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Mar 24, 2014 11:24 PM

Yucatan 2014 (Merida, Valladolid, Izamal, Playa del Carmen)

Aight, it's time I give back to you folks who have helped immensely in my questing for all things delicious.

I've explored the Yucatan over the last few months, and have found a number of places I'll share, as well as a few I wished I'd managed to avoid. What follows is something of a mini-dissertation:


For classic "Mexican" comfort food, do not miss Platos Rotos in Centro at 33D and 72. It's surrounded by the slow food market every Saturday, of which you'll likely hear. Platos Rotos is run by chilangos (folks from Mexico City) and is a popular lunch spot full of regulars; the menu is written on a chalkboard (but not in the pretentious way). You'll be served beans (sublime) and salsa (wonderful). The mole verde is one of the best I've ever had. Menu changes daily; vegetarian options abound (rare). I highly recommend a coffee, unusual in that they prepare it in an older style that is now fairly hard to find. Don't be afraid to ask to try (probar) one or two items before ordering. Show enthusiasm for the food and you'll be showered with offerings. Lunch here is reasonable and wonderful. I go three times a week at least.

For more "classic" (highland-style) Mexican, Ana Sabrina's tacos are fairly famous. She's from Mexico City, and cooks the best mole I've ever had. My father said it's the best he's had since the 70s (he studies Mexico and has lived and traveled across the country). You can find her Saturday nights at Noches de Merida (odd little karaoke sing along) at the bottom end of the Paseo Montejo and Sunday mornings in Parque Santa Lucia at the Viejoteca (bring your dancing shoes). You MUST order the mole and the papas con chorizo. Her tortillas are the best in town. She's absolutely lovely and sweet and has a brilliant smile; she's also an astute business woman.

Apoala in Parque Santa Lucia. This is Merida's Oaxacan restaurant. Avoid lunch as it's hit or miss. Dinner on Saturday/Sunday night is best. It's good but pricey, and you can find similar restaurants in Mexico DF and most major metropolitan cities. Pricey. Highly recommend the salads. Atmosphere is excellent and the service is top notch, but the food just isn't remarkable and its all very predictable.

For Yucatecan cusine you have several options. In the mornings you'll find relleno negro (which has never impressed me, and I've had it everywhere), poc chuc (same), relleno blanco, etc., in the stalls inside Parque Santiago. The real star of Parque Santiago is La Reina Itzalana, open every night after 8. Go Sunday as everything is best on Sunday. This is the place to try panuchos (if you don't make it to Valladolid), salbutes, and all the little things you've heard/read about. Be sure to order the queso napolitano--the regional flan. It's fantastic. Lots of color here.

For Yucatecan food try the restaurant inside the department store Chapur (Norte, Circuito Colonias/Calle 26 in Itzimna north of Centro). Every day a different Yucatecan dish is on speciality. It is inside a department store, which is strange, but whoever is in the kitchen knows what they're about. Yucatecan food is lunch only.

For non-Mexican, do try Oliva (Italian, homemade pasta, excellent), Cafe Creme on 41 near Paseo Montejo (French, croissants, spinach quiche, desserts), Lebanese pastries to die for at a little place with irregular hours just North of the monument at the top of the "Centro" section of Paseo Montejo, Tacos Arabe (avoid the tacos!). Adjacent to Tacos Arabe (may have a different name, but you can't miss it if its open), there are a few men and a few pots and pans (nights only). They have tamales. Order a few salsa verde and salsa roja and experience transcendent bliss. Also go to Hidalguense on 56 in between 61/59 for incredible quesadillas. Try the huitlacoche (Mexican corn mushroom, OMFG) and more importantly be sure to get there early enough before they run out of flor de calabasa (absolutely entrancing). Excellent homemade salsas. I like to watch/endure Laura Pozzo or the telenovelas that shriek from the television; you may see me trying to read DH Lawrence despite the racket. There are at least one or two other Hidalguenses in Merida. They're all on horrible bus streets, but absolutely worth the trek.

