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Archive for the ‘Dining in Playa’ Category

Luna Blue Hotel & Bar Proudly Sponsors Taste of Playa

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 1, 2009

Taste of Playa 2009We at the Luna Blue Hotel & Luna Blue Bar are proud to be Executive Sponsors of a new community culinary event happening this coming Saturday September 5, Taste of Playa. Taste of Playa promises to be a world-class culinary event. Top level chefs from the best restaurants in the area will be creating samples of their best dishes for the public to try at very reasonable prices. Local select food vendors will also be selling their specialty food products. And local bars will be showcasing some fine wines and tequilas, as well.

This is the first time we’ve put our sponsorship behind any major commercial event in Playa, but this one spoke to us on a couple of different levels. First off, Taste of Playa is a community focused event. When we asked one of the organizers why this event isn’t being held in high season, but rather one of the slowest times in the tourist year, the answer was, “We wanted the focus to be on the community, not on the tourists.” As most of you probably know, Mexico has been hard hit this year with tales of drug wars and most recently, the overblown media hype called swine flu. Our little part of Mexico has seen a huge decline in tourism since May, as scared tourists stayed away. While swine flu was never a problem in this area, the resulting drop is tourism has been a tough blow for many locals. Many small businesses have closed for the season and some permanently. Many, many local people have lost their jobs and are struggling just to feed their families. We liked the idea of supporting an event with a focus on the people of Playa. We felt that such a unique event would draw many people to Playa, and the more people who come to Playa and spend tourist dollars, the more the locals are able to get back to their normal lives. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from this year’s Taste of Playa will be used to provide a year’s worth of safe drinking water to a local school.

The other reason we wanted to support Taste of Playa is purely personal. Having come from San Francisco, a food-lover’s paradise, we both love to eat. One of the great things about living in Playa del Carmen is that Playa has become a place to find fantastic food. Some of the high end restaurants in Playa easily equal those we’ve come to love in San Francisco. Even many of the mid range restaurants have some amazing food. And we believe that some of the best food one could ever have can be found at the cheap off-the-beaten-path eateries just a few blocks outside the main tourist zone. We figured if all of this came together in one spot, how great would that be??

“VIP Passports” to Taste of Playa are currently being sold at only two venues: at our hotel, the Luna Blue, on Calle 26 between 5th Avenue and 10th Avenue and Tropical Casablanca Hotel, on Avenida 1 between Calles 10 and 12. VIP passports cost $400 pesos each and entitle the bearer to one “taste” from each table/restaurant. Only a limited number of passports will be sold, so if you’re going to be in town and plan on being hungry Saturday afternoon, you may want to pick one up ahead of time. The event will be held at Parque Fundadores, the gorgeous little park down near the Cozumel ferry at the south end of town, from 3-9 pm. However, VIP Passport holders will be allowed entrance at 2 pm. If you have limited time or money, Taste of Playa “Pesos” will also be sold at the cost of $10 pesos each. Each “taste” will cost either 1 or 2 “Pesos,” or about $.80 to $1.60 US–a very reasonable price. A list of participating restaurants can be found here.

The event will also feature music and other surprises. If you’re in town and love to eat, don’t miss it. If you’re not in town, you might think about a last minute trip. We think Taste of Playa will be one of the best events of the year, and we’re proud to be associated with it.

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Events & Happenings, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Kalaka…A New ‘Must Try’ Restaurant in Playa

Posted by Tony & Cheri on June 21, 2009

Cheri at KalakaWe were looking for a new restaurant to try the other night and ended up at Kalaka. It was an instant hit with us, and it’s already become one of our “must recommend” places. We enjoyed everything about this restaurant and have already eaten there twice in the last three days.

Kalaka bills itself as serving Italian/Mexican fusion food. We were a little dubious about that description and were unimpressed when we first read the menu. The entrees offered are pretty basic, i.e., steak, fish, fajitas, pasta. Basic Playa style restaurant fare. However, it was cute and intimate with only eight tables in an open storefront setting on Calle 4 between 15th and 20th Avenues, and it got points from us for being outside the resort zone. We decided to give it a try.

As soon as we sat down, we had a cute little free appetizer delivered to the table consisting of cheese and olives in a pool of olive oil. There is an extensive wine list but unfortunately only by the bottle. Wine by the glass is limited to your basic red and white “Chateau de Sam’s Club.” There is a full bar.

