Playa del Carmen: The Ultimate Food Guide

My foodie adventures in Playa del Carmen were… a little bit stressful, mainly because I tend to get stressed out very easily but also because I DIDN’T HAVE PROPER YELP OR CHOWHOUND.  I had TripAdvisor instead.  I don’t know if any of you use TripAdvisor but this was my first time using it intensely for food.  Here are examples of what TripAdvisor reviewers write:

  • “This is the BEST TACO place in Playa del Carmen!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – person who has only been in PDC for a day
  • “My hubby and I loooove this place so muchhhh.  We even got to take pictures with a Mexican man in a sombrero hat after!”
  • “The fish was soooo fresh and I loooved the truffles and everything was sooo cheap! So affordable!!” – person who ate at a $$$$ place

Basically, TripAdvisor food reviews are not very helpful but hey, you gotta take what you can get.  I essentially spent hours looking up the “must eats” on the World Wide Web, then the “bests” on TripAdvisor, and finally had to cross reference these “bests” with what some other bloggers have written about.  After meticulously putting a list together with almost all our meals planned, we ran into a few bumps in the round.  There were a couple of times where the restaurants I wanted to visit simply didn’t exist anymore.  Other times the restaurants were just… not good (when TripAdvisor says the seafood is fresh, don’t believe them).  Below is a list of places I tried and my general thoughts about them.  I hope this is helpful for anyone who decides to visit!

Day 1: Dinner at Yaxche (5th ave and 22nd street)

  
I wrote about this place in an earlier blog post so please check that out for more detailed reviews on the dishes.  Yaxche is one of those restaurants that pretty much makes every “top 10” list for PDC restaurants.  It is the only high end restaurant in the area that serves only Mayan foods.  I would visit if you have some cash you want to spend because it’s a nice restaurant but it really isn’t worth visiting if you want the yummiest food.  After all our meals, Yaxche probably has the best tortilla chips.  Everything else was better somewhere else.

Day 2: Lunch at La Patrona de Playa (10th ave and 12th street)

I actually stumbled upon this place when I couldn’t find El Oasis, a taco place that almost everyone claims has some of the best tacos.  I just googled La Patrona de Playa and it’s actually rated 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor and even has its own website!  Anyway, we settled on this place because we saw some local hotel workers eating here.  We figured the more locals the better.  The server didn’t speak any English and we don’t speak Spanish… so there was a lot of sign language happening at our table.  Way to stick out like a sore thumb…

   We ordered pastor tacos, chorizo tacos, a pollo torta (left), and the molcajete (right), which is flank steak, chorizo, panela cheese, cactus, and spring onions in a red sauce.  The tacos were aiiiighttt… nothing special.  The torta was super heavy and reminded me of American Mexican food; it was essentially beans, guac, lots of melted cheese, grilled chicken, lettuce and tomatoes all sandwiched between a soft white bread.  The molcajete was the tastiest and most interesting dish.  It came with a pile of piping hot tortillas.  We made our own tacos out of the ingredients.  The panela cheese soaked up the spices very well and added a nice creamy texture to the chorizo and flank steak.  The cactus was a little slimy… it reminded me of okra, which I don’t like too much.  The meal is pretty cheap, tacos about $1, torta about $4, and molcajete about $8.

Day 2: Dinner at La Pummarola (between 5th and 10th ave, 24th street)

As I mentioned in my recent blog post, there is a surprisingly large Italian population in PDC, about 10,000 Italian residents.  Many wealthy Italians immigrated to Mexico after the 1880 Italian Diaspora where many Italians migrated out of Italy.  As a result, the Italian restaurant scene in PDC is crazy popular.  We ended up having Italian food for dinner nearly every night because we found that the food was much more Italian rather than American Italian (what we typically find in NYC).  The tomatoes in Mexico are intensely juicy and sweet, which makes good salsa and great Italian food.

Gleaming rubies on toasted baguette slices… amazingly fresh bruschetta.

  La Pummarola was consistently seen on “best Italian” lists so was naturally the first Italian restaurant we tried.  The spaghetti and meatballs had been mentioned by nearly every TripAdvisor reviewer and for once, was well merited.  The meatballs were soooo incredibly tender while still maintaining a meaty quality (sometimes meat gets too tender and becomes almost pudding-like… really gross).  Spaghetti was perfectly al dente and tomato sauce tasted garlicy and fresh.  Pizza was okay, not as good as Luzzo’s (ha) but definitely solid.  The crust was thin and soft though the cheese was not super high quality.  We paid about $35 for this meal (include 2 margaritas).

Day 3 Lunch: Random Place in Tulum

Tulum is a pre-Columbian Mayan coastal city that served as a major port for Coba.  It is just 45 minutes south of PDC.  The city is much more run down than PDC.  We found a random spot on the street downtown for lunch before we headed to the ruins.

