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Eating in Playa del Carmen…the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Posted by Tony & Cheri on June 17, 2007

Updated June 21, 2009

As Playa Del Carmen has grown from tranquil village to world famous resort town, so has the number, diversity and quality of its restaurants grown. Playa is now a city of the world as far as cuisine is concerned. An international array of foods can be found at prices that range from unbelievably cheap to outrageously expensive, and all prices in between. At the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden, our guests constantly ask us for recommendations for places to eat. Now we have put those recommendations down in this list. The eateries listed here are some of the more established and well known of Playa’s restaurants. We have eaten at every one of them, and some of them have become our favorite regular hangouts. No restaurant has paid for the privilege of being listed here. They’re here because we like them or, in some cases, because we don’t like them. This is by no means a complete list of all of the places to eat in Playa Del Carmen. It is just a starting point from which you can begin to explore what has become one of Mexico’s top culinary destinations.

We will continually update this page. You’ll always be able to find it by clicking on the “Dining in Playa” category to the right.

Tony & Cheri

Mexican:

This is not the Tex-Mex style food of your favorite Mexican restaurant back home. You will find less enchiladas and burritos and more steaks, chicken and seafood. Cheese and chilis are a part of most dishes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your waiter will most likely speak English and will be glad to help you out.

Kalaka. On Calle 4 between 15th and 20th Avenues. Although Kalaka calls itself Mexican/Italian food, there’s a little bit of everything on this menu, and it’s one of our favorite spots in Playa. Small and intimate (only 8 tables), it has some of the freshest and most delicious food we’ve had in Playa, for very reasonable prices. Located two and a half blocks off of Fifth Avenue, it’s worth the stroll. Everything we’ve ever had here is delicious, and it’s beautifully presented as well. Don’t miss this gem! (Kalaka is closed on Tuesdays.)

La Parilla. On 5th Ave. at Calle 10. Mexican food as most Americans envision it including entertaining waiters and serenades by Mariachi bands throughout the evening. Part of a chain, this is one of Playa’s most popular (and touristy) places. The food isn’t spectacular, but it is generally good and the experience is almost always fun. A photographer often stops by a table and puts large sombreros on everyone’s head before snapping a picture. Play along, as the shots usually turn out really good. We actually own two of these photos. 🙂

Yaxche (Mayan). On Calle 8 between 5th and 10th Ave. Mayan, not Mexican food. For example, dishes such as tamale type meals are cooked in banana leaves instead of corn husks. High quality food and service. Finish with a flaming Mayan coffee prepared tableside. This is one of the few places that serves just Mayan food.

El Fogón. Three locations: 30th Ave. near Calle 4, 30th Ave. near Calle 32 and Constituyentes near 30th Ave. Not your traditional tourist spot, this is where hungry locals eat. Many people who work in the hotels of the resort zone end up there late at night for their after hours meal. This is a grill featuring steaks, sausage pork chops, and chicken (no salad, no seafood). They are famous for their tacos el pastor. Bring a big appetite. Cheap and good. We eat at the one on 30th Avenue and Calle 32 quite frequently. Their frijoles charros are awesome, and you can order just a cup of them by asking for frijoles charros medio (otherwise you get a big bowl, enough for a meal!). Tony usually orders the arrachera norteña (strips of arrachera steak covered with grilled chorizo which is covered with melted cheese). This comes with a small cup of the frijoles charros, a little bit of really awesome guacamole (the best in Playa, we think), poblano chiles covered in melted cheese, a baked potato and tortillas. It’s about 8 bucks. Cheri usually has the arrachera especial which comes with all the same stuff, but instead of the cheese and chorizo on top of the steak, it’s just the steak. About half of it usually comes home afterwards & makes great tacos and/or quesadillas the next day. They have fruit drinks, soft drinks and beer.

