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Memorable meal in Playa del Carmen recs?

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Fellow foodies,
I have read endless posts on Playa restaurants (and have used the great info to create a foodie agenda) but I am still not confident that I have found the 1 memorable dinner I am seeking. Many recommended places seemed to have closed (e.g. John Gray's). Here is my deal... Visiting is Feb 2012. I'll mostly be with kids under 10 but have 1 night out with the wife. I'm seeking haute cuisine in Playa. We prefer eclectic, local food experiences. Budget is not a concern. Note: taking kids to Alux so that is off the list. Promise to post my feedback.

Thanks!

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  1. The closest you will find to haute cuisine in PDC after Cocina 38 and Negrosal closed is Yaxche, unless you are willing to drive to John Gray's Kitchen in Puerto Morelos or to Tulum, but the drive home after dinner is a downer. Yaxche is very pricey and portions are smallish, be forewarned. But you can enjoy a nice range of tastes and presentations, even if some of their fusions and Mayan inspirations are a bit curious.
    I'm pleased that Alux has re-opened; the kids will love it.

    19 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      Hiya Veggo,
      I'm curious about Alux. The few times we were there, years ago, it seemed, ahhh, quiet. Is it doing well, business wise? Just curious.

      1. re: porker

        porker, I hope so but I don't know. It was "closed for remodeling" for a long time, and we know what that usually means. I think it is one of the most unique and incredible places in the Yucatan. It infuriates me when people bitch about the food or the fans or humidity or whatever. IT'S A CAVE, or more accurately a labyrinth of caves. When it first opened, I think in 1996 when I first lived in Playa, it was called "Mil Y un Alux", a thousand and one elves.

        1. re: Veggo

          hehe, I am one of the people who bitch about the humidity. I don't actually bitch, per say, as I realize it IS a cave, but I do warn people about it.
          I agree it is incredible and I think the idea of putting a restaurant in there is genius. Only thing is when its hot, I can't sit and eat a proper dinner, cave or no cave. So my bitchin is more self-critical.

          More on-topic to Gmanny. Its been a few years since we've been to Playa (been going since the 80s) and maybe things have changed but,
          Based only on my experiences, you might be surprised on where you find a #1 memorable dinner (or likely where you don't). Sure, we all want that one defining, romantic meal we'll remember for years. Its also on your mind as you troll the town, looking at one promising place after another. The places on and around 5th avenue will seduce you; they're gorgeous with sexy staff and great looking menus. 9 times out of 10, you'll end up saying "meh".
          Yaxche is a great concept - a modern, professional take on ancient Mayan cuisine. The chef and resto won plenty awards for this and plenty of people REALLY like this place, so yeah, definitely check it out. It just wasn't for me (I'm not that into haute), although I had one of the best soups ever here.
          I guess what I'm saying is don't be surprised if your truly memorable dinner comes from a hole-in-the-wall kind of place!

          Oh, and please report back!

      2. re: Veggo

        Apparently, John Gray's Kitchen has closed the Tulum location.

        1. re: DagnyTaggart

          Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. John Gray's Kitchen in Puerto Morelos was his first, then PDC, then the Hotel Zone in Cancun. The PDC location closed, and he never had a location in Tulum.

        2. re: Veggo

          Hi Veggo,
          I asked you this just a moment ago in an old thread entitled "Playa del Carmen-5 nights". It is an old thread and my post is sandwiched among many others. So I will re-ask here as it is a more recent thread!

          Does this place still exist?:
          "Best street food: 30 ave and 30st, under the blue tarp. Thursday through Sunday mornings, they do a suckling pig and the tortas are incredible. Go early, it's sold out by noon."

          1. re: benila

            When are you going? It is spotty in the off season but worth a try if you have a car. There is another lechon cart operation 1 block South of Constituentes, on the west side of 307, around the corner from Covi. Several of the food carts at the end of Juarez by the square have lechon, but it is often greasy and inferior to the 30th & 30th guy. He'll give you tender pig with a piece of chicharron that has a little crunch, a bit of habanero sauce, on a fresh bolillo.

            1. re: Veggo

              June 5 - 15

              1. re: benila

                You may consider renting a car in Playa for a few days to check out all the good things beyond walking distance, and up and down 307. They are really cheap off season, and for that length of time you can see/ do a lot.