Well meaning people will direct you to a taco "stand" in Itzimna called Wayane. They don't know what they're thinking! It just isn't good and its way out of the way of everything...there is, however, a great place to watch movies nearby (Cairo Cinema Cafe) also good is La 68 but don't eat there and especially avoid the coffee, they've tried to poison me twice with whatever it is they call latte.

For coffee you can purchase wonderful beans from Riqueza de Chiapas on 60. Bring these home. They're magical and wildly underpriced. Be sure to get a receipt so as to avoid customs hassles. This is some of the best coffee I've had outside of Colombia (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta). Don't get the cheap stuff! You'll regret it, I promise. Ask to smell the beans. Maybe see if you can walk into the back and smell and look. Coffee heaven.

Martha Stewart's coconut drink place is on 59 between 66/64. They have fresh coconut water and it's very good and fairly priced.

If you're adventurous (and you should be), go to the bus station CAME and have the barbacoa at the Chiapas place on 70 between 69/71. They also have a soup. Both are very good, but the barbacoa is a thing of beauty.

Chaya Maya: avoid this like place like salmonella. Avoid most anyplace recommended by guidebooks or tripadvisor as schemes abound in Merida.

BEST COCHINITA PIBIL IN THE ENTIRE WORLD: El Gallo at 41/46 at the North end of the street that leads to the Convent. Run by a wonderful elderly couple, this is absolutely some of the best pork you'll ever eat, I think.

For the best panuchos on the Peninsula (arguable), try Selva way up on 42/31.

I also like Conado in Valladolid, more for the atmosphere. There are a few fancy places in the city. These I've avoided; I doubt they're worth the trip. Bottom line: if you're in Valladolid, do not miss cochinita at El Gallo--like Bogie said, this is the stuff dreams are made of.

Avoid Kinich. It's NOT good and its outrageously overpriced. I do not understand the rave reviews and find them suspicious. I've eaten here multiple times/days/meals. It is perenially disappointing, especially after Valladolid. Izamal cannot compete with Valladolid, in any way, really.

Finally (I hope this isn't too overwhelming, but its my first post and I've used this site so I felt obliged to give back):

Today I ate all the tacos on offer at La Floresta in Playa del Carmen. Camaron and Pescado were far and away the best, as was the green salsa. It's on the other side of 307 on 14.

Do try the Chocolate Tradicional at one of the Ah Cacao locations on 5th Ave. This is traditional-style Mexican Chocolate, which has become very difficult to find. It's well-made at Ah Cacao (I've had it every day on this trip to Playa). The dark chocolate bars are aslo very good; the elote cake (corn cheesecake) is strange but not necessarily bad. It's different!

Do not miss the tacos el pastor at Antojitos la Chiapaneca in Tulum pueblo. Off the main road, westside. This place has been discovered but it's really good.

Whew. I hope this proves useful and delicious. Enjoy the Yucatan and enjoy Mexico, one of the best places to eat in the world. I may post another list but this is a good start.

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  1. What a great report, DeBrazza! Thanks so much for posting. I have hopes of getting to Merida at some point near the end of the year and I'm filing your post under "Not-to-Miss".

    Did you hear any buzz about Ku'uk in Merida, or did you by any chance eat there?

    And what about the Mercado Santa Ana?


    6 Replies
    1. re: cristina

      Hi Cristina,

      I haven't eaten at Ku'uk and likely won't, but If you do I hope you tell the tale! I tend to favor red coca cola tables and neighborhood haunts, and the upmarket establishments I've visited have been, for the most part, disappointing (so far).

      Mercado Santa Ana pales in comparison to the food that can be found in Parque Santiago and the municipal market, and notable is the general low food quality in Santa Ana. Some people really like the loncheria El Negro Gil, but not me.

      The neighborhood of Santa Ana, however, is one I associate with interesting little restaurants. There is a hole-in-the-wall that serves pozole (yes, even in the 100-degree heat of the Yucatan) I've been meaning to visit, as well as a new French-run cafe and an appealing little taqueria, both of which have only recently opened. So there are other good reasons to spend time in Santa Ana!