Palapa Hemingway . On 5th Ave. near Calle Corazon. One of Playa’s oldest restaurants, Hemingway serves Mexican dishes with a
Caribbean twist (try the shrimps in coconut sauce). Large portions and good drinks. Sit outside on 5th Ave. and watch the world stroll by.

El Asadero. Avenida 25 between Calle 2 and 4. We tried this one recently based on the glowing recommendation of a friend. We had the arrachera. It was pretty good, but HC de Monterrey has us spoiled for arrachera, and this wasn’t as good as theirs. And the beans that came with the meal couldn’t hold a candle to the beans at El Fogón. BUT… their hand made corn tortillas are out of this world. Next time we’re in the neighborhood we’ll stop by and get some para llevar (to go). Overall it was pretty good, but the competition is stiff out there.

Seafood:

La Pesca. Avenida 30 near Constituyentes. Under the big palapa. Newly opened by Antonio, a 10 year employee of Blue Lobster, the food is out of this world and the prices are great. Try the cazuela de camarones (shrimp casserole). It’s actually a soup with a tomato cream base, chilis and handfuls of giant shrimp. Just before serving they throw in lots of cheese and bake it in the oven until it’s boiling hot. It comes in two sizes: medium (which is huge) and regular (which is huger). Cheri likes the fish fillet al ajillo. Beware, however: if you order the Caesar Salad with Shrimp, it comes with those little tiny shrimp. If you tell them you want it with big shrimp, it makes it a much better salad, for just a little more dinero. La Pesca is located on bustling 30th Avenue across from Mega and in front of a colectivo stop, which makes for interesting people watching. Without question, this is the best seafood in Playa del Carmen. Open 7 days a week from 11:30 am until 10:00 pm (new expanded hours). If you are in restaurant and at a table by 10:00 pm, Antonio and the staff will take care of you, no matter how late they have to stay.

Oasis. Calle 12 between 5th and 10th Ave. Generally regarded by many locals as the best shrimp tacos in town. It has a large seafood menu, a full bar, and it’s close to Fifth Avenue.

Pizza:

Karen’s. Fifth Avenue between 2nd and 4th. Karen’s has been here a long time and they are always having fun. Good old American style pizza with waiter shenanigans and occasionally live music.

Domino’s. Order from your hotel’s front desk. Yep, just like home (you decide if that is good or bad). Their Mexican pizza is spicy and good.

Rolandi’s restaurant in the new Paseo del Carmen area of Playa Del Carmen (at the southern end of Fifth Avenue) has pizza prepared in brick ovens. It’s a little doughy for our taste, but they serve puffed up dough brushed with hot garlic butter before your meal.

Pizza Pazza. Has four locations in Playa: the one on Calle 12 between 5th and 10th Avenues, one on 10th Avenue between Calles 8 and 10, one on 5th Avenue between Calles 14 and 16 and another one in Avenida Juarez. Pizza by the slice, 16 pesos on an average for a good size slice.

Asian

Babes Noodles and Bar. On 5th Avenue near Calle 28, about a block and a half from the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden. There’s another location on Calle 10 between 5th and 10th Avenue, but the service isn’t as good or friendly, and it tends to be more crowded. One of the most popular restaurants in Playa. Features Thai food with a Swedish influence., i.e. Red Curry Shrimp poured over mashed potatoes! Try the Swedish Meatballs and the gigantic blueberry margaritas for a real treat. If you ask either of the waiters (Jose or Maximo) for a Luna Blue sized margarita, you’ll get something about twice the normal size. Open 7 days a week.

Italian:

Kalaka. On Calle 4 between 15th and 20th Avenues. See above, under Mexican, as Kalaka bills itself as both. Really, really, really good food.
Antica Osteria del Mar. Fifth Avenue, between Calles 28 and 30. In our opinion, the best pasta in Playa del Carmen. Perfectly cooked with light but extremely flavorful sauces, good prices and a nice atmosphere.