  
The ceviche (left) was decent, nothing special.  Could have used more flavor.  The fish (right) was unfortunately not fresh.  It was by no means frozen beforehand, but after growing up eating Chinese fish (where the fish is extremely fresh… alive until the very last second…), I am pretty sensitive to freshness.  It tasted a bit like airplane fish…

Day 3: Dinner at Il Pescatore (between 5th and 10th ave, 24th street)

  

Il Pescatore is owned by an Italian woman named Ileana.  She is an extremely welcoming host and seems to hug everyone as they walk in and leave.  Bruschetta is always on the house and their limonade is the most refreshing I’ve had (fresh lemon + minimal sugar + fizzy water).  We actually came here twice (again on Day 6) because it was so good.  The weirdest thing is that during both of our visits, we only saw older people dining (50+ years) … we were the odd youngsters.  It was always nice and quiet though I liked the hustle and bustle of some of the other restaurants more.  I had the homemade fettucini with truffles ($15 ish) and LAW had the amazing prawn, arugula, spaghetti dish ($20 ish).  Their prices are actually very reasonable.  The second time I came I had a simple fresh tomato and garlic spaghetti (one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had) which was only $9.

Day 4: Lunch atLa Tia (on the way to Chichen Itza)

  
Towards the end of our 3 hour journey from PDC to Chichen Itza, we stopped by at La Tia for a quick lunch.  They only serve one dish… Poc Chuc, a thin cut of Mayan grilled meat (usually pork).  We also had this at Yaxche but this poc chuc was so, so much better.


Pork was not tender but very flavorful.  Onions were insanely sweet.  Did they boil them?  There were no grill marks.  The black bean soup was delicious … I don’t normally like too many beans but this soup was very fragrant and had been cooked for so long that the beans completely dissolved – no traces of skin or anything.  Tortillas were very soft and had the perfect corn ratio (Yaxche had too much, other cheaper places had too little corn).  They definitely ripped us off since we were the only non-locals at the restaurant but I was happy to pay more for this authentic gem!  We paid about $20 for two poc chucs.

Day 4: Dinner at a food stand in Valladolid  

Didn’t get a photo but we had Pibil, another traditional Mayan pork dish.  The pork is slow roasted until very soft and paired with rice, pickled onions, and of course, tortillas.  The meal was only $5 and was like the Mexican version of Chicken (but pork) and Rice from a NYC halal cart.

Day 5: Lunch at La Tarraya (5th ave and 2nd street)

This is a restaurant that is incredibly well rated on Trip Advisor (4.5 stars) and most blogs but I found to be disappointing.  They are known to be the freshest seafood restaurant in the area.  Fish tacos were tasty but way overcooked.  There was a moment where I questioned whether they had served us chicken instead.

  We ordered two fish fillets, one in the Tik n’ Xic style (left), and the other in the Veracruz style (right).  Both fish were extremely overcooked as they were chewy and tough.  My Veracruz one was more flavorful because it was seeped in a tomato sauce but they overpowered the sauce with too much salt, completely masking the fish.  Service was also horrible.  The waiter scowled at me when I was ordering and didn’t even bother giving us our change after we paid.  Yes, it was cheap (about $25 total), but still!

Day 5: Dinner at Il Baretto (5th ave and 26th street) 

Another Italian place!  This restaurant was opposite of Il Pescatore in that everyone was young, hip, and very lively.

  We shared an arrabiata pasta and a brie and prosciutto pizza.  Spaghetti was perfectly al dente and sauce was bursting with tomato-y flavor.  It was a perfect simple pasta dish, I only wish it was a little spicier.  The pizza was delicious!  I had never had brie on pizza before and found that it added a little punch of flavor.  The prosciutto was some of the best I’ve had, not sinewy at all and not too salty.

Day 6: Lunch at El Fogon (30th ave and Constituyentes)

  These were actually the best tacos we’ve had.  El Fogon is one of those restaurants on the “top” lists as well and is particularly known for being the locals’ favorite.  You’ll find taxi drivers and local families dining here for lunch and dinner at all times.  The chorizo taco (left) was SO tasty and even a little spicy (almost a bit like salami); it was grilled so some parts were crispy… ah delicious.  The arrachera steak taco (right) was also great.  The flank steak was tender and boasted a strong grill flavor.  Tortillas were soft and warm (we found that the bad tortillas tended to be hard around the edges).  This place is supposed to be very cheap though it surprisingly wasn’t as cheap as some other taco places.  We paid about $2 per taco (which really isn’t much, haha, but compared to other $1 places, this is double!).

Day 7: Lunch at El Nativo (30th ave and close to Constituyentes)

  
El Nativo is known to be a great smoothie/breakfast place.  We came right before heading to the airport for a quick brunch.  We shared the chicken chilaquiles, which is a traditional Mexican dish.  Cut up and fried corn tortillas are soaked in either a red or green sauce, topped with cheese, beans, and grilled chicken.  It was a bit heavy for me but was interesting to try.  The smoothies were absolutely amazing.  With $3, you get a one liter smoothie with fruits and veggies of your choice.  We ordered two… and actually finished both of them!  There is a lot of great honey in the area (you can see people selling them in water bottles everywhere) so I imagine they were lightly sweetened with honey.

That’s all!  I don’t think I will want Mexican food in a very long time… please don’t mention tacos or tortillas or chips when you’re around me.  I may just start to cry.  Just kidding.  But only kind of…

3 thoughts on “Playa del Carmen: The Ultimate Food Guide

  1. Hi there,
    I trust this finds you well. I wanted to invite you to try our new restaurant called YALA. We have been opened for 8 months now and have had an amazing success.

    Judging by the amount of locals and tourists we have, and the unique concept – i truly believe we have one of Playa’s most finest restaurant.

    Could i have the pleasure of inviting you to try it?

    Thank you in advance, all the best,

    Itai.

    9841154501.

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