Just back from Playa del Carmen
Thanks to all (and Veggo especially!) for the recommendations for our trip -- we ate very, very well. Here's the lowdown:
We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, which was perfect pampering but expensive food. Had tiraditos and ceviche for lunch at the hotel's beach restaurant (called Ceviche, so there's a clue about what to order). Snapper tiraditos were excellent; ceviche was overly lime-y (as in drowning), guacamole was truly wonderful. Expensive, compared to what we discovered elsewhere. Dinner the first night at Ambar, which everyone seemed to love except me. I must have ordered badly -- can't remember the first course, which is always a bad sign, and second course of porcini-crusted tuna, which was OK. If you're staying at the MO, I'd recommend eating there on the first night so that you don't realize how comparatively expensive the food is.
Day two: more tiraditos on the beach for lunch. For dinner, we went with the concierge's insistent recommendation of Yaxche. The menu is enormous -- so long, in fact, that it's hard to make sense of it. Excellent shrimp ceviche (but not nearly as good as the ceviche at Cactus on our last night), good-but-not-great food otherwise. I couldn't make sense of the menu so I ordered the Maya platter, which had some chicken, some beef, and some pork. Chicken was good; rest was OK. Pleasant garden, nice server.
Day three: La Floresta for lunch. Wonderful, wonderful shrimp tacos and dang good ceviche mixto. Even had small oysters in it! Dinner at Negrosal, another concierge-driven choice but a much better one. Good food, good (but somewhat pricey) wine list, very nice people. Even made it to dessert for the gooey chocolate souffles. My son tried the "strawberry deer," which turned out to be venison in strawberry sauce -- tasted a little like meat with a big strawberry daquiri poured over it. Not our fave, but the rest of the meal was excellent -- grilled lobster, grilled fish.
Day four: Not much to report -- more guacamole on the beach and dinner at the MO's other restaurant, Aguarmarina, where the fish tacos were delicious (pricey, though!).
Day five: down to Tulum, where we all fell in love with El Tabano. I would eat there every day if I could. For those not used to Tulum (like us), it's not in an obvious location -- go toward the hotel zone and keep going. It's basically a big open-air hut, with interesting books, kind and solicitious people, a Rube Goldberg-like sculpture at the water faucet outside the bathroom, and my personal favorite food of the trip. And amazing value.
Day six: lunch at El Fogon. Another amazing value, and great food. Guacamole, beans, arranchera, and carnitas. We ate like pigs and rolled out very happy.
Final meal: We wanted to go to La Terraya on the beach but it literally shuts down at 9 pm. So we tried Cactus instead. Had the best shrimp ceviche I'd ever had, in a remarkably generous portion, too. Others had great chicken soup w/onions, avocado, and lime, and excellent nachos. The baby squid with potatoes (very Basque-like) was excellent. The pork in mustard sauce less so. For dessert, the flambeed bananas were awesome, the crepes OK, and the brownie not really worth it. One other quibble -- it was surprising that a restaurant flying a French flag didn't serve wine!
We can't wait to return and try the other recommended places, once we regain the courage to put on a bathing suit after all we ate! Many thanks!!!!
Just back and I know that I will never remember the whole foodie experience in detail, but simpky put we did not have a bad meal (none of the crew of six which is almost impossible!)
Ate at Yaxche: great food and service. The table split most of the menu I think. I had the Myan platter and loved it all. Tried the flambe cocktail at mails end...quite a production with flames, ice, two towels, three liquors. Not expensive at 88 pesos...but I will leave the actual event details out and simply encourage you to try it....esp. at night. Great service and lots of fun.
El Fogon: We agree it was one of the, if not the, best places we ate during our trip. The server had style and humour and the al pastor was phenomenal.
Dr. Taco: great tacos with a nice "salad" bar with sauces, salsas and peppers with detailed explanations of each to complete the taco experience. It is on 10 ave (one block for 5th - yes their street numbers are bizarre). Very small place, but was never busy any time we drove by.
Karens: Great last meal in Playa. Pizzas the kids had were excellent (for those unfamiliar with the area, there is a heavy Italian influence and some great Italian food to be had). I stuck to Mexican ( amix of tacos, all excellent). The quesidilla was not good and my daughter aptly described it as a lump of cheese and nothing more. Located on 5th Ave.
El Serape was a nice find on the recommendation of a local. Couple of the kids stuck to Italian and regretted it (in their defense it had been all Mexican, all the time time and we were near the end of a our trip). The al Pastor, beef and chicken tacos were as good as El Fogon. It is a few blocks off 5th Ave around 25th Ave (again, remember the avenidas seem to go by 5's and the Calle by 2's).
Aco Las Tacos: Again good tacos and nachos. Near the middle of 5th ave. Not the best we ate, but very good nonetheless. Very cheap (by 5th Ave standards).
We tried a Mexican wine or two and found at least one white (of course, can't recall which one, but it appeared on mnay menus) that we quite enjoyed. Don't shy away from trying a few.
Also, ate at Lol Ha in Akumal and Dona Trinys in Puerto Moreles(or Trinis...spelled BOTH ways in the resto!) both were excellent. Lol Ha (as I mention on a post on Akumal had the best burgers ever.
Glad it went well. I should have added earlier that Frederique at Cactus has been whipsawed by the liquor license gestapo since she opened. Licenses are expensive and many small restos rent a temporary one, at extortion rates. She has had one, off and on, but has very little space for inventory beyond a house red or white. She lets me bring my own bottle.
We just got back from Playa about 2 weeks ago, and it makes me feel better that someone else wasn't blown away by Yaxche. Yes, our service was pleasant (if not a little rushed) but the food was just less than stellar. It was suggested by MANY foodies that we respect, and just were not wowed at all.
One place that we enjoyed a lot (went twice) was a little place called Carboncitos, on 4th St between Quinta Ave and 10th Ave. Great pork Al Pastor, and you shouldn't miss the Chicharron de queso (fried crispy cheese)...it's an experience, and delicious!
We also enjoyed La Tarraya...we went there for our first meal after walking along the beach as the sun went down. Great way to get in the mood of Quintano Roo.
We had one bad experience, which was at La Cueva del Chango, which is "The Monkey's Cave"...where we had pretty much RUDE service and terrible food. We were led to believe that it had mexican specialties, steaks, etc...and it ended up being much too fussy with no real purpose (a lot of reductions, purees, crusting, etc. with odd combos...and I like unusual takes on food...this was too much!) We ended up just getting a cocktail and guac to test things out...and I couldn't finish my drink because the ice was so bad...the bottom of the barrel (we saw the bartender go get a new bag right after ours were served) and we couldn't get the servers attention to get it changed. THEN, the chips with our guac were SO STALE we thought our teeth would break! And if they weren't stale, they were burnt. We broke some in half, trying to find fresh ones and put them back in the basket (we weren't given any small plates) and after we were done, we saw them throw them BACK INTO THE CHIP BOX!!!!!! We were pretty grossed out by that point. Then, we saw the chef cooking and the pan went into flames...and he tried to blow it out, then had to cover it THREE different times to finally get the flames to stop...and then put the fish back in the pan and continued to cook it and SERVE IT! It also took about 20-30 minutes just to get our check for our two drinks and guac. COMPLETELY disappointed, and would not suggest this place to anyone.
I will say, the best guac we had was made table-side at Los Aluxes...Quinta at 16th St. We had it as a late afternoon snack w/ drinks. Didn't eat a whole meal, but would suggest that you do this as well.
Hope this helps!