😦 La Pummarola. Calle Flamingo (between Calle 38 & 40) and Calle Petrel (between 5th Avenue & the sea). We used to love this restaurant until several weeks ago. After waiting for almost an hour and watching everyone around us (who came after us) be served, we said that if our pasta wasn’t ready, we’d just pay for our salads and leave. We were treated very rude, including being called a horrible name by someone we believe may have had an ownership interest, and we will not patronize this place again. There is no excuse for treating people like we were treated under any circumstances.

Café Mediterranea. In a cool little alley/art gallery off Fifth Avenue, between Calles 6 and 8.

Da Bruno on 5th Avenue at Calle 12 for upscale Italian.

😦 Il Pescatore Da Ileana on 10th Avenue at Calle 24 (not to be confused with the other Il Pescatore in the Grand Porto Real). Basic pasta, mediocre food, and rude and slow service and treatment by the owners.

😦Don Mario’s on 10th Avenue at Calle 8. Basic uninspired, overpriced pasta menu with uninterested service. In addition, we don’t like this place because the owners broke their lease with Captain Dave’s La Fortuna bar, forcing our favorite blues bar out of business because the owner of Don Mario’s didn’t like the music. Do not patronize this place.

Steak:

The best steak houses in Playa offer steaks from the U.S., Argentina, and Mexico. Try them all and compare!

Chicago Don Jose. On Calle 6 between 5th and 10th Ave. American owned and operated, they offer thick corn fed beef and all the traditional sides. Pricey but very, very good.

HC de Monterrey/Super Carne.On Constituyentes between 25th and 30th Avenues, across from Mega. (A second location is outside of the tourist zone on CTM Street.) If you are going to have one meal in Playa this is the place. It is more popular with locals than tourists, but that is changing rapidly. Not only is it a butcher shop where most of Playa’s restaurants buy their meat, but it is also a restaurant. Open from 12:00 noon to midnight, HC de Monterrey offers the best steak meal you will ever have. Have the Arrachera Nacional Paquete: a huge steak, baked potato or onion, half of an avocado, butter, sour cream, tortillas, really tasty salsa/steak marinade and a beverage. All for $99 pesos. For the perfect meal, go next door to El Fogon and get an order of frijoles charros, para llevar (to go) and bring it back to eat with your steak. Look for the line of locals waiting for a table. You won’t be disappointed.

El Asador de Manolo. Avenida 10 between Calle 24 and 26. Argentinian owned and operated. Manolo, previous owner of the best steak house in Playa, has a very popular spot among the locals with Angus steak and really good chimichurri sauce.

😦 Buenos Aires . Calle 6 between 5th and 10th Avenues. This used to be one of our favorite steak houses, but now we no longer recommend it. They changed locations and apparently changed owners. The prices increased dramatically, the quality and quantity of the food dropped and the service, which was some of the finest in town, is now nonexistent. The even pulled the old “there is no tip, but there is a 10% kitchen service charge.” For those of you who don’t know, there is no kitchen or service charge on any meal in Playa. Any restaurant that attaches it to your bill is adding in the tip. Just be aware.

Cuban:

Bodeguita del Medio. In the Paseo del Carmen shopping area at the southernmost end of 5th Ave. Owned by the same folks who own its namesake restaurant in Havana, Cuba (a favorite of Hemingway), this place is always crowded and noisy in a good way. Traditional spicy Cuban food accompanied by live Cuban bands and some of the hottest salsa dancing around.

Beach Eats:

Sometimes you are on the beach and having too good a time to leave and find some place to eat. No worries! Many of the beachfront hotels have beach clubs. Here you can find a beach chair, an umbrella, a bar and a restaurant. Most will even bring your order down to your beach chair for you. Other beach clubs are unaffiliated with a hotel but the set up is the same. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel, but be prepared to pay for the chair and the umbrella as well as the food and drinks. The menus vary but most offer hamburgers, tacos, seafood (shrimp is usually on the menu in some form) and quesadillas and nachos. Beach food! If you get hungry, just stroll the beach. Something will catch your eye. Some of the more popular beach spots are Kool (great food and service), the Blue Parrot, El Pirata, Coco Maya, Mamitas, Playa Maya, and Bad Boys (where you can hear live blues on most days between 3 and 5).