                1. re: Veggo

                  If you get a car IN JUNE make sure you get AC...and don't lock the keys in the car while it cools down.....

                  1. re: porker

                    The summers in Q. Roo are indeed sweltering, but the sea is so calm and the diving is great. I need AC at night. I don't know how guests can stand it in Tulum on summer nights, where almost no place has AC. Most summer visitors to Tulum are europeans.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      We visited in June a few years back. Quite cheap condos available in Playa del Italia. Days are fun as you spend time in the shade at the beach, or by a pool. Nights, yeah, AC is needed.
                      My biggest difficulty was evening dinner, before the heat of the day fully disipates. Back at the cool room getting ready for supper, having a cocktail or two, you kinda forget the heat - even think of wearing pants and a shirt. You leave all refreshed, looking for a place to have a drink then a meal, but a block away, you're soaking wet, thinking pants and a shirt is absurd...
                      It takes a bit of acclimatizing.

              2. re: Veggo

                I tried the blue tarp at 30 and 30, but didn't really care for the lechon. The BEST lechon I have found, without a doubt (actually, the best food I have ever had the good fortune to eat), is at a place on Donaldo Colosio almost to the Highway. If you are on Donaldo Colosio heading toward the highway, it is in about the last block on the right. The name is Kruji Pollo. IT IS AMAZING!!! Great pork and ladies making corn tortillas to order!!

                1. re: weedmeyer

                  Sounds interesting. I wonder if Veggo is familiar with this place??

                  1. re: chowhounder411

                    Yes. I prefer the tortas de lechon, con chicharonnes, under the tarp @ 30 & 30. Early. Pollo is not ready until about 11:30. We are talking piglets here. Last week was too long ago.

            2. re: Veggo

              Hi veggo: I have read many of your posts on Chowhound re the Playa area, and you answered one of mine some time ago. My wife and I are celebrating her 65th birthday and visiting Playa for the 1st time Nov 25-Dec1. We are foodies and appreciate great and interesting food , no matter what the decor, but do want at least a couple of nice places which have both decor and great food. From various sources and taking some of your earlier suggestions, I have come up with the following dinners (we are staying at El Taj and get breakfast include daily). Los Aguachilles, Kaxapa Factory (maybe lunch or dinner), Luna Maya (over Yaxche..better reviews), Oh Lala, Imprevest, Drupas 38, Il Pescatore da Illeanu and for her bday ,Casa Mediterrenea. I had La Mission on the list, but I think you went there recently and said it looked rundown and had gone downhill. I figured maybe Alux for drinks, as I heard the decor is not to be missed but the food pretty average and overpriced. I was also considering a cooking class one evening, either at our condo or the school and Co.cos and Food Motion seem recommended on the web.

              So my questions are: any on the list that you think I should avoid? Any not on my list that you really recommend? Do you know anything about these cooking schools or others? Thanks so much. I hope to hear from you soon. andymagles@gmail.com

              1. re: andym

                Aguachiles is excellent - I have yet to find a menu like it with so many wonderful raw, smoked and cooked seafood options anywhere else I've ever traveled. I only went to the one in the north side of town by all the new condo developments and it was not nice for special occassions if that's what you seek - plastic tables and chairs if I recall correctly and only one wall with empty beer bottles for decorations. Their location around 5th ave in the middle of Playa seemed nicer but was busy, loud and young - up to you whether that's agreeable or not

                1. re: andym

                  I think La Pesca for good food and a comfortable setting is the best in town.

                  1. re: andym

                    Andy, Como Como gets very good comments, although I have not been to it but it is said to be one of the best in town.
                    El Taj is very near the Martini Bar on First Avenue, a very comfortable, civilized spot to have a cocktail. Grecko, the dutch owner, is one of the coolest guys in Playa. Alux is worth a visit. There are a number of stairsteps at the cave entrance, but they are wide, safe, well-lit, and with rails. I just turned 60, these things matter...The floors throughout the catacomb of rooms are all level and safe. I think it is an incredible place.