The first night Cheri ordered chicken in a mushroom cream sauce. It was a large chicken breast completely covered in a thick cream sauce full of very large sliced mushrooms (no canned stuff). In our opinion, cream sauces tend to be too thick and a little bland in taste. This one was flavorful and delicious. The chicken came with rice and some steamed vegetables which had been perfectly cooked and flavored with a whole lot of butter. Tony ordered shrimp fajitas. Rather than getting the standard bowl of shrimp with some overcooked onions and pepper strips, he got a plate full of well-spiced shrimp surrounded by huge amounts of steamed vegetables. The vegetables were fresh, well-cooked and perfectly set off the shrimps. This was accompanied by homemade tortillas and some of the best guacamole in Playa. We were both extremely impressed with our meals.

The after-dinner tequilasThe next time we returned, Cheri had the shrimp brochette, which consisted of giant shrimps wrapped in bacon and grilled on skewers with various vegetables. This was covered by a light and very flavorful sauce. It was served with a baked potato and more of those delicious vegetables. Tony ordered one of the two filet mignons on the menu. It was a good sized steak grilled perfectly and covered with hollandaise and a tangy soy-based sauce. It was easily as good as any steak we’ve ever had in Playa. It was, frankly, better than the steaks we had at Chicago Don Jose’s and equal to the more expensive steaks we had at John Gray’s Place. It was served with fresh asparagus and a baked potato swimming in butter and sour cream. At the end of both meals, a small tray with two shots of tequila, lime, salt and watermelon chunks was placed on the table. It was a nice touch.

We met the owners, Sylvia and Max, who are from Milan. They were friendly and gracious and are obviously very enthusiastic about their restaurant. We really liked this place, as you can tell. The intimacy and soft lighting makes it a very romantic spot. The quality of the food makes it one of the better restaurants we have eaten at in Playa del Carmen. And because it is a couple blocks off of Fifth Avenue, the prices are not outrageous. The most expensive thing on the menu was the filet mignon Tony ordered at $225 pesos (about $17 US).

This place has style and is worth keeping around. We’re definitely going back (next time we’re ordering from the extensive pasta menu) and highly recommend that our readers give it a try when they visit Playa.

Shrimp Fajitas

Pollo con Champinones (Chicken with Mushrooms)

Inside Kalaka

And on a totally different topic…for those of you who have been worrying about the weather, the beaches, the sunshine, etc. (especially our friends, “the other Tony & Cheri”), here are some pictures we took this morning on Xpu-Ha beach. This is why we live here.

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Living the Dream, Recommendations, Weather | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Eating Like a Local: Hacienda La Herradura & La Route des Vins

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 1, 2009

One of the things we love about Playa del Carmen is that it is always changing and reinventing itself. Seems like every week we walk by a new restaurant, shop or bar and say, “Wow, where did that come from??” There’s always something new to explore. And for those of us who like to eat, there are always new restaurants to try.

We recently ventured out, in our never ending R&D roles (we love our jobs!) and tried two of Playa’s newest restaurants:

Hacienda La Herradura

Hacienda La HerraduraJust half a block from our hotel, the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden, on the corner of 10th Avenue and Calle 26, is a great new spot, Hacienda La Herradura. We ate here for the first time when our friends Sarah & Adam were in town a few weeks ago and have since been back again with other friends and a couple of times on our own. We were pleasantly surprised each time. They have a large menu, very good food, great service and reasonable prices–who could ask for more? The first time we went we were given a free round of interesting house drinks when we arrived – pink ones for the girls (a tequila, coconut, pineapple drink) and green ones for the boys (a tequila, midori, lime concoction). We don’t know if this is standard practice since this is a new spot or simply because we introduced ourselves as their neighbors, but it was a welcome treat, and the drinks were interesting. The second time we went, the management also brought us two rounds of tequila shots after our meal, all on the house. Not a bad marketing ploy! 🙂

The menu is Mexican, with an Argentinian influence. Their entradas, or starters, range in price from $30 to $85 pesos. We were amazed to find one of our very favorite Mexican dishes on the appetizer menu, Chiles en Nogada. This is a wonderful dish that you normally only find at Christmastime, as it is usually made with pomegranate, something that is only found here at that time of year. We ordered the Chiles en Nogada (sans pomegranate) and an order of guacamole. Both were excellent.

