An Evening Out and a New Restaurant: Antica
Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 27, 2008
We have always loved strolling on Fifth Avenue, especially at night. The lights shining out of stores onto the cobblestone streets along with the twinkle lights that seem to be strung among the overhanging greenery everywhere makes for a beautiful, romantic setting.
And ever since we bought the Luna Blue Hotel and Garden (three years ago February 1st… wow! Has it been that long already?!), we have watched in amazement as Fifth Avenue, Playa’s pedestrian strollway, has expanded north. What was a dirt road five years ago has now become the newest and hippest center of Playa Del Carmen. To give our readers an example of the changes in Playa Del Carmen’s “North Beach,” we thought we would take a look at just one block of Fifth Avenue, between Calle 28 and Calle 30.
This block has become a foodie heaven. Both sides of the street are crammed with places to eat and drink. On the west side of the street there is literally a restaurant row with six little restaurants sitting side by side as if in an open air market, all offering a different style and food. If you’re sitting at the right table, you can reach into the next restaurant with your fork and spear something off of another diner’s plate! Just don’t get caught. 🙂
We started our walk at the corner of Calle 28 where Giallo Limone, an Italian café and bar, is located. Cute and European in design it draws a very young attractive crowd with people who seem to enjoy posing at the street side tables. [Since writing this entry, Giallo Limone has closed. So far nothing has replaced it.] Heading north is La 5ta Tostada, a good sized bar with music, TVs and an interesting ceviche and tostada menu. Right next door is one of our favorite places, Babes Noodles and Bar. Babes has two locations (the other is on Calle 10 near Fifth Avenue), but we prefer this one. Not only is it nearer to the Luna Blue but it is smaller, less crowded, and the staff (Maximo and Jose serving the tables and bar) are the friendliest people you will ever meet. And those Blueberry Margaritas are a PDC must experience!!! Of course both Babes offer a menu of great Thai/Swedish fusion dishes along with some of the best salads in town. Babes also offers a discount with the VIP Smart Card.
Next to Babes is Maktub Caffe. It offers middle-eastern style food and drinks. We haven’t eaten there, but it is very popular and we plan to go some night soon. Continuing north, the next restaurant is Chicas Grill and Bar. It’s new (and NOT to be confused with Bloody Chicas old restaurant) and serves burgers, nachos and other bar style food. [Since writing this entry, Chicas Grill has closed and has been replaced by another small Mexican restaurant called 1847.]On the other side of Chicas is Mush-Room, a cozy little bar excellent for people watching and cocktails which were being served that night by a pretty girl wearing (barely!) a 6 inch mini-skirt (yes, Tony might have noticed). [Again, since writing this entry, Mush-Room has closed. We hear it will be replaced soon by a seafood restaurant.]
Right next to Mush-Room is a new Italian restaurant called Antica Osteria del Mar. We stopped for dinner there on our stroll and will give our review at the end of this blog entry. At the corner between Antica and Calle 30 is a new Argentinean steakhouse called El 10. [Since writing this blog entry we have eaten here twice, and neither time were we very impressed with the food (although the service was great). It is a very busy restaurant, however, most likely because the prices are very reasonable.]
The east side of the street is not as crowded with restaurants but still offered a lot of different dining experiences including Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream (ya gotta have dessert, right?), Sushi-Tlan (a friend ate here and said it was very good…sushi in Mexico…who knew?), Café Corazon (a small café with great coffees and a nice menu of breakfasts, sandwiches and snacks), El Farolito (a new taqueria), and Starbucks (they are everywhere!).
In the same block you will see a little convenience store, an art and furniture store called Casaarca Galeria, and Maya-Xel which sells beautiful lamps made of seashells.
So there you have it. In one block of Playa’s hip new “North Beach” area you can find twelve eateries and bars…a whole evening of cocktails, dining, lounging, shopping…oh, and eating ice cream… all without ever leaving the block. For more information about Playa del Carmen and these restaurants, go to IntheRoo.com. When you’re done looking at the website, take a look at the forums. A lot of locals and experienced Playa travelers hang out at InTheRoo and offer plenty of insider information. It’s the kind of place where you can ask a quick question, even if it has been asked many times before, and get a friendly answer.
As we mentioned, we ate dinner the other night at Antica, a new Italian restaurant on Fifth Avenue between Calles 28 and 30. It’s small with only eight tables and an outdoor sitting area. Inside is a full bar and another small place to relax.
We met one of the owners, Bruno, who greets guests and helps with orders. He was happy to chat with us and to give his opinion about the dishes on the menu. Cheri thought he was pretty cute, which is always a bonus. We think sometimes a restaurant tries to offer too many types of food and ends up doing none of them well. Antica offers only real Italian meals including some with fish, chicken and steak, depending on what is fresh and available. And of course they offer pasta of various types with wonderful sauces. Bruno explained his philosophy was to provide pasta in the style of Italy, which meant al dente. He said he hates overcooked pasta, reduced almost to mush before serving. Having learned to love pasta in San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood, we totally understood and agreed.
We started our meal with an order of bruschetta. Cheri loves bruschetta. Tony considers it small pieces of toast with chopped tomato. Big deal. However, we both really enjoyed Antica’s version: large slices of bread soaked with olive oil, loaded with spiced and chopped tomatoes, large chunks of mozzarella cheese and black olives. We followed this with two orders of pasta. Cheri got tagliatelle with carbonara sauce, and Tony got a special, cheese ravioli lightly grilled and served with a butter and sage sauce. Both of them were really excellent dishes. The sauces were light and flavorful and the pasta properly cooked and not bready or mushy. It was easily the best pasta we’ve ever had in Playa del Carmen.
The prices are good. Cheri’s pasta was $90 pesos and Tony’s $130 (approximately $8 and $12 US). As we mentioned, they have a full bar and a small but nice wine list, very reasonably priced for Playa del Carmen with good Mexican and Chilean wines for $3 to $5 a glass. And, they are one of a small but growing group of restaurants who offer a discount to locals. That makes perfect sense to us, as locals are the ones who will sustain them during the off season and it is locals (like us) who will get the word out that a place is worth visiting. In our opinion, this place is worth visiting, and we plan on becoming regular customers. In fact, don’t tell anybody, but we’re probably going to go back again tonight. Antica Osteria del Mar is a real find.