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Isla Mujeres eating - trip report

Just got back from nearly 2 weeks on Isla Mujeres. With nothing really pressing to do on the island, most days were spent planning what to eat next. It was a fantastic trip, filled with very very good food. Here are some favourites:

- Velazquez. Up Medina, Velazquez is just about the last seafood place on the beach side of the street. We ate there 3 times and it was always good. Had whole fish, fish fillets, shrimp in garlic mojo and a la diablo - all delicious. Not recommended: garlic crab. Too much work for the amount of meat and besides I cut my finger on one of the shells, making it difficult afterwards to squeeze limes for afternoon Margaritas. Fun, stupid finale to every dinner is the free "tequila" shot the bring around - pink ones for girls, blue ones for boys - topped up with some kind of horrid fizzy drink. You're supposed to down it in one gulp while everyone around says "GO GO GO GO GO!" Hilarious and silly.

- Picus. Another seafood place, nearer to the ferry. Also very good. Not sure which we liked better - both of these places had very fresh, very reasonable fish and shellfish.

- Taqueria Cachirul. Down in Colonia La Gloria. Fantastic tacos, tortas, quesadillas with every topping in the book (plus a few that we couldn't identify). Do not slather your taco in the medium green-brown salsa on the far right like my husband did. I thought he would burst into flames. Fortunately, the very good liquado he had ordered helped somewhat. FYI each liquado comes in two separate glasses, making it essentially two servings. Ridiculously cheap.

- Mercado at Colonia La Gloria. Much better market than the one in El Centro. More vendors with better produce. ALSO the most killer cochinita pibil on Sundays which you buy by weight. Pick up some fresh tortillas, tomatoes, onions, avocados and it's a fantastic lunch.

- Playa Lancheros. Ok this place just tipped us over the edge. We went to spend the day at the beach and have their well known fish "tix n chix" (or whatever it's called) for lunch. There were 6 of us and we all ordered the fish. They called us to the table when the food was ready and someone brought out a gigantic tray with a grilled grouper the size of a coffee table. It was unbelievable. The fish was coated in (I think) achiote paste and other stuff and incredibly good. Even after we all ate as much as we could, there was still as much left as before we started. We took the leftovers back to have for lunch the next day but honestly it was ridiculously huge. If you go there, order half as much fish as you have eaters and you'll still have more than you can finish. I'm sure we didn't spend more than $15 per person, including beers.

- La Lomita. I liked some of it but our friends didn't so much. I think it was the heat - it was a hot evening and the pollo mole and chile rellenos just felt too heavy. Also - and this is just a suspicion here - when I ordered the pollo mole he originally said they were sold out. Then, two seconds later he said we could have it. Ten minutes later a young guy comes running in the front door with a handful of tetra-packs of store-bought mole sauce (he was trying to hide it but I got a glimpse as he passed). I have a hunch that this was maybe an emergency mole run and the chicken tasted a little microwavy. I'd like to go back and give it another try next time but I am suspicious. ALSO - and this I do know for sure - one other day I stopped in by myself for dinner in a rainstorm and had only a chile relleno and a beer and I was overcharged by about double what it should have been. Since I'd only just arrived on Isla, I didn't question it and paid but on the second visit I realized what had happened. I'd like to think it was a mistake.

- El Veradero. This is NOT the place along the Garrafon road, although there's another Veradero restaurant along there. We had originally stopped in for mojitos one afternoon on the way home from the beach. The place is really out of the way and you do have to be looking for it (and asking around) but we eventually found it. The mojitos are excellent. So we decided to go back for dinner another night. It was good - fish and sort of Cubanish sides - lovely vibe with a wooden veranda overhanging the lagoon. Very lively crowd arguing, from what I could gather, about Castro. Very fun.

- Cafe Hidalgo. Not the kind of place I would have picked to go to but one of our friends raved about the crepes there so we went one day. The crepes were delicious and beautifully presented with lovely fresh fruit. On the main pedestrian street - Hidalgo.

- Kash Keken Chuc. Great grilled chicken and pork. Mostly take-out. This place was a five minute walk from where we were staying so we got lunch stuff from there a couple of times. You get a whole grilled chicken with some rice, salad and a weird bean soupish thing for about $8 or so. Along the Garrafon road near the Coca Cola plant.