They also have two soups and several salads on the menu. The Ensalada del Mediterraneo con arrachera ($75 pesos) was large enough for a main course, and the arrachera was some of the best we’ve ever had in Playa, rivaling HC de Monterrey!

They have an assortment of tacos on their menu, six chicken and six pork dishes, eight fish dishes and some pasta dishes. They also have a nice array of outstanding steaks, ranging from the standard arrachera to Rib Eye, T-Bone and New York steak. All of us were pleased with the quality and quantity of food that we ordered. The most expensive single-person dish on the menu is $150 pesos, and most dishes are far less than that.

Yesterday we stopped by for some lunch on our way to do some shopping. Tony had the tacos de arrachera and Cheri had the breaded shrimp tacos. Both were extremely good and super cheap (30 pesos for three arrachera tacos and 40 pesos for three shrimp tacos). So far this place has been excellent every time we’ve been. This is destined to become like La Pesca to us…one of our regular haunts. The fact that it’s so close to the hotel is just an added bonus!

La Route des Vins

La Route des VinsJust around the corner from the hotel on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Calle 28 is a large, airy restaurant with European style cuisine called La Route des Vins. The menu is very unusual for Playa and in our opinion, very welcome, adding to Playa’s image as a city of the world. La Route des Vins offers an extensive menu of tartines (pastries and breads with fillings and toppings); toasts (little pieces of bread with various toppings); mussels in a number of different presentations, crepes, salads and several types of fondues (meat, cheese, chocolate and more).

The portions are quite large, even the appetizers. We regretted not having split one. We ordered a cheese fondue to share for our main course, and it was still almost too much for two people. The fondue we ordered was the “country” fondue with multiple cheeses, bacon and mushrooms mixed in with the cheese. This was accompanied by a large plate of toasted bread pieces, slices of sausage and little potatoes for dipping. The service was very attentive, and one of the owners came by to make sure we were being taken care of. There is an extensive wine list, along with wine specials of the day.

This is one of a number of restaurants that the owners are opening throughout Mexico. As we were told, they are bringing through their “A Team” to set up their restaurant before setting up the next location. It will be interesting to see if when the local team takes over, the food, service, etc. stays at the same high level.

The restaurant is a pleasant corner building with huge doors that are opened to allow a feeling that you’re sitting outside on Fifth Avenue. It’s bright and airy.

The prices are reasonable and midrange. We felt that for the amount and quality of food, it was a good deal. Next time–and there will be a next time–we’ll skip the appetizer to save room for some of that chocolate fondue. 🙂 But then again, La Route des Vins is right across the street from our very favorite (and well-priced) gelato store, Corsi. Either way, dessert is covered!

Here are some photos of our dining experiences in these two new restaurants:

Two of the pretty servers at Hacienda La Herradura

Hacienda La Herradura dining room

One of the fish dishes at Hacienda La Herradura

Chicken Cordon Bleu at Hacienda La Herradura

One of our favorites, Chiles en Nogada, at Hacienda La Herradura

Ensalada Mediterranean with arrachera, at Hacienda La Herradura

A tartine appetizer – WOW – at La Route des Vins

Another appetizer at La Route des Vins – cheese and salmon toasts

Cheese fondue (country style) & dippers at La Route des Vins

Cheese fondue up close at La Route des Vins

Just across the street from La Route des Vins….
our favorite gelato place, Corsi

Posted in Dining in Playa, Recommendations, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

What’s New in Playa del Carmen for 2009

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 1, 2009

For the second year in a row, we’re going to start the new year with a blog about what’s new in Playa del Carmen. Playa is growing so quickly we could probably do a “what’s new” blog every couple of weeks, but given our schedule, particularly during high season, we’re lucky to do this once a year. So here goes.

This year mostly we’re mostly reporting on our own neighborhood of north Playa, Playa Norte, or as we call it, North Beach. When we first took over the hotel (four years ago February 1), North Beach was the outskirts of the resort zone. We were practically in the boonies. Fifth Avenue had only recently been paved at our end and was not yet closed to traffic. There were few restaurants and stores, and the Luna Blue Hotel (at that time, the Hotel Zanzibar) was one of the few reasons to journey that far north on Fifth Avenue. Boy has that ever changed.

