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Oct 30, 2012 12:31 PM

Long Weekend in Playa del Carmen.

I have been doing some research on PDC and have a huge list of places, thanks largely to Veggo and Porker, but some others as well. My issue is that my list is TOO huge. I am heading down this weekend from Thursday to Monday. I will have a car. We are staying at Mahekal. I will likely only be able to escape the resort a few times. I am very much into traditional food and eat everything. So if I can do just a few things what are the must dos?

Ideas so far:

I am very interested in the carts by the church at 5th and Juarez, but is that the same as the blue tarp at 30 and 30? Doesn't sound like it.

La Mission in Cozumel if I can get there, Bamba Jarocha if not and Bob's for shrimp tacos for dessert, again if i get to Coz.

Carnitas Teresita. I am fanatic about chicharron.

Taqueria Gomez. This sounds fun. Brains!

La Floresta para tacos con camerones.

El Tabano based on the recent ravings.

So, how is that list? Should I make any substitutions or am I missing anything?

Thanks very much!

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  1. Ask around if anyone does Kastacan (deep fried fresh pork belly). Its slightly different from traditional chicharron, but if you can get it hot&fresh, you'll fall in love.

    3 Replies
    1. re: porker

      Those sounds awesome. Any clues on finding them?

      1. re: sekelmaan

        Sorry to get back this late - maybe you're already on your way, un-plugged, and in vacation mode!
        I saw kastacan all over Merida and Progresso, but not much in other places, making me think its somewhat regional to Yucatan in general and maybe to Merida specifically.
        I'd ask "locals" in places like Playa or Tulum or Cancun about it. Most people wouldn't know what I was talking about - but it turned out these people weren't local at all. They came from places like Chetumal, Campeche, or even Veracruz to work...
        Once in a while, I'd come across a Mayan Yucateco far from home and mention kastacan (it was new to me - I was infatuated with it...still am, can u tell?) and they'd get a dreamy look in their eye, as if looking towards the horizon.
        "Ahhhhh si", they'd say, knowingly, "kast-a-CAN, si, SI. Muyyyyyy rico!"

        So where to find in PDC? I dunno, you'll have to ask around. If someone is making it, its likely for locals originally from the Merida area and likely a hole-in-the-wall kinda place.

        Let us know your adventures!

      2. re: porker

        I found a number of stalls selling kastacan in Mercado 23 in the Centro part of Cancun. There were about 5 or so stands, all next to each other, all selling the same thing - chicharron y castakan (this is how it was spelled on the stand we bought it from). We were there later in the afternoon, so I don't think it was quite as hot and fresh as it would be in the am. It reminded me a lot of fried chicken skin, oddly enough. These stands all also seemed to be selling the same two types of stew like items - one had various shellfish items, the other was less identifiable - perhaps menudo? There appeared to be offal of some sort in it. I don't speak spanish really, so I didn't ask a ton of questions, it was enough just to ask and pay for the castakan :)

        The market itself was really cool, and I think I saw about 2 other gringos the whole 1-2 hours we spent walking around. We also bought a variety of mexican quesos from a shop run by a really helpful guy who spoke a little english and let us try samples before we bought, and some AMAZING fresh tortillas that were pressed out right before our eyes. 15 pesos for 1 KG of fresh tortillas - probably some of the best tortillas I've ever had. Needless to say, we have fixings for awesome quesadillas for the remainder of our stay :)

      3. There are 6 carts @ 5th and Juarez thar sell an economical variety of tacos and tortas and juices. Most are pretty good, but unremarkable. The lechon @ 30th & 30th under the blue tarp is especially good, because the meat is cut off when you order and the chicharron has a nice crisp because the meat is not stewing in a lot of juices like the carts on Juarez. You need to go before 10:00.
        I had 3 meals last month at La Pesca on 30th Ave. between 16&18 that were superior. One was fresh conch ceviche, I could hear them pounding the conch after I put in my order, and it was more than I could finish so I had the rest for lunch the next day. A couple days later I went back for caracol al mojo de ajo, grillled conch with garlic. Delicious. A couple days later i went with 2 friends for whole fried boquinette. Our server, Rodolfo, brought out a tray of fresh fish for us to select from, we chose 3 large, super-fresh boquinette that were cooked perfectly and served with side sauces of a Veracruz and one of crunchy garlic in liquid that was delicious, similar to the garlic sauce at Cueva del Pescador in Akumal. The owner, Antonio, does an excellent job and is on the scene to assure customer satisfaction.
        I stopped one night at La Mission on 10th Ave near Juarez and didn't stay. They had neither conch nor boquinette that day, and the place was looking a bit threadbare. It's not in an attractive part of town. Same ownership as the 2 Missions in Cozumel, but they have slipped since older days.
        La Floresta is one of those old original reliable steady constants. It's just too bad that it now is in the shadows of the elevated highway. I had a giant lobster grilled with butter and garlic at La Tarraya that was just OK but I have liked the place for 16 years.
        Finally, I went to La Bamba Jarocha 2 times for boquinette. It's not big on ambience but they cook fish perfectly. The side order I get of Veracruz sauce is the size of a bowl of soup, and there is no charge for it.
        Buen provecho!