There were other meals. Other tacos. Other street food. There was one night when my husband had promised this woman that we'd come back to eat at her little place with tables set up on the sidewalk and we had a great meal practically in the middle of the road. She offered everything from tortas and tacos to Chinese and Thai food (we passed on the Asian stuff). I had something called a huarache, which was a homemade tortilla topped with a whole pile of things. It was good and the experience was very funny. The place has no name and there is no way to distinguish it from all the other taquerias and carnitas places on the island except that it's in Salina Chica and her husband cooks everything on a single burner on the sidewalk.

Great breakfast at the mercado in El Centro. One of the 3 food stalls outside the market - Alexy y Giovanny - makes awesome breakfasts with excellent fresh orange juice but bad coffee. Most other days we had breakfast at the house where we were staying with the most outrageously good fresh fruit from the market - mangos, pineapple, papaya, bananas - and yogurt and cheese and fresh juice and good coffee (which we made ourselves). Just for the record, however, it appears to be impossible to get plain, unsweetened yogurt in Mexico. Even the "natural" yogurt, which one might assume is plain, has had sugar added to it. Oh well. It went nicely with the fruit anyway.

I came home with my suitcase full of dried chilies, salsas and a big package of achiote paste (determined to make cochinita pibil). I prayed that the smelling-eye-dog at the airport wouldn't notice me and, fortunately, he wasn't there when we arrived because I'm sure he would have gone nuts. A great trip with great eating.

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  1. Nice food report! You definitely hit some of the good hidden gems on the island. FYI - If you are in the area again and want to get natural yogurt without any sweetener, "Alpura" makes it. It is available "hit and miss" in the regular grocery stores.

    It sounds like you had a great time on the island. Next time, stop in to Mango Cafe and say hello to Lori and Polo. great place!

    2 Replies
    1. re: MicheleinPlaya

      Thanks for the info. We will definitely be back - it's such an easy place to spend a bit of time. Missed Mango Cafe, although it was within walking distance. We did consider it but maybe were put off by the "fusion" aspect of the cooking and the fact that almost every review described it as "interesting". I'm always leery about that kind of thing. Maybe next year - I have heard the folks are nice, which is always a plus.

      1. re: Nyleve

        If you are looking for traditional Mexican cuisine, this is not the place. I would describe the food as "Caribbean" and also DELICIOUS! The owners are super nice and obviously take pride in what they do!

    2. With your achiote paste you can make some wonderful tix-n-chix also, if you can get some good fresh fish. I live in NC and have made it many times - I also had it at Playa Lancheros and loved it!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jeanne

        I am definitely doing that if I can get a good big fish (not easy where I live). But the cochinita pibil is for sure.

        1. re: Nyleve

          When I've made tix-n-chix I've done it with filets - usually grouper but have also used mahi.

      2. Nyleve: when you return to Isla. You will have to try Kash Keken Chuc for dinner. On Friday & Saturday nights they have tamales in addition to their normal menu of tacos, flautas, enchildada de suizas, empanadas, salbutes, ect. It is the same family as the day just different family members! Their tamales are incredible!

        1. I'm so relieved there's good food to be had on Isla Mujeres! We just booked a house for a group of 16 on the island to celebrate a significant birthday which happens to fall on New Year's Eve. I'm already compiling the list of places to consider, and looking through all the old threads, as well. I'm sure I'll be able to find more info in the next couple of months.

          The island has kind of fascinated me for a bit, and seems like it will be a perfect solution for the disparate ages and tolerance level for adventuresome travel within the group. For a few of them, it will be about the first time they've ventured anywhere on vacation outside of an all-inclusive or a cruise. So being able to steer us all in the right direction foodwise will be a big help!

          8 Replies
          1. re: lsmutko

            Nice thing about the island is that it's small and self-contained. Your group can split up and go off in different directions and then meet back up again for meals or whatever. You can, if you want, find noisy nightlife but you can also easily avoid it if you want. The food was great with lots of choices - simple to fancy. The markets were perfect to stock up on lunch necessities and snacks. I'm sure you'll have a great time.

            Oh one more thing. Before you go you should order a Mapchick map of Isla Mujeres. It's sort of a cross between guidebook (which would be overkill, given the size of the island) and map, with restaurants and other points of interest clearly marked. An excellent investment. Just google Mapchick Isla Mujeres and you'll find it.

            1. re: lsmutko

              I totally agree with Nyleve about the MapChick map. You can buy them on the Island but I would recommend you get it ahead of time so you don't have to waste vacation time on planning out your days!