The North Beach section of Playa (north of Constituyentes) has become the new happening center of Playa’s restaurant/bar/shopping scene. Here are some of the newcomers from late 2008:

Chris Bolister playing at the Luna Blue BarThe Luna Blue Bar, Calle 26 between 5th Ave & 10th Ave. Our very own Luna Blue Bar officially opened this year, just in time for St. Paddy’s Day, but it has really come into its own in the last few months. Parrothead Cheeseburger parties, Pet Shelter fundraisers, and spontaneous happenings like lap dance lesson night have all made the ‘Blue a fun place to hang out. And starting Tuesday January 6th, one of Playa del Carmen’s favorite local musicians, Chris Bolister, will be doing an acoustic set at the bar every Tuesday night. Tony will probably be grilling his famous Papa burgers on those evenings. Chris Bollister is known around town as a great rock ‘n roll performer, but his up close and personal acoustic sets in the intimate setting of our bar show a whole other side to his personality.

Garden of Eating, Calle 20 between 10th Ave & 15th Ave. Another rather new restaurant in Playa is the Garden of Eating. The owner of a great old house in Playa refused to let her building be torn down for modern condos and instead created this interesting new restaurant. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with dinner having an Indian influence with a special influence on curries. We just ate there tonight and had a tasty and interesting meal. We’ll definitely be back.

Molusko, 5th Avenue between Calles 28 and 30. Just next door to our favorite Italian restaurant Antica is newcomer Molusko. They have tostadas, tacos, ceviche and many more items on a largely seafood menu. Again, it’s on our “to try” list.

Ben & Jerrrys in Playa del Carmen, MexicoBen & Jerry’s, 5th Avenue between Calles 28 and 30. As quality ice cream never goes out of style, regardless of the country, Playa has added to its list of ice cream parlors with a new Ben & Jerry about three doors down from North Beach’s Haagen Dasz. You now have a choice of where to buy very expensive high quality American ice cream!

1847, 5th Avenue between Calles 28 and 30. This is a new traditional Mexican restaurant and bar.

La Destileria, 5th Avenue between Calles 22 and 24. La Destileria is a gorgeous new restaurant which features an eclectic nouveau Mexicano cuisine served in a beautiful modern dining room or in an open air palapa bar. It is the latest in a series of upscale restaurants in Playa. La Destilleria is part of a chain that has restaurants in the larger Mexican cities, and its presence here in Playa shows how north Playa is suddenly on the “in crowd” map. We’ve eaten here several times and really recommend this place.

El Muelle, 5th Avenue between Calles 28 and 30. Another rather large bar on the same “foodie” block of Fifth Avenue between Calle 28 and 30. They were having electrical problems the night we were visited, so we’re unsure what the atmosphere is, but our first impression is that it is of the terminally hip thump thump music type popular among a crowd younger than us.

Corsi'sCorsi’s, Calle 28 between 5th Ave & 10th Ave. For those who like their ice cream with an Italian twist, Corsi’s joins the roster of many gelato cafes to be found in Playa. The emphasis is on gelato, but they appear to have coffee drinks and other small snacks as well. In a quiet side street café style setting. Very reasonable prices for ice cream/gelato, at least in this town.

Evolve Health Club, Calle 24 between 5th & 10th Ave. This new ultra modern health club is the talk of the town. Locals are pretty thrilled with its amazing array of fantastic workout machines & cool classes. We’ve already joined in anticipation of taking off our extra holiday pounds. And, we’re pleased to announce that guests of the Luna Blue Hotelcan purchase day passes for only $100 pesos (normally $150 pesos). It’s by far the largest and nicest health club in Playa.

Airborn, 5th Avenue between Calle 22 and 24. Mens clothing store with an emphasis on guayaberas.

SohoSoho, 5th Avenue between Calle 22 and 24. Soho clothing store has opened a second, larger location here in North Playa. Cute clothes, reasonably priced. Now they’ve added the latest ankle breaking high heel fashions for shoe divas.

Zingara, 5th Avenue between Calle 22 and 24. This is the third Zingara in town that we know of. They sell the latest in miniscule bathing suits, one of which ended up under our tree as a present for Cheri. Cute stuff and reasonable prices.

