll have to be the judge.
One thing I will definitely recommend is the torta (sandwich) carts on Juarez next to the Zocalo. I'm not sure where the Mandarin Oriental is, but getting here may require effort (waking up with a hangover, getting a taxi, etc etc), as you gotta be there before 10am or so (8am is better), else they are gone for the day. They are street vendors selling tortas de cochinita pibil - a fantastic roast pork sandwich, washed down with Mexican coke in a bottle - breakfast of true champions.
They offer other stuff too, black chicken, fish, squid, but the pork is KING. Ask the sandwich maker (usually a young lady) to dip the bread in the juice. Pantomining works well. There may be many locals crowded around the 5 or 6 carts (they're on their way to work) and it may look intimidating, but don't worry, order your torta (like $2 or so) and soda, smile to your hungry neighbors, and have fun. They'll love watching you enjoy yourself! Careful with the xnipec condiment bowl - it only takes a few drops of that hellfire sauce on the sandwich!
Oh, report back with your finds!
There are wonderful popular priced restaurants in Playa -Oasis, El Fogon, Pastorcita, The Garden of Eating, Cactus (run by Frederique, a cutie from Madagascar and french schooled), Jaguar, Babes. And many more. If you are on an all-inclusive plan at M.O. I don't want to recommend any high dollar/peso places.
Maroma, which hosts El Sol, is a small, hyper-expensive resort on 200 hectares, with security tighter than the green zone in Baghdad.