        4 Replies
          1. re: sekelmaan

            One more good one, surprisingly on 5th Ave. - Tropical between 8&10. Gerardo the owner arranged for 3 beautiful off-menu dinners of chiles en nogada, my favorite Mexican dish which is now out of season. On another night I had a tender tummy, and he had the cook prepare a chicken breast with vegetables, finished with Xtabentun, a sweet honey-licorice Yucatan apertif. It was very good, the right meal. He is welcome to challenging special requests. Tables on 5th Ave in that area are a delight this time of year.

            1. re: Veggo

              I already see myself there tomorrow night. Thank you very much!

          2. re: Veggo

            I just sampled the blue tarp at 30 & 30 and it is a true delight. Even the bus drivers stop and have orders delivered right to their window. One of the best pork sandwiches I have had in PDC.
            La Floresta is also another gem. The crab taco for any crab lover is a must. I thank you for your advice.
            Another nice gem we found was La Exquista de la 38 at 5th and 38. Old Mayan recipes in a nice setting.

          3. We are long back. I have been busy and not written anything yet. We went down for a wedding and it was just too too busy to really explore. I will write about the few places we got to.

            Los Portocales in PDC. Decent taqueria, but nothing mind blowing. They had freshly made arrachera and chorizo and those were great. Also had like a gallon sized horchata.

            El Rey Del Mondongo in Tulum. This was recommended to us. We had great octopus and shrimp tacos and fantastic arrachera.

            Cocotte in Cita in PDC. This is a tiny French place near Mahekal. We went one night because it was the first place we saw. We almost walked away when we saw it was french, but luckily the owner said hi and kinda forced us in to chairs. It was an incredible meal. He makes everything. We had fresh made bread, egg in coccotte, fois gras, duck in orange, filet mignon and a chocolate souffle-ish thing. It was an excellent meal and a tremendous value compared to the same meal in the states. It was one of those rare places where the passion for the food shows in the food. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

            Sadly, as you can guess I had no pork. I failed on both chicharron and kastracan and believe me I asked a lot. Often we would end up walking in circles and never find the place and just end up somewhere else.

            Thank you both so much for your great help in this area. I hope I get to go back someday just do have more time to explore the food in the region.


            15 Replies
            1. re: sekelmaan

              Haha! I just remembered a funny story thinking about walking in circles. We saw a guy eating a beautiful pozole out of a plastic quart container. We asked where he bought it. He said he wouldn't tell us, but he would go get us one for 10 bucks. It was great. We walked away laughing, but still a little sad on the inside as it looked great.

              1. re: sekelmaan

                I guess the guy wasn't a 'hound...maybe a chowshark...

              2. re: sekelmaan

                Sekelmaan, as long as you had a good time and good eats, that's what counts. PDC is a popular place for weddings. I have attended numerous of them, and I know how difficult it is to stick to plans there when there a lot of pre-arranged functions.
                But you WILL go back. Nobody visits Playa only once!

                1. re: Veggo

                  Hi again Veggo..Here is my latest list for dinners for my trip to Playa next week. I am trying to get the best food possible, regardless of decor (except for one night) and price). I am staying at El Taj, get breakfasts included and probably would not go out for lunch, except maybe once or twice: birthday dinner: Casa mediterrenea and Alux for drinks..other nights: Los Aguachiles, Il Pescatore da Illeano, Luna Maya, Oh Lala, Imprevest, Drupas 38, maybe Kaxapa Factory (or possible lunch) maybe Yaxche instead of one of the others... What do you think? Any you would NOT recommend? Any big misses that I did not include? I like all types of cuisines and am pretty adventurous, although my wife does not eat pork..Any clubs you recommend? Any particular activities? We are in our mid sixties, but in pretty good shape and young at heart.. (We have seen most of the ruins in an earlier trip to Cancun, so we don't need to see those again). Thanks again so much. I love reading your posts!

                  1. re: andym

                    Como Como -5th ave between 38-40sts - is presently regarded as the best restaurant in town. I would try Xulam over Yaxche for Mayan fare - 10th ave 1 block south of Juarez. For great fresh fish, I can't sing enough praise for La Pesca, 30th ave @ 16th st.
                    As for clubs, Deseo, upstairs at 5ave & 12th st, is unusual and cool at night - outdoor beds, slick beverage service. Zenzi at 10th ave on the beach, has live music at 5:00, slick bar, good bar food, and comfortable seating on the beach. The Dirty Martini bar on 1st ave between 10-12 st is a quiet, sophisticated spot for an evening cocktail. I have been a friend of Greco, the dutch owner, for 16 years, he is a classy guy. All these clubs are an easy walk from El Taj. The new hip late night club for youngsters is on 2nd Ave between the beach and 5th ave. I am too old for that stuff now. There is more than you have time to get to - that's why we keep going back! I think I mentioned I visited with my cat little veggo in September- he is fat and happy.
                    Have a great trip!