                2. If Luna Maya is still open (which I believe it still is) I reccomend this for your nicer meal. Price is similar to Yaxche (where I had an awful meal a few years ago before it moved) and the food was quite good. The restaurant is on the second floor and has a lovely balcony and a very romantic feel. Its on 5th and 38th, so any easy walk if you are staying in the tourist zone.

                  1. I would recommend Luna Maya over Yaxche for a fine dining experience. They have a nice wine list and the food is a very upscale take on regional cuisine. Also recommended is Como Como. We try to go once a week! Also notable are La Casa de Agua and Drupa 38 which took over the space previously occupied by Cocina 38.

                    If you dont mind a quick cab ride, try to book a table at The Tides Riviera Maya or head up to Saffron at Banyan Tree.

                    1. I ate at Maya Luna last night and it was great. We shared three apps, all terrific, especially the duck. As it is a block or so past the pedestrian-only zone of 5th, the balcony was lovely and fairly quiet, a nice change from the frenzy. We will definitely return to explore more of their menu.

                      1. I was there earlier this month and had a terrific experience and meal at a 1-yr.-old restaurant called Ulam (?): Maya cuisine (including prehistoric tacos--maguey worms, grasshoppers, etc.), well prepared, great service, reasonable prices, macaws. It is near the main gate to Playacar Phase 1, and near the Playa Palace hotel.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: gerchak198

                          Uh... anything beyond worms and grasshoppers there that you can recommend? Also, can you confirm or recollect the exact name? Is it in the center across from the Veracruz restaurant on 10th Ave.? Thanks.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            I think that is Xulam which is in that really cool, jungly location exactly on the corner where you turn right into Phase 1....just past Plaza Antigua. It has changed hand so many times over the past few years. I'll heard some good things but never made it in to see for myself.

                            1. re: MicheleinPlaya

                              Thanks, Michele, I think I know the spot - there are a few dry cenotes and a couple mini Mayan ruins in that area - probably the only reasons it hasn't been paved over and the banyan trees cut down.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                That's the spot! It's a super cool set up. Businesses just don't seem to last there.

                                1. re: MicheleinPlaya

                                  Interesting web site and pretty good reviews - I'll try it sometime, although it's hard to walk by Veracruz and pass up the shrimp broth and ceviche mixto there.

                            2. re: Veggo

                              Xulam is the name. My tamer companions enjoyed steaks, shrimp, ceviche, etc. Glad the others below seemed to think it was good as well.

                          2. Thanks to all. Here is a trip report as promised.

                            100% Natural (near 5th and 10th) - Lunch - fresh fruit and smoothies in a beautiful oasis off of the bustle of 5th Ave shopping. Vegetarian pita with hummus and a thick sour yogurt was a standout. Service was very slow but we were in no hurry on a hot day.

                            Alux (dinner) - As advocated by Veggo, it is not often one gets to eat in a cave which certainly made it memorable and worth the experience. The cave is amazing. The meal itself was forgettable and pricey for the quality. All dishes we had (4 total) were blah to just OK. Drinks were weak and uninspired.

                            El Tabano - Lunch in Tulum - Exceptional!! What a treasure. We went out of our way to eat here twice. An elderly women from Veracruz runs the simple kitchen in a tropical garden setting. Herbs are drying in the sun and complex aromas fill the air. The menu is written on a chalkboard by a very laid back staff. The fact that my 5 year old asked the waiter if he was Jesus and my wife's first impression was that they didn't seem to know if they were open pretty much sums it up. But on to the food... Standout dishes included a cold cucumber, avocado & mint soup, meatballs in a spicy cinnamon bean sauce and a beautiful chile stuffed with mildly spicy mixed vegetables and cashews for texture. All washed down with the best margaritas I have had (a spicy cucumber).

                            Luna Maya - Dinner (5th and 38th) - This restaurant has a beautiful setting overlooking 5th Ave. The outdoor seating is slightly better suited for lounging than eating. The wait staff was very knowledgable and attentive. We had tinga chicken tostadas as an appetizer and it was absolutely fantastic (A+). 2nd course was a hibiscus flower & goat cheese salad (B+) and an ultra smooth black bean soup with goat cheese and tortillas (A). 3rd course was a red snapper with midnight black rice and bananas (A). Dessert was a moist corn flour cake (B). All dishes had beautiful presentation.

