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Jan 31, 2010 06:27 PM

Gourmet, Mayan-Inspired, Fine Dining in PDC/ Cancun/Cozumel

Four foodies will travel to the Maya Riviera/Playa del Carmen/Cozumel/Cancun area and would like to know what Chowhounders thought of these locations. We are interested in eating at out of the way locations where food is cooked and served with passion and reverence to its ingredients in an inviting setting. Great service along with fine wines would be welcomed additions to the mix. We will have a car.

1) La Marea Restaurant at the Tides Resort
2) El Sol Restaurant at Maroma
3) Pavo Real Restaurant
4) Negrosal Restaurant
5) Sol Y Fuego Restaurant at Esencia Resort

We know about these locations and, most likely, will visit them as well:
6) Hechizo Restaurant
7) Labna Restaurant
8) La Choza Restaurant
9) Yaxche Restaurant
10) Cocina 38

Thank you in advance.

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  1. I would put Yaxche in Play del Carmen on your definite place to visit list - not most likely. It's wonderful.

    1. I'm familiar with the 6 on your list that are not in resorts. Unfortunately, "mayan inspired" and "fine wines" do not go hand in hand in the Yucatan. The best wine experiences wil be at Cocina 38 and Negrosal. Negrosal has a nice cellar with a tasting area under the glass floor in the dining room, they will give you a quick tour. It's nicely organized by country, and they have a few D'Yquems and Petrus' , but more as a gimmick, I expect. An occasional contributor here, wineman3, is the wine merchant to both. The sea bass in banana leaf at Negrosal is really good when they get it right, and the grilled octopus appetizer is consistently amazing. Cocina 38, in the "little Italy" part of town, has good fare and wine, but is not mayan (nor is Negrosal, but both feature LA/SA dishes).Either is a good spot for a long lazy dinner. La Choza in Cozumel, authentic as it is, would be better for a lunch. Wine selection is blanco or tinto, take your pick. Chairs there are not comfortable for a long stay. Yaxche is interesting. Portions are small so you will need to enjoy several courses to get your fill. Marginal wines; try something different like an after dinner Xtabentun. Yaxche is the only spot in the greater area that attempts mayan. Sometimes they are a little full of themselves, but it's a nice experience. Hechizo in Tulum is small and intimate, but again one is in and out fairly quickly, considering the drive, and there is no place to hide a wine cellar. But it has the passion and reverence you seek. Labna in Cancun is a mercantile machine, Playa folks tend to avoid Cancun.
      El Sol and Pavo Real, both at La Maroma, I'm sure offer a long, lazy evening. It will be pricey, Maroma is rock star prices. When it first opened it was not accessible to non-guests, and has security tighter than Los Alamos. It is a large, elegant beautiful property. Buen provecho!

      5 Replies
      1. re: huckfinn

        Have never been to Yaxche, but that place annoys the crap out of me. I wish that they'd be clearer on the Mayan-inspired part (just looked at the website, and they are indeed clear about the fusion part...just silly that people end up in Playa and think they're eating traditional Yucatec Maya food). We went to the front to request a menu, and the chick didn't even speak Spanish. So I had to request the menu rather than my husband. He's Yucatec Maya and has obviously eaten Yucatec Maya since birth, and he looked at the menu and was like...what the HELL is this?!?!

        I very much like your descriptions, huckfinn...but find it silly that Yaxche gives such small portions...true Yucatec Maya dishes are best enjoyed in huge bowls with at least half a kilo of tortillas per person. In fact, we just polished off two bowls of escabeche here in Rhode Island. ;)

        1. re: GabachaYucateca

          I find it odd that a place that you've "never been to" annoys you. It's been a while since I've eaten there - 5 or 6 years ago - but my servings were not small. I'm not a huge eater but I eat a normal amount of food.

          I just looked over their menu again and I also don't understand you're not thinking that this is Mayan food.

          1. re: Jeanne

            Well, it annoys me so that's why I've got no desire to visit. ;)

            They seem to have several traditional Yucatec Maya dishes but there were so many fusion dishes and invented ones that my husband had trouble picking out things that were recognizable. They're obviously clear that they've created a very unique and creative menu, which is cool, but that's why I find it strange that people go there for traditional Mayan food as opposed to what it interest dining experience in an attractive setting where there are some elements of Mayan cuisine.

            Plus, it's always annoyed me when I visit places in Mexico that hire non-Spanish speaking people as front line staff.

            1. re: GabachaYucateca

              Playa del Carmen is an anomaly in that english is the common language, over 50%, the remainder is spanish followed by italian and german. Employment restrictions dictate that a high % of employees be native, but numerous restos use their "wild card" to hire attractive english speaking shills to hustle business from the endless street strollers. Which is OK.
              Concerning mayan fare, the Yucatec mayans were screwed out of interior grazing and farmable land a few centuries ago, and were relegated to the inferior "beachfront" land that is too salty and sandy to support either. They became fishermen, now numbering just a few hundred.
              Since 1990 the spanish-mexicans with political control have appropriated much of the now-valuable beachfront back from the mayans, to enable the countless all-inclusives along the Mexican riviera. The ancillary horror stories of how that came about are off topic.
              Back on topic, I don't think there is a range of truly authentic mayan fare that could support a mid to high end resto, without the addition of 'fusions' and 'interpretations', so I personally don't object to the menu at Yaxche. And importantly, no one else is trying, so it's the best that's in the area.
              Also, there is not a problem bringing one's special wines to a local resto that does not feature wine. You should not expect stemware, and bring a corkscrew, too. I have friends in Texas who go to Playa a few times each year, and they travel with a wine chest the size of a coffin.

              1. re: GabachaYucateca

                In Cozumel there's a small restuarant open for dinner on the north sid eof the Plaza, Kintas, which serves Yucatan dishes. Also over by the Corpus Christi church is El Turix which specializes in an every changing menu of Yucatan inspired food, what ever strikes the chef/owner that day is the best way to describe it. For local seafood, back away from the tourist area is Pescadero San Carlos, around Avenida 50. I think it's only open for lunch though.

      2. When I went to the Yaxche the first time in 2002 it was excellent. The next time we went, in 2007 it was mediocre at best. In 2008 we decided to try it again just in case. Terrible food and even worse service. In 2009 we didn't even try it. If you want authentic Mexican, go to El Fogon. It's crowded(mostly with locals), and it's not fancy. But the food is delicious! Oh El Fogon is in Playa.

        1. In Cozumel, The best by far that meets (exceeds) your criteria is the Casa Mission Restaurant. For fresh Fish and Lobster, Coconut Shrimp and ambiance. You don't like you don't pay for it. You will not be disappointed!