              New Years is a fun time on Isla. The entire Island will still be decorated for Christmas! And the Zocolo (town square) downtown has a big New Year's celebration that goes until the wee hours of the morning!

              A couple places I would recommend for dinners for your group would be a private dinner at Rooster Cafe with Sergio's special chef tasting menu. We did did this with a few groups that came to visit us & they absolutely LOVED it! I am still dreaming about the pork belly cooked three ways. Sergio's email is riquelme03@hotmail.com Another really fun dinner for a group is one of LoLo Lorena's private garden dinner parties. It is a five course meal in her back garden & it feels almost magical. She is originally from Belgium & her flavors are a mixture of Moroccan, French & Mexican. Her hollandaise is to die for! Her website seems to be down but her FB page link is... https://www.facebook.com/event.php?ei... And my final recommendation is Olivia. The owners are from Israel & their Mediterranean food is fabulous. Sitting in their back garden is just lovely. Their website is http://www.olivia-isla-mujeres.com/in... Since the holidays are considered high season & super busy. I would suggest you contact any of the above places if you are interested.

              Another fun place to stop in with a big group is The Soggy Pesos. The bartender, Fredy & his boys are a hoot! The Soggy Peso feels like a Jimmy Buffet hangout. Very relaxed & a lot of fun!

              I am sure you & your friends will have a blast ringing in the New Year & the birthday on Isla!!

              1. re: clienta

                Thank you both!

                The Mapchick map got us around Tulum, beach and pueblo, a couple years ago with a group of four. It's definitely on the must-get list for this trip.

                Does anyone have a rec or know of someone who will come to the villa to cook one dinner? I'm sure the villa manager will have a recommendation, but seeing how this community is dedicated to good food, I'm hoping someone may have something.

                1. re: lsmutko

                  Let me get in touch with the woman who owns the house where we stay - she may know someone. I'll post if I hear anything useful for you.

                  1. re: lsmutko

                    Ismutko: Sergio from Rooster will do private dinners at your accommodations. He just did one for clients of ours & they loved it. Email him & tell him Tiffany from Barlito referred you. (Ironically, there are two Tiffanys living on Isla, the other is a wedding planner.) Since you are a foodie, you would love his food. Ask him about his dinner menu from this past high season. He just changed his dinners at Rooster to more desserts & a lighter menu, very disappointing to us because we loved to go there for date night for his spectacular menus. But for private parties (for people that are referred by friends) he will do his old menu.....lobster in a grapefruit reduction...pork belly three ways....duck....filet mignon w/ huitlacoche sauce...chicken tingas...octopus carpacio....lobster ravioli....truffle gnocchi....deconstructed rocky road ice cream sandwich (the homemade marshmellow was to die for!!). I have got to eat something all this typing is making me hungry!!

                    :)

                    1. re: clienta

                      Oh. My.
                      That sounds so decadent to have it in the house! The birthday celebrant especially enjoys his pork belly. In fact, that whole menu looks like his greatest hits.

                      I so appreciate this!

                      1. re: clienta

                        My contact wasn't able to give me much info except that she suggested the woman who runs LoLo Lorena - a Belgian/French/Mexican place (there's a website for it). And she also said there's a catering company that is run out of Barlitos Restaurant. I know nothing about the quality. If I hear anything else, I'll let you know - but clienta's suggestion sounds extremely promising!

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          I just returned from another trip to Isla Mujeres.

                          Barlitos is an excellent stop for breakfast or lunch. The owners are Americans and have a great deal of knowledge and experience. We were there almost every morning for fresh brewed unsweetened iced tea on our way to North Beach.

                          Other places we love are Qubano (lunch...cuban sandwiches and Hungarian potatoes), CoMoNo (Mediterranean), Mango Cafe and Olivias.

                          For fish down by the water I like Minninos, Velazquez and Bally Hoo.

                          LoLo Lorena's is great fun too!

                          For chile relleno you can't beat La Lomita.

                          If for some reason you are craving pizza then I would suggest Pizza Rock.

                          Eating from the street vendors is great fun especially during the Anniversary of the Island when there are activities night after night in the square and all the vendors are out in full force.

                          If you are lucky find the tamale lady near the ferry in the late afternoon!

                2. I just returned from a relaxing trip to Isla Mujeres. I would agree that planning what to eat next is a constant!

                  - I love Velazquez! The whole snapper there is amazing, and I love the people that work there! I have not had a bad meal here...only a frustrating one when I ordered the crab...