Maria Vazquez, 5th Avenue between Calle 22 and 24. Upscale womens clothing.

Mimosa, 5th Avenue between Calles 28 and 30. Upscale womens clothing.

KumKum & Mezcal Room, 5th Ave at the corner of Calle 28. This one is pretty bizarre. It’s a combination mezcal bar and jewelry store. It appears you can sip mezcal (a raw distant cousin of tequila) while you shop for high end silver jewelry, something we prefer to do sober. 🙂

Crybaby'sCrybaby’s, Calle 24 between 5th & 10th Ave. Visitors who crave American food and can’t go a week without a burger, fries and a chocolate shake, should find what they want at this new Fifties style restaurant. The prices are pretty hefty ($8 to $11 for a burger) but they are big enough to split, and the fries were hot and crunchy, although they were out of onion rings the day we were there.

Road to the Mamita’s & Kool beach clubs, Calle 28 between 1st Avenue & the beach. Underneath the new and still under construction Aldea Thai condos, a large number of stores and restaurants are being prepared and opened. There’s one small burger joint already open. Our friends at Mexico Blue Dream Dive Shop are also relocating there in early February.

Last but not least, there has been a major change in the central part of Playa. The legendary Coco Bongo, which is a dance/nightclub with locations in Cancun and Mexico City, has now opened in Playa del Carmen at the corner of Calle 12 and 10th Avenue. We were privileged to attend the invitation-only VIP Grand Opening last week and were favorably impressed. The senses are assaulted with a never-ending stage show, trapeze artists, air and confetti cannons, flashing lights, booming surround sound and the endless pouring of liquor. It’s expensive with a $20 admittance for cash bar or a $50 all you can drink ticket, but we think it’s worth the price. It is crowded beyond belief, and movement in the club is difficult but not impossible. But still, it’s a little slice of the exotic that many people in Playa will enjoy. And the former Bali dance club has now opened as Dubai, on Calle 12 between 5th Ave and 10th Ave, right next door to CocoBongo. We haven’t checked it out yet.

Oh, and did we mention Playa now has its very own Dairy Queen? Woo hoo! 5th Ave between Calles 8 & 10. The taste of childhood is so sweet.

2009 looks to be another incredible year for Playa del Carmen. Despite the economic woes in the world, people are still flocking to our little home as one of the hippest vacation spots around. We’ll do our best to keep our blog readers up to date on whatever is new and fun down here in paradise. One thing that hasn’t changed of course…the beautiful Caribbean Sea is still here, and that’s where you’ll find us tomorrow morning to greet the new year.

Feliz Año Nuevo….Happy New Year.

Posted in Dining in Playa, Living the Dream, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Eating Like a Local: Mexican, Mayan & More…for Cheap

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 25, 2008

One of the great things about living down here is the food! As many tourists and travelers already know, Playa Del Carmen has some of the best restaurants around, including all of our favorites like El Fogon, La Pesca, H.C. de Monterrey and Las Cazuelas. But there are also a lot of great places off the beaten path in the nearby neighborhoods of Playa where we have found cheap, high quality Mexican and Yucatanean regional foods. Since visitors often don’t know about these places, we thought we would list some of the ones we like best. Next time you are down here on vacation, check out one or two of these places for a truly local experience. And you’ll spend a lot less at any of these places than you will on Fifth Avenue.

SORRY, ACAVERA HAS CLOSED SINCE THE WRITING OF THIS BLOG ENTRY.