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Thanks again for all your help. I will include Como Como and do Xulum over Yaxche. Do you think that Xulum is better than Luna Maya also? LM seems tohave gotten great reviews on Chowhound and others. Are they different enough to go to both?

                      I noticed that many of the places now on my list seem to be mostly Italian (Il Pescatore da Illeano, Oh Lala, Imprevest, Drupas 38 and Casa Mediterrenea). Any of those you would NOT suggest? Lastly, have you been to Los Aguachiles near 5th and Const.? Nice enough for dinner? I heard the other location is pretty dumpy. Is this a good dinner choice or better just for lunch?

                      Thanks again so much. I will let you know how it all turned out when we return.

                      1. re: andym

                        I'm hesitant to compare one against another. To your advantage, Yaxche is walking distance from your condo, as is Babes on 10th ave for Asian fusion and sidewalk seating, with swedish meatballs on the menu (Per the owner is a Swede). Further up the same block, on 10th st between 5&10 Aves, La Rana Cansada has a comfortable lounge. The owners, Ted and Pia, are also from Sweden. Ted is especially erudite and can engage about any topic. I'm not the one to advise you on the Italian restaurants, they come and go and I prefer local. I can vouch for Il Pescatore da Ileano. Finally, another nice place within walking distance for you is Byblos, on 14th St between 5th and 10 Aves. French, white tablecloths, stemware, Sylvie has passed the test of time - I lived on the top floor of her 3 story building 10 years ago and the wafting aromas were intoxicating.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          I'm going to sound ignorant but is the street food/small mom and pop places relatively safe to eat?

                          1. re: JerkPork

                            I consider it to be an acceptable risk. I have been sickened maybe 4 times in 42 years visiting Mexico, and have had countless good experiences during more than 1000 days in Playa del Carmen.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Well Veggo, you've either had extraordinarily better luck than I, or more likely we have a different definition of what it means to be sickened.

                              When I arrived in Mexico City three years ago eating out became a hobby, something of a project. I've easily eaten at 400+ different places. And I tend to get some sort of food borne illness I'd say about every three weeks on average, if I'm being generous. And maybe 95% of the time it passes quickly, inconvenient but nothing serious. I've never had to go to the hospital. But I've easily had more than 4 cases of FBI so far this year.

                              And believe me, I know perfectly well the difference between chile-induced gastrointenstinal distress. It's a very different experience. It's also very predictable.

                              1. re: Soul Vole

                                Definitions. I'm not including the episodes that alter your day, which are numerous, almost anywhere not just Mexico, for adventurous eaters.
                                Two that might have done me in were bad smoked marlin at the market in Mazatlan, and water in Magdalena and I went for treatment in Guadalajara. I thought I would have to get better to die. That was late 70's.
                                I have not had more than a 24 hour issue in the Yucatan, where I have spent by far most of my time in Mexico.

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Okay, that's what I figured. Also one could be a lot more cautious than I am. The only thing I can think of that I won't order is raw oysters. I've heard too many stories, and a vuelve a la vida I once had ended up being more than an inconvenient incident.

                                  1. re: Soul Vole

                                    Oysters are fairly uncommon in the Yucatan, more plentiful on the Pacific coast and Baja. Usually small, with irregularly shaped shells.
                                    Somehow, the Veracruz restaurant in PDC, long known for good ceviche, puts a few small fresh oysters on their ceviche, but I have no idea where they get them. I have dived the entire area and never seen an oyster bed. As to Margarita Island off Venezuala, one would say there are millions. I have never been sickened by an oyster.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      Staying overnight in Cancun before coming home, we ate oysters at a resto some time back. They were small and unlike Canada/US east coast oysters, but delicious.
                                      I too rarely saw them in this region previously and was dubious, but they were good.
                                      However, we stayed in Bucerias north of Puerta Vallarta on the west coast a few years ago. There was a cocteleria on the main drag selling fresh oysters. They were BIG and they were piled high in the afternoon sun.
                                      The local men were slurping with enthusiasm and grinning with their newfound "vitality".
                                      I wanted to have some, but the whole thing seemed unappetizing in the 90 degree heat. The oysters were close-lipped and alive, but still, it didn't seem like a good idea at - I opted for a cold fish ceviche.

                            2. re: JerkPork

                              What Veggo says.
                              One of the worst cases of food poisoning I've had in the area was a bit south of PDC, at a 4 star hotel......