                  - Most lunches were eaten at the chicken place on Hidalgo. They have excellent roasted chicken with rice, onions, beans, tortillas and red sauce. A whole chicken is $8, you really can`t go wrong!

                  - If your staying close to the center Taqueria Medina has excellent tacos! I tried all that they have and they are all delicious! The place is open from 5 or 6pm

                  - Mango`s Cafe is wonderful. A small menu, but after trying everything on the lunch menu I would recommend it all!

                  - Fredy`s, almost the last place on Hidalgo heading towards the beach. He is a character on his own and worth the visit just to talk to him, but the food is delicious and fresh as well.

                  - La Lomita, it is a cute place with some tasty food.

                  - Alexy y Giovanny closest place to the street off the market, makes good food...it seems to always be packed as well!

                  Luckily this time at the island I only have one bad review. There is a new restaurant that`s opened up on Hidalgo - Lola Valentina`s. Apparently it is the same owner as Mango`s but the two are like night and day. We ordered a few appitizeres to try it out and were all disgusted. The food lacked seasoning, and flavor. The meat was indistinguishable. We got the stuffed chiles - it was like they took all the spice and flavor out of the chile and stuffed it with meat from the blender covered with velveeta cheese....it was all gross! I would not recommend this place in any way, it is over -priced and lacking flavor. Not to mention our waiter had our plates cleared away before our food was even finished! Did anyone else try this place yet.

                  mmmmm, I can`t wait to go back there!

                  1. Go find Tino's the Rib Man .. on Matamoros Ave. You'll be able to see the smoke rising over a wall in that part of town. Outstanding pork ribs/chicken and sauces to go only. Open Sundays only. Make a point to get a sack of ribs and then head to the beach for the day.....You're welcome!

                    1. Adding random recent (Jan 2012) experiences.

                      Favourite ceviche: Cockteleria Minninos (a few minutes north of the ferry dock). We tried 3 others along the same strip and it stood out so we went back a number of times. Ok at Picus and Bally-hoo and less than ok at Velasquez.
                      Olivia: Went twice. Very good Mediterranean. Decent wine selection (for Mexico), good cocktails. Good service. We seemed to prefer the appetizers over the mains for more flavour and vegetables. Excellent harissa.
                      Lola's: Good service but disappointing food. Everything seemed to have overly sweet sauces and very toned down flavours. Even the drinks were too sweet. That said, the seniors in our group enjoyed it.
                      Desi y Raul's: At the south end of the colonia, a bit difficult to find but worth seeking out. We had fabulous sopa de lima, sopes and tacos. Very inexpensive. One of our favorites.
                      Jax: Went to watch NFL playoffs otherwise it should have been avoided. Service was dismissive and far from friendly. "Famous burger" was edible, fish tacos were not. Very cheap tequila evident in the margaritas.
                      Villa Rolandi: Strange to have good Italian food in Mexico but it was quite good. Lovely view on the water. Excellent wine list with a really good prosecco. Fresh pasta had great texture, carpaccio and ceviches were very fresh and well seasoned. Great service. A bit spendy but we thought it was reasonable for what we got.
                      Playa Tiburon: Whole grilled fish on the beach. Ask what the fish of the day is. Around $15 per person, we ordered for 3 for 6 people and couldn't finish it. The sides included tortillas, cabbage salad, rice and spaghetti. Next time we would ask for only the tortillas and salad.
                      Zama beach club: A good place to spend the afternoon if it is windy or cloudy on the north beach. Decent drinks, good ceviche and guacamole.
                      Loncheria San Martin: The second stall at the loncherias by the market. We had breakfast or lunch here frequently. My favorite chili rellenos. Another good breakfast place was La Cazuela M&J, good fresh juices, the spinach cazuela and crepes were favourites.
                      La Lomita: Not as good as previous visits. Greasy chili rellenos, bland guacamole. We did have a good whole fried fish here though.
                      El Peublito: At the south end by garrafon park. Nice service and cute location but disappointing food. Shrimp was freezer burnt, chicken tacos on stale flour tortillas.
                      Soggy Peso: We happened to go on rib day (different bbq served every day). Excellent, Texas style. Good sides. Fantastic and very potent margaritas. Freddy was very helpful in arranging a reasonable half day fishing trip.
                      A random place on Juarez just south of the main square, no name that I could tell. There was a bright orange handwritten sign in the window advertising food. Small place filled mostly with locals getting take away. Excellent breakfast and panuchos. Also had a very good spicy empanada.
                      Taqueria Medina: Fast service, good for a quick bite. Pork tacos and the nachos were favourites.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: h2o