Cactus Café. 30th Avenue at Calle 20. A French chef in a small Mexican café. We go here often for desayuno (breakfast). They have the best chilaquiles in town. Chilaquiles are a kind of breakfast nacho with tortilla chips cooked in a mild red chile sauce with cheese and cream. Sometimes they are served with eggs on top as well. They also make “Pain Perdu” (lost bread) which is a french toast made of thick slices of bread soaked in a sweet cream batter and lightly fried in something that tastes like brown sugar. It’s like bread pudding. Cactus Cafe
El Faisan y el Venado. (The Pheasant and the Deer). On the east side of Highway 307 just north of Juarez. This is the first restaurant ever opened in Playa Del Carmen, back before the town was famous. They specialize in giant platters of traditional Mexican and Mayan dishes including pheasant and venison! It is a huge hall of a restaurant with excellent food and service. Our suggestion…let one of the waiters help you order the first time and try something new. Full bar. El Faisan y El Venado
Los Amigos. 30th Avenue at Calle 26. A small restaurant serving traditional Mexican meals in a cute little semi open-air setting. Very cheap. The staff speaks some English. Try the sopes con pollo, a thick fried tortilla (but chewy, not crisp) served open face with beans, lettuce, spicy chile sauce, chicken, cheese and cream. Two huge tortillas covered with good stuff (enough to share) for about $4.00. Full bar. Los Amigos
Doña Mary. 30th Avenue at the corner of Calle 28. No tourists here for sure. An open-air group of tables in front of a kitchen bustling with local woman cooking up cheap but tasty foods for people in the neighborhood. In the afternoon you can see a line of the ladies working as they chop veggies and clean chickens before the restaurant opens. In the evening the place is packed with locals. They are famous for their tamales, and their chicken soup is sure to cure any cold. Doña Mary
Nativo. On the west side of 30th Avenue just north of Constituyentes. Nativo draws both locals and tourists with good Mexican meals emphasizing natural fresh ingredients. We recommend the enchiladas. They are also famous for their liquados, or fruit and yogurt shakes. Nativo
Acavera. 30th Avenue between Calles 24 and 22. A little hole in the wall of a place. It has only a few tables but the food is very good and very cheap. Basically a quick lunch stop type of place. We like the empanadas, tortillas folded over and stuffed with various goodies then deep fried. Acavera
Oasis. On the west side of the highway between Constituyentes and Juarez, next to the large Telebodega building. It is a big palapa (open air and thatched roof) with the best shrimp tacos in town. Period. The have a full seafood menu, and we always mean to try something new, but when we get there and sit down, we can’t resist those tacos. $16 pesos per taco. They have a large fancy restaurant in the hotel zone with the same menu, but we think the food is better here. Full bar. El Oasis
Pollos Asados Al Carbon Estilo Sinaloa. Calle 2 at the corner of 20th Avenue. Our friends from South Dakota, Tim & Ruth, turned us onto this great little place. A big open-air restaurant that’s filled with the aroma of roasting chicken cooked Sinaloa style. For a couple of bucks you get half a chicken fresh off the spit and accompanying side dishes. Cheap and always busy with local working men from the nearby area. It’s near the corner where you catch the colectivo for a ride down the coast. Pollos Asados
El Pollo Bronco. This place is on the east side of the highway in the town of Tulum. If you are going down there for either the beaches or the ruins, this little place is worth the stop. They have wonderful, flavorful moist roast chicken (order a quarter, a half or a full chicken) which is served with the greatest potatoes ever made. They are twice baked, with the potato removed from the skin, whipped with cheese and cream and put back in the skin to cook some more. Heaven! Beer and soft drinks. El Pollo Bronco in Tulum

So there you have it. These are a few of our favorite places to eat in the traditional style of Mexico and still stay on our budget. We hope some of you will try them. Remember, part of the adventure of exploring includes trying new places and things to eat! None of these restaurants is very difficult to get to, and most of them are less than a 15 minute walk from the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden. Let us know what you think.

Posted in Dining in Playa, Recommendations | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

An Evening Out and a New Restaurant: Antica

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 27, 2008

Looking restaurant to restaurant along 5th Avenue from Antica Osteria del MarWe 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.

Jose and Maximo from Babe's Noodles & Bar on the north end of Playa del CarmenNext 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.]

Cafe CorazonThe 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.

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Antica, one of North Playa's new gemsAs 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.

Cheri at Antica 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 offseason 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.

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What’s New in Playa del Carmen: January 1, 2008

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, everybody. We thought we’d start out the new year with a new category of blog entries: “What’s New.” From time to time, as we discover new restaurants, tours, activities, beaches, etc. in and around Playa del Carmen, we’ll blog about them and archive them under this category. This way you regular blog readers can keep up on the ever-changing face of Playa. And of course we’d always love to hear about other people’s experiences. You can always email us or comment here on the blog telling us about your discoveries.

