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Memorable meal in Playa del Carmen recs?

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: 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.

            1. 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.