                        Great report - thanks. We're heading down there next week. Any possible way you can describe how to find Desi y Raul's? We stay in a place along the Caribbean side road near Aeropuerto, so have explored the colonias a bit. I think La Lomita is off my list after last year's mediocre experience and your report - they may be slacking off some.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          We stay in the same area. Heading south from there it is on the major north/south street inland from the caribbean side road that runs along the east side of the lagoon. Part of the road is divided with a large meridian, it is near the south end of that road on a north east corner. When we asked people in the street they described it as the green restaurant (it has a green door). I seem to remember La Gloria English School nearby. Hopefully that helps! It really was fantastic food and a lovely family running it. After you get your food you can take it up to the counter where there is a variety of hot sauces and sides (great potatoes) to add. It was the closest we could find to the taco stands that used to be at the ballpark.

                          1. re: h2o

                            That's great. This is absolutely on our list. I know the road well. We'll often walk down to La Gloria to go to the mercado or to Cachirul for tacos. Where the road divides alongside the lagoon, the east lanes are slightly higher than the west ones - right?

                            1. re: Nyleve

                              Yes, that's the road. And if you want to try the small place on Juarez it is across the street from the municipal office (blue paint).

                              1. re: h2o

                                Thanks very much. Counting the hours.

                      2. 2012 update. Just back from a week on Isla and had a wonderful time, as always, with great food and good weather (!!!). We revisited many of our usual favourite spots with a couple of additions and subtractions. There's just never enough time to explore the food on that island.

                        Thanks to h2o, we found Deysi and Raul's in Colonia la Gloria and had some great stuff. I'm going to apologise in advance for my bad memory because I can't remember exactly what we ate but we definitely had enchiladas suizas - delicious - and something else that wasn't exactly tacos but looked similar, made with beef. I can't recall the name in Spanish. The toppings they offered were all very fresh and delicious and clearly homemade. The frijoles and pico de gallo were standouts. If we were staying longer, we'd definitely have gone back.

                        Other meals at Velazquez (good snapper), the Social Justice place (really good fish tacos for lunch), Mininos (good shrimp and excellent ceviche). We picked up cochinita pibil on Sunday at the La Gloria mercado (murderously good) and I got some carnitas from a place off the bay-side road, on a side street that runs beside the Toyota dealer. REALLY excellent (thank you Holly Eats). Also had great street tacos during Carnaval from someone set up on the basketball court in Centro, and a wonderful breakfast at Alexy y Giovanny at the mercado in Centro.

                        BIG development for any old Isla visitors is the fact that there's now a big superstore - groceries, housewares, electronics, clothing - called Chedraui which will fulfill most grocery needs and has a good liquor aisle. As with many things in Mexico, supply is unpredictible - one day they had no avocados (WHAT???) the next day they had a 6-foot stack of crates of them. Sometimes no mangoes or limes at all, other days a mountain of both. Oh well - the little tiendas near where we stay are always supplied with the essentials. And I must say I prefer the small independent tortilleria to the one at the superstore even if it does cost an extra peso. Bought home 2 kg. of tortillas to freeze - I know they'll never be the same as fresh but they still beat having no corn tortillas at all.

                        Great little trip, great little island, fab food. We'll be back.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Nyleve

                          The carnitas place up from the Toyota place is Carnitas Esperanza. I think they have the best pork on the Island.

                          As for Chedraui, I don't think they have figured out how to keep up with the demand just yet. Everyone on the Island & all the restaurant owners go daily to pick up groceries specifically fruits & vegetables. They often run out of the more popular items. We are all hoping one of these days they figure it out! It is still way better than the quality & selection at the Super Express!

                          1. re: clienta

                            Right about the carnita place! It is fantastic. And I did see people leaving Chedraui with carts piled sky-high with cases of stuff so I know that shopkeepers are buying from there.

                            Another thing. And this is bothering me a little, although I guess I shouldn't be surprised really. When we were got off the ferry at Puerto Juarez there was a guy waiting to get on with a stack of cases of frozen fish fillets - pangasius - imported from Vietnam. So sadly, when you get those delicious fish tacos and other things, there's a good chance that it's neither local nor even domestic. And I'm always wary of farmed fish from Asia so this is doubly unfortunate. Oh well. I guess there's no way supplying all the little restaurants with cheap fish unless you use frozen imported farmed fillets.