A New Restaurant
[Since writing this blog entry, as happens so often, this restaurant has gone out of business.]
There’s a new high-end seafood restaurant in town, Grotto Prime World Seafood. Its quality and price put it in the same category as Casa del Agua, John Gray’s, Chicago Don Jose and Negrosal. It’s located on Calle 10 between 5th Avenue and 1st Avenue, just behind Starbucks. They specialize in seafood dishes from around the world. It has an open-air dining area in front which extends into a covered interior dining room. The very modern looking bar extends from the inside to the outside. Located half a block from the beach, it has great ambience and sea breezes in the evening.

The menu is eclectic and the food is very high quality. What makes this different from other restaurants, in our opinion, is its “Chef’s Tasting” menu. For $350 pesos per person, you can get a little bit of most of the things on the menu. It is well worth the price.

The chef’s tasting offers a small dish of each of the following:

Octopus Carpaccio – Mild Pasilla Pepper Dressing and Red Wine Reduction
Andalucian Gazpacho with an Avocado Deconstruction
Blue Crab and Cucumber ‘Ravioli’ – Honey Vinaigrette, Cilantro Oil and Jamaica Flower Reduction
The House Duck Liver Paté
White Asparagus Creme with Mussels Poached in Wine and Onion Confit
Green Tea Sorbet
Shrimp with Caviar, Peanut Paste and Ginger Foam Sauce
Black Risotto Frutti di Mare Tinted with Squid Ink and Seafood in White Wine Sauce
Créme Brulée
Petit fours

Every dish is brought one at a time. They have a large wine selection and a full bar. For that special evening out, it’s really a nice splurge. And if you’re using the VIP Smart Card for a discount, even better. We really enjoyed this meal and recommend this restaurant.

A New Location for an Old Restaurant
We’ve long been fans of HC de Monterrey. Originally a butcher shop that supplied other restaurants, HC has for years put tables and chairs out and offered their mouth-watering steaks grilled up and served with a potato and other fixings. We discovered the other night that they have recently moved. Their old location on Calle 1 Sur is now a restaurant called CH de Monterrey. However, despite the similarities in name, the real place with the great steaks is now located on Constituyentes between Avenida 25 and 30. There’s another location on CTM street, which is outside of the resort zone.

We went the other night for dinner, and it was as great as ever. Order the arrachera nacional paquete for $99 pesos and you can’t go wrong. You get a marinated flank steak you can cut with a fork, baked potato or baked onion, tortillas, awesome salsa, sour cream, half an avocado, and a soft drink. You can also buy beer if you want. The place was packed to the rafters and probably will always be that way. If you have to wait in line, it’s worth it. They have new extended hours from 12 to 12. This is a true Playa del Carmen experience and tradition. Go hungry.

A New Bar
With any luck we’ll be announcing the opening of our bar at the Luna Blue within a month. We’ve designed it in classic Caribbean style with a palm-thatched roof, swings instead of stools around the exotic hardwood bar, and a beautiful deck overlooking our tropical garden, terraces and waterfalls. More on that in the weeks to come.

However, in the meantime, we discovered a new bar tonight while walking on Fifth Avenue. Our attention was drawn to its second-floor location by sculptures of blue twinkle lights which seemed to be bursting out over the street. It’s located on Fifth Avenue between Calle 4 and 6. The entrance is in an alleyway on the west side of the street, which also leads to Playa’s most popular gay bar, Club 69. As you walk down the alleyway, on the left side is a stairway leading upstairs to The Roof Bar. It is ultra modern and small, but the space is well used. They feature an in-house DJ who tonight was playing music which was either techno, house or chill or possibly technohousechill. Sorry, our musical tastes reflect our ages. You get the point.

The waiter we met was very friendly and spoke perfect English. He said they had been open for only a week. Their slogan is “We Don’t Have Happy Hours, We Have Happy Nights.” In that vein, beers are a dollar from 6-7 pm and from 10-11 pm and ladies drink tequila free from 9-10 pm. That could be dangerous. Our dear friend Sarah, who recently moved to Iowa, will be so upset she missed this opportunity!

A New Tour
Hidden Worlds just keeps getting better and better. It has long been our favorite tour operator in the area. Several months back they added their new Skycycle, which we reviewed on this blog earlier. Now they have a whole new tour called the “SkyCycle Ultimate Cavern and Canopy Adventure Package.” This is less a tour than an opportunity to spend an adventurous day in a jungle setting.

