Top 10 Mexican Spots in Playa del Carmen

Jan 10, 2012 10:01 am

Eating authentic Mexican on the Riviera Maya

Photo: Brad A. Johnson
Photo: Brad A. Johnson
The breakfast set-up at The Tides' Coral Grill.
 
Photo: Brad A. Johnson
Photo: Brad A. Johnson
The ceviche at Rosewood's Punta Bonita.
 

Truly great Mexican food is oddly difficult to find in Playa del Carmen, the hub of Mexico’s beautiful Riviera Maya. There’s a great (or at least very good) Italian restaurant on nearly every corner and inside most hotels. But Mexican? The good stuff’s here, but the best places aren’t so obvious. These are the Top 10. 

Related: Photo Gallery: Eating in Playa del Carmen

1. Cocina de Autor
Granted, it’s not traditional Mexican. It’s molecuar. It’s inspired by the modernist movement in Spain. But... damn. The flavors and most of the ingredients are Mexican. And so is the incredible chef de cuisine, Xavier Pérez Stone. This is possibly the finest restaurant in all of Mexico. Grand Velas Resort. Carretera Cancun 62, Playa del Carmen, 866-230-7221

2. Punta Bonita
Truly extraordinary Mexican food served tapas-style: duck confit tacos, cochinita pibil tamales, sea conch and octopus ceviche, shrimp empanadas with chipotle chile, crispy tacos with lamb barbacoa... plus a beautiful ocean view. Top-notch Mexican wines. Vast tequila library. Rosewood Mayakoba, Carretera Cancun 298, Playa del Carmen, +52.984.875.8000

3. Frida
Old-school Mexican glamour gets a modern makeover: lobster and cactus pear salad; anise-scented duck tacos; black bean cappuccino with cotija cheese foam; filet of beef with mole... plus, a roving margarita cart. Grand Velas Resort. Carretera Cancun 62, Playa del Carmen, 866-230-7221

4. La Marea
The fine-dining restaurant at The Tides has just reopened with a swankier look and new menu. It’s still very Robinson Crusoe, but much more comfy. Chef Jetzabel Barragan now serves extraordinary modern Mayan cuisine: tuna tartare with mint and chile oil; spice-rubbed lamb chops with sweet potato tamal; and ancho chile stuffed with guava mousse. The Tides, Playa Xcalacoco Frac 7, Playa del Carmen, +52-984-877-3000

5. Chakka
This is one of the best-kept secrets in the Riviera Maya. Outstanding venison chalupas and beef tongue tacos in a truly tranquil jungle setting. Grand Velas Resort. Carretera Cancun Tulum Km. 62, Playa del Carmen, 866-230-7221

6. Coral Grill
The Tides has just debuted this casual beachfront restaurant, with tables in the sand, where chef Jetzabel Barragan cooks achiote-and-chile-rubbed fish in a wood-burning oven. Great tortilla soup and ceviches, too. The Tides, Playa Xcalacoco Frac 7, Playa del Carmen, +52-984-877-3000

7. Yaxche
Recently relocated to a newer, larger space farther up the avenue, Yaxche (pronounced JAG-shay) is by far the best Mexican restaurant within Playa’s central core. Much of the restaurant’s original charm has been lost in translation, but the modern Mayan fare — xcatic peppers stuffed with cochinita pibil; fried tortillas layered with orange-juice-marinated shrimp and chiles; snapper fillet stuffed with plantain and corn, wrapped in chaya leaf — is better than ever. Fifth Avenue at 22nd Street, +52-984-873-3011

8. Luna Maya
This yearling is one of the hottest tickets in town — a sign, perhaps, that Playa is starving for more great Mexican food? It’s also one of the nicer restaurants on the Avenue. Superb chicken mole. Killer margaritas. Fifth Avenue at 38th Street, Playa del Carmen, +52-984-879-4394

9. La Laguna
Two words: shrimp tacos! They just don’t get any better (or bigger). Great ceviche as well. Poolside, overlooking the lagoons of Mayakoba. Fairmont Mayakoba, Carretera Cancun 298, Playa del Carmen, 800-540-6088

10. El Fogón
This no-frills taqueria is the newer, larger offshoot of an old locals-only, taxi-drivers’ favorite (the original still exists a few blocks down). The tacos al pastor (bbq pork) are among the best in the region. Ice-cold beer. Extremely cheap. 30th Avenue at 32nd Street, Playa del Carmen

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