Breakfast:

The most important meal of the day Mom always said. Most restaurants feature a breakfast menu. These are mentioned because they stand out as places to start the day.

Cry Baby’s. On 5th Avenue at the corner of Calle 22. A large American breakfast menu with some of the best basic breakfasts in town. Set up like an old fashioned diner, Cry Baby’s serves lunch & dinner too, with focus on burgers & diner food. Good stuff.

La Vagabunda. On 5th Avenue near Calle 26. A large basic breakfast menu featuring all kinds of egg dishes, pancakes, waffles, fruits and cereals served under a huge palapa roof and somewhat inflated prices.

Cueva del Chango. On Calle 38 near 1st Avenue. The Cave of the Monkey. Worth seeing if just for the jungle garden setting. How many restaurants have a restroom with a waterfall for a sink? Eggs, crepes and fruit dishes.

Hot Bakery. At the corner of Calle Corazon and Calle 14. An old standard in Playa. Coffee and a cinnamon roll the size of your head. Service is generally extremely slow, so don’t go if you’re in a hurry.

Cafe Corazón. On 5th Avenue between Calles 28 and 30. A cute little coffee shop with espresso bar, pastries, and various breakfast dishes (eggs, bagels, breakfast sandwiches, etc.). A pleasant place to have your morning cup o’ joe and read the paper. Free wireless internet in case you have a laptop and are dying to surf the net.

Java Joe’s. Calle 8 between Fifth and 10th Avenues. A Playa del Carmen tradition for many years, Joe’s is where local ex pats hang out in the morning, get a cup of coffee, nibble a pastry, read the paper and trade gossip.

Dessert:

Most places have some dessert menu but most people will love these places to satisfy a sweet tooth. Ah Cacao. On Constituyentes at the corner of 5th Avenue and a second location (near the Luna Blue!) on the corner of 5th Avenue and Calle 30. This place is a chocoholics dream. Rich spicy Mexican chocolate in pastries, ice cream and drinks. Try the Chocolate Maya, the chocolate equivalent of espresso. And the brownies…to die for! And if you need more, you can find both Baskin Robbins and Haagen-Dazs stores on 5th Ave. And for a taste of childhood, Playa now has a Dairy Queen, located a few doors down from La Parilla on 5th Avenue near Calle 10.

Other:

Las Cazuelas, right across the street from the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar on Calle 26 between 5th Avenue and 10th Avenue, has delicious Spanish tapas in the evening. They have Mexican style breakfasts and comida corrida for lunch, as well, but if you’re going to eat here, come for dinner. Owner Miguel is an excellent chef and has a large assortment of tapas of every type. Come & swing at our bar & ask Jorge to go across the street & order you some tapas. Miguel will deliver them to your swing!

Nativo. Two locations, right down the street from each other. One is located on 30th Avenue a couple of doors down from the corner of 30th Ave and Constituyentes; the other is just a few doors down from that, heading north. They offer a wide range of various fruit and energy shakes for good prices. They also have some traditional Mexican foods like enchiladas, quesadillas, etc. All are made with very fresh ingredients and are excellent. The salads are good, too. They give you a LOT of food, so come hungry.