      1. re: DeBrazza

        Thank you so much for your response. I generally agree with you about both Coca-Cola table spots and upscale restaurants. I spent some time talking with the Ku'uk chef about a year ago at an event in Michoacán, but so far only know one person who has eaten at his place.

        I asked about Santa Ana because a fellow at another event--this time in the D.F.--told me it was a do-not-miss. I trust your opinion more than his.

        If you're ever coming to Mexico City, where I live, let me know and we'll go visit some Coca Cola table joints. Thanks again.


        1. re: cristina

          Happy to be of assistance Cristina. And I'll certainly look you up if I'm in DF--thanks! I've perused your excellent blog, which has rekindled my desire to visit Michoacan before I return to the salt mines (the States) in May. If only Mexico were a bit smaller!

          1. re: DeBrazza

            I will be in Morelia, Michoacán at the Encuentro de Cocina Tradicional de Michoacán, April 4-5-6, 2014. Whet, whet. This festival of incredible, traditional home cooks (80 expected in April) is truly a do-not-miss if you're in the neighborhood.

            See you there?


            1. re: cristina

              I attended the Encurentro de Cocina Tradicional de Michoacan this past October and I can attest that is is an incredible experience. Anyone seriously interested in Mexican cuisine and/or Michoacan needs to attend this function at least once. It's pretty amazing.

              1. re: cristina

                Oh, how wonderful...unfortunately I have visitors that weekend! Maybe next year?

                I would like to visit Morelia (and also Chiapas) in the next few weeks, however. It's supposed to be over 102F (39C) today in Merida, so I'm quite motivated.

      2. Great review!

        A comment on your comment about Chaya Maya in Merida. Actually, there are two. We went to the one on the corner 62x57 around 2 pm midweek and it was filled with customers who appeared to be working locals (photo). We didn't think the food was outstanding, but it was definitely OK, and the place didn't strike us as particularly touristy, at least not when we were there. (We usually walk out of places that are filled with tourists.)

        1. DeBrazza, thank you for this awesome list. Crazy how we pretty much had the same itinerary less than a month after your trip. If you don't mind, I'd like to share our finds as an extension to yours.

          2 Replies
          1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

            Go for it! I'd love to see what you found, as would everyone else!

            I must respectfully disagree. I can't in good conscience recommend either Chaya. It's a convenient place for lunch in Centro, and of the sentimental type (for locals). Though most prefer (for Yucatecan) Los Almendros, that's another I can't in good conscience recommend--very hit and miss. But I'm glad you escaped stomach unscathed.

            1. re: DeBrazza

              Thanks, no offense taken. Actually, if someone were to ask me for a restaurant recommendation in Merida, I don't think I'd suggest Chaya Maya. But yes, we survived the meal without a hospital visit, and we (maybe out of ignorance) thought the food was ok.

              Mainly I was replying to your post because I didn't think the Chaya Maya we went to was at all touristy. We'd heard of it earlier, but didn't seek it out. We went in out of curiosity because we were walking up 62 thinking about lunch and happened across it. A peson who worked at our hotel had said that it was one of the places where "people like himself" went to for lunch, so we gave it a try.

          2. really hoping to visit El Gallo while in Valladolid next week. Any tips on finding it? I read elsewhere on the board that someone had trouble locating it.

            1. Thanks DeBrazza!

              La Selva was life changing. Best Yucatecan food this trip. Open from 6pm. Locals only. Very quiet until late. The road here is not a pleasant walk, poor sidewalks and traffic, but plenty of taxis. Avoids the insane Valladolid tour bus rush from 6-8 or so.

              El Gallo is open from 5pm only, their shop on the north east corner of the intersection is invisible and unmarked when closed, and several locals I asked in the intersection did not know it - even the ones directly across from it or the hostel next door! I only made it there thanks to a knowledgeable cabbie. This is very weird for the community-oriented Yucatan. Great pork, but the balance of ingredients at selva won me over.

              Btw, all trips within Valladolid town should run you <25 pesos. I was always quoted 20.