                            La Cuerva del Chango - late B-fast (near 5th and 38th) - Frustratingly incompetent staff and the fact that they only take cash dampened what would have otherwise been a wonderful B-fast. We had fresh squeezed juices, scrambled eggs with an excellent mole sauce, fruit crepes with yogurt and honey, fresh toast with cinnamon and plum compote, wonderful homemade naturally flavored devils food cakes.

                            La Tarraya - dinner (5th and 2nd) - This restaurant was an easy walk via the beach from Playacar. It was a very good meal for a great value (900 pesos for 3 adults and 3 kids with drinks). Our feet were in the sand, the beers were cold and a guitar player had my kids happily dancing under a palm tree. Not much choice here but the fresh fish of the day (grouper for us) can be prepared 4 or 5 different ways. I enjoyed the Tarraya sauce. Calamari was fresh and tasty though a bit soggy. The chips and salsa were addictive.

                            Xulum - near the entrance to Playacar Phase I - Just got takeout from here because it was easy. This establishment is obviously a bit of gimmick and 2 out of 3 of the dishes were lame. I have to admit that the BBQ beef tacos were quite good (A). Alas, I chose not to try the grasshopper or other insect tacos. My kids liked conversing with the parrot.

                            Como Como - dinner (5th and 39th) - Quant place (maybe 30 seats). Very nice wine list. Flavorful bruschetta, lentil and quinoa salad (A+), smoked salmon in filo (B), spinach raviolis in a truffle oil (unfortunately B+ for being a bit overcooked) and a homemade spaghetti with lobster (A) only because the portion was a bit small.

                            So, what do I think I will remember in 10 years? I would say, in order, El Tabano for the beautiful food and setting, Alux for the setting and Luna Maya for a very nice and romantic dining experience.

                            Thanks again to all for the recommendations!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Gmanny

                              It is courtesy like yours that makes contributing to this board a pleasure. Glad you had a good trip.

                              1. re: Gmanny

                                So excited for El Tabano in Tulum!! - Thank you

                                1. re: Gmanny

                                  I think this will be helpful for my upcoming trip. Thanks for the great write up

                                2. We are heading to PDC (Maroma Hotel) next week with 10 people. Need to make dinner reservations at a few places. Luna Maya is one.

                                  Between, ComoComo and Drupa 38, are there any recent reviews? Any other must haves for nicer/fine dining, best all around dining experience in PDC - Mexican or International? How are the restaurants at Maroma? How about Saffron @ Banyan Tree? Or another Mayakoba restaurant?

                                  Tulum may be too far for us. Thanks everyone for any and all feedback!!!

                                  14 Replies
                                  1. re: dwl773

                                    Maroma is about as fancy as it gets on the MayaRiv and you have most of the high end places covered. Check out www.xulam.com.mx for upscale mayan. Wicky's (www.wickysplayadelcarmen.com) is a beautiful spot, pricey for sure, you may or may not agree with the value there.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      Hey Veggo, any news recs please? I'm coming down Tuesday, Tulum and Playa. Your recs last time proved fruitful.

                                      1. re: chowhounder411

                                        411, I didn't go this autumn - this time I'll rely on your reports! I would gravitate to the tried-and trues that have stood the test of time, plus the lunch and bar food at Zenzi is pretty good. Buen provecho y buen viaje!

                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          I was sick the entire time but I managed two meals worthy of mention on the Chow boards...

                                          La Fisheria - This brand new restaurant is from a "celebrity chef" (meaning he's not in the kitchen) in Mexico with a restaurant in Houston apparently. The operation is ROUGH. We ordered 4 different things before we got to one they had the main ingredient for. Out of raw tuna? Shame. Nice seafood cocktail, overly seasoned ceviche, overcooked fish. I would've ordered differently but they had nothing. If it survives a year, I would consider going.

                                          Aguachiles - this is the first time I went to the one on Constituyentes and it is just as awesome as the original. This is one of my favorite restaurants ever. We tried the arroz con hugo this time, seafood fried rice - holy s***. It was loaded with octopus, shrimp and calamari. Amazing. The seafood here is so freaking fresh. This place is awesome. I should have eaten every meal here.