PG’s Sandbox (aka PG’s and Pinche Gringos) . Corner of 1st Avenue and Calle 28. We’re going to give this one more try. We had given this place a terrible, don’t-go-here review because of incredibly bad service and some other things. Friends in Playa told us that we should try it again, that it had changed. We were told that the old staff (which was more interested in hanging out at the bar together than waiting on tables) had been let go and that new people were brought in. The bar generously hosted a couple of benefits for issues dear to our heart: the girls from Bloody Chicas after their car accident and for victims in Mahahual from Hurricane Dean. Convinced that things had turned around, we were persuaded to give them one more try. This time when we went it was a whole new experience. Although the bar was totally crowded, service was quick and good. Cheri had a hamburger; Tony had the sausage burger. Both were tasty, and the fries were great. So, we’re going to try it again in the near future. They have a sports bar menu with buffalo wings, burgers and other “bar” food. They also have several TVs to televise sporting events.

These are just a few of our suggestions. Now get out there and explore one of the world’s great places to eat!

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

9 Responses to “Eating in Playa del Carmen…the Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

  1. Kristia Snider said

    Thank you so much for giving reviews of restaurants. I’ve printed them out and will be taking them with me to PDC on my next trip. I really appreciate and trust all the information you give people.

  2. alison said

    This is a great summary! Thanks so much.
    I actually ate at La Quinta Pasión a few times on my past trip (just returned).
    Now that I’m back in snowy Canada I would love to try and replicate their fish tacos to hold me over until my next visit — I can’t seem to find any recipes that see to match what I had their … do you have any pointers??

  3. Sandy said

    try this one:

    Combine 1 cup floud, 2 T cornstarch, 1 t. taking power, and 1/2 t. salt; then blend in 1 egg and 1 cup beer (this is your batter)

    for your sauce: 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup mayo and 1 lime, juiced, add 1 t. minced capers, 1/2 t. oregano, 1/2 t. ground cumin, 1/2 t. dried dillweed and up to 1 t. cayenne, dep. on how hot you like it

    heat 1 Quart veg. oil to 375 degrees, cut 1 lb. cod (or haddock) into 2 to 3 oz. portions, dip into batter, and fry til crisp and golden, drain on paper towels, put into corn tortillas, top with shredded cabbage, and then the sauce on top of that–

    let me know how you like–

  4. CECY said

    I will soon go on vacation to Playa del Carmen I have heard a lot about Dr. Taco what input can you give me.

    Dr. Taco is a popular taco stand with pretty decent shrimp tacos and a wide assortment of salsas and hot sauces to put on top. The funky little taco stand atmosphere makes it a fun place to stop in the resort zone. However, if you have a car, the best shrimp tacos in our opinion at the Oasis taco & seafood restaurant on highway 307 about halfway between Constituyentes and Juarez next to the Telebodega store (on the west side of the highway).

    Tony & Cheri

  5. Vanessa said

    I am planning to get married in Playa del Carmen next May and I am considering holding my reception at a restaurant…any ideas? I was thinking of Kool Playa Tucan but I cant’t find any menu information on this establishment. Thanks for any help you can give me!

  6. mexpat said

    Regarding Bodeguita del Medio, I would add that the food is sub-par if you’re used to “real” Cuban (in Miami or New Jersey) but the dancing and dance instruction is great (as are the mojitos). Tuesday and Thursday there is a dance lesson at 7pm, but the good dancers don’t come out til 11pm. I would recommend eating elsewhere and then heading over for a Mojito and some dancing (or watching, whatever floats your boat).

    PS- nice reviews!

  7. Parag said

    Hello Toni and Cheri!

    Thanks for all the information on this blog – enjoyed every post! We will be in Playa soon and are excited to visit. We were late to book at Luna Blue 😦 maybe next time.

    I was wondering if you had any recommendations for good vegetarian choices (no egg, no seafood, no meat, no lard, milk & cheese are ok) in Playa.

    Gracias!

    • You might try Babe’s Noodles & Bar (two locations) for some vegetarian choices. Also, 100% Natural. There’s also a vegetarian restaurant which we haven’t tried located on the corner of Calle 4 and Avenida 25. Hope to meet you once you’re in town!

      Tony & Cheri

  8. Great post thank you. cant wait to try !

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