During the hours of 9 to 5, you’re transported by the jungle jalopies of Hidden Worlds deep into the tropical forest. From a central location, you’ll be directed to a number of activities. First is a Jungle zip line. Climbing a tower to 35 feet in the air, you whizz along the zip line for 600 feet descending from the treetops to a ground level platform where you are safely caught. Next, you are fitted with harness and helmet and then rappel down into a very large cavern. Inside the cavern there’s a large body of clear water where you can snorkel if you wish. The next adventure is the Cenote Splashdown Zip-line. The zip line starts in the open air and sun of the jungle but quickly descends through an opening into a cave. The zip line descends into the water of the cave (it’s not very deep), and the cold, clear crystal water brings you to a halt. There’s a guide there waiting to help you out of your harness. Next another guide will take you on a snorkeling tour through adjacent caves. We have been through a number of cenotes at Hidden Worlds and thought this was one of the prettiest we had seen. Very impressive. Finally, the activities conclude with a trip on the Skycycle.

Doing all of these activities once takes about three to four hours. However, you can return to any or all of the activities time and time again throughout the day. You can ride the Skycycle, do the ziplines or snorkel in the caves for as many times and as long as you wish. You admission price covers the entire day. Our 25-year-old son was visiting us from California over Christmas, and the three of us did this tour. We all loved it.

The regular admission price is $89.95. Children are $49.95. If you purchase your tickets at the hotel, we can arrange for free transportation to the site (you’re on your own on the way back, i.e., colectivo or taxi). All equipment is included, including snorkel gear. Wear a bathing suit under your clothing and cover yourself with sunscreen and bug spray before you go. Take a bottle of water. There is a centrally located snack bar; however, when we were there the only “snacks” they had were chips and candy. We’re sure that will change in the future.

As always, the Hidden Worlds staff was professional, courteous and friendly.

* * * * * * * *

We hope everyone had a great holiday season. We’re looking forward to a great beginning to the year. We’re actually almost completely full at the Luna Blue for the months of January and February, so if you have plans to visit us, contact us soon. We’re going to jump over to Jamaica for a few days next week just to take a break. We’ll be reporting on that when we get back. That’s the nature of our life these days….we take a break from one tropical seashore to go and visit another!

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A Little Gift from Tony and Cheri & the Luna Blue Hotel

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 8, 2007

We hate spending too much on vacation, and we don’t think our guests should have to, either. That’s why we were so excited when we learned about the VIP Smart Card. This is a discount card for Playa del Carmen which offers discounts of up to 50% on restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and tours. To our knowledge, it’s the only discount card available in this area.

The card offers discounts at popular Playa del Carmen restaurants (including some of our favorites) like La Parilla, Chicago Don Jose, La Palapa Hemingway, Babe’s, Manne’s Biergarten, Madre Tierra, Sur and many more, including one of Playa’s newest and most upscale restaurants, Grotto World Seafood. (We’ll post a review of this terrific new restaurant in the very near future.)

VIP Smart Card for Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel & GardenParticipating bars & clubs include the Tequila Barrel, Bali, Mambo Cafe, Carlos & Charlie’s, Senor Frog’s, Coco Maya, The Jam Session and others. And you can get discounts on activities like dives at Phantom Divers, Dive Mike and Go Cenotes. There are also discounts offered for shopping, spas and excursions.

You can even get a permanent souvenir of your vacation in Playa del Carmen with the 15% discount at Scream Ink Tattoo shop. 🙂

We have been using one of these cards ourselves for awhile and really love it. In fact, we love it so much we’ve decided to make it part of the Luna Blue Experience! Starting tomorrow, anyone booking three or more nights directly with the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden through our website will receive a FREE VIP Smart Card specifically created for the guests of the Luna Blue. It’s just another way for us to say thank you for joining us here in paradise.

And don’t worry, if you already booked directly with us, you will receive a card upon your arrival, even if that’s tomorrow. Consider it our holiday gift.

And even if you’re not staying at the Luna Blue, you can still get the benefits of a VIP Smart Card. Cards cost $20.00 and are good for two people for the duration of your visit to this area, regardless of how long that is. You can find out more about the VIP Smart Card at www.vipsmartcard.com. The cards will also be available for purchase at the Luna Blue.

Paradise and pesos left in your pocket. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Recommendations, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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!

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