                                          1. re: chowhounder411

                                            I'm sorry your were ill. Nice report on Aguachiles. As to La Fisheria, SO many slick new places come and go, I prefer to go with the time-tested winners and I avoid the foreign-themed, except for Babes and Byblos which I like.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Fisheria had some very cool items on the menu though like pork shank. I don't see pork shank on menus enough. Oddly enough, I saw it on a menu in Tulum as well. I love how much Mexicans love pork

                                              1. re: chowhounder411

                                                Best lechon in the world.

                                                1. re: chowhounder411

                                                  Love the pickled pig feet plus the chicharrone sold BY THE SHEET right outta Wallmart (sorry Chedraui does not carry this...)

                                                   
                                      2. re: dwl773

                                        I would not recommend Xulum. It's all show IMO. In addition, it is a bit outside of the 5th ave pedestrian area which could dampen a festive mood.

                                        Como Como was excellent but note they may be very challenged to host a party of 10 since the restaurant only seats about 30 total.

                                        Luna maya sounds ideal for you. There are plenty of places on and around 5th with mediocre food and music for your large party.

                                        1. re: Gmanny

                                          "There are plenty of places on and around 5th with mediocre food and music for your large party."
                                          Gmanny, you have me laughing out loud! I don't think that's what he's looking for.
                                          I noticed above you tried Xulam for take out, but didn't eat there. I'm sorry if it is showy, because that is what turns off the former Yaxche customers. Both of their web sites are eerie. I haven't been to Xulam yet, but some of my Playa friends give it good marks, FWIW.

                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            Veggie,
                                            True, I only got takeout but walked by there many nights on the way back to Playacar and struck up a few conversations with patrons. How about you give the various insect tacos a try and report back? ;)

                                            1. re: Gmanny

                                              I don't eat critters that fly into fires or light bulbs, and I can work around that tourist item on the menu. The ceviche options at Xulam sound interesting, and no doubt expensive, but I have enjoyed the ceviche mixto across the street at Veracruz for over 20 years. ( they moved once). I lived in phase uno also, and that little area with a couple cenotes and banyans is a nice respite, and there is a little mayan ruin in there, too. Skip the bugs and sit a while, you may leave with a better opinion. Buen provecho.

                                          2. re: Gmanny

                                            Thanks. ComoComo has confirmed our group.

                                            We aren't looking for mediocre food and music. But thanks for playing.

                                            1. re: dwl773

                                              That's good news! I think you will enjoy!

                                              Veggo and all ceviche lovers should get yourself over to Manigua on calle 40 between 5th and 10th. Now, by far, the best ceviche, cocktails and seafood in Playa! No ambiance to speak of, SUPER clean and bright, the freshest fish I have had ever.

                                        2. Try Como Como. Make a reservation though, they fill up quickly in high season.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: mexloco

                                            Aguachiles is still the meal we talk about a year later. They were serving dishes we have never encountered before, several of our favorite kinds of Mexican dishes, extremely fresh ingredients and at reasonable prices which is always a bonus.

                                            1. re: chowhounder411

                                              By aguachiles, do you mean a prawn dish or crawfish (or something else)?

                                              1. re: porker

                                                Los Aguachiles is a restaurant with two locations in PDC. Aguachile is a raw shrimp dish similar to ceviche but the shrimp is dressed just prior to serving so as NOT to cook them. Aguachiles served this dish with scallops also and several different variations of dressing. I didn't know what it was when I ordered it and never considered eating raw shrimp before but it was excellent though I still prefer raw scallops

                                                1. re: chowhounder411

                                                  I just asked as I made crawfish for a Mexican friend who hailed from Oaxaca. He called them aguachiles (his 10 year old daughter called them cucarachas).

                                          2. My husband and I are actually going next week for our anniversary. We're also foodies that would like a very nice meal (where budget is not a concern). I'd prefer fine dining (with local cuisine) if possible, but my husband is all about the best food possible. Where did you end up going? What would you recommend? Thanks!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: RuthieDC

                                              Hi RuthieDC,

                                              What were your thoughts and recommendations? We're heading there next week and I just can't find much online.
                                              Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.