Mexican food is my most favorite cuisine in the world, so you could only imagine my excitement visiting the Riviera Maya. Prior to heading to Playa del Carmen, I did a little research of my own and narrowed down my list to a few interesting places to try purely based on reviews. Even if you don’t research ahead of time, you really can’t go wrong with the food along Avenida 5 (5th Avenue) which is a quaint, mile long strip of upscale shops, bars, and amazing restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, the Mexican food in Mexico is quite different in comparison to the Mexican food found here in the United States. For one, enchiladas appears to be more of a breakfast item than a dinner item. Also, both enchiladas and burritos were not seen on the menu at most Mexican restaurants as they are here in the United States. On the contrary, you’ll find tacos, fajitas, chilaquiles, tostadas, quesadillas, and chips & guacamole to be amongst the “most” popular dishes in Mexico. Additionally, the food in Mexico is light and not as greasy and cheesy as it is in the US. Quite honestly, I didn’t miss the grease whatsoever given the amount of flavor in most food items.
In terms of cost, I didn’t find the cost of food to be expensive in Playa del Carmen, but then again I’m used to dining prices in New York City. Having said that, cost is relative based on the region you dwell in. In Playa del Carmen, entrees will run you anywhere from 50 pesos (~ $4 USD) to 220 pesos (~ $18 USD). And finally, since a buffet breakfast was included as part of our daily hotel package, my husband and I only ventured out for lunch or dinner, and dessert. For now, here to share with you are my lunch and dinner meals. Enjoy!
1. El Fogon (lunch)
Local cuisine with dirt cheap prices slightly off the beaten path. Best & Cheapest meal of our trip! Definitely a daytime spot, don’t venture out here at night.
Complimentary starters… looks like Green Beans (left) and Nachos with Bean Soup (center). Both were mighty delicious. My husband and I kicked off our vacation with cocktails (right). I went for the Lemon Margarita and he went for a Mojito. Both were yummy!
We ordered Guacamole as our appetizer and it was so fresh. We split the Chicken Fajitas which were beyond delicious and incredibly flavorsome. The fajitas were served with roughly 10 corn tortillas on the side. Loved how they grilled scallions and served it with boiled potatoes and crème fraîche in a foil. Delicious!
LOCATION: Calle 6th & 30th Ave., Playa del Carmen
CUISINE: Local Mexican
VERDICT: 5 / 5
El Fogon was highly rated on all the major websites. This local gem is slightly off the beaten path and about a 15 minute walk from Avenida 5 (5th Avenue), hence it is best to dine here for lunch while it is still daytime. You don’t want to venture out too far at night in Mexico. Upon arrival, El Fogon was pretty packed, and that’s how you can usually tell when a place is good. Now the food… the drinks, the guacamole, and the main meal were fabulous, and all for just $20 USD, I know, right! I really should have tried the Chicken Tacos since they are famous for their tacos, but my hubby and I settled on chicken fajitas instead which were enough to share between 2 people. Great food, great deal, and my favorite Mexican food on the entire trip! YUP!
2. Casa Mediterránea (dinner)
Amazing Italian food with the most romantic ambience. A must-do when in Playa del Carmen.
Both my husband and I started with a glass of Cabernet which we enjoyed with Complimentary Bread and Bruschetta that was infused with garlic and extra virgin olive oil and then topped with a grilled tomato and Italian seasoning. OMG, I salivate just thinking about the bruschetta, I have to make this at home.
Since I was on vacation, I couldn’t resist ordering the Camarones de Alfredo (shrimp fettuccine alfredo) which was creamy, indulgent, and just the right portion. My husband went for the Ravioli filled with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese, and although his portion appears small, it was very filling.
We ended the meal with Tiramisu which I thought was above average, but certainly not the best I’ve ever had. The cocoa powder on top had me coughing since it was too dry.
LOCATION: 5th Avenue, between Calle 6 & 8, Playa del Carmen
VERDICT: 4.5 / 5
Casa Mediterránea is considered as one of the best and most romantic restaurants in Playa del Carmen, and although it was Italian food, I had to see what the hype was all about. Speaking of Italian, Italian cuisine is quite popular in Riviera Maya, that is after Mexican cuisine. Casa Mediterránea offers an extensive menu along with a good selection of vegetarian entrees. Located in a private courtyard, the ambience is so romantic with gorgeous lanterns hanging all over the restaurant. While you wait for your table (we waited 15 minutes), you can visit cute little shops within the private courtyard. The food here is excellent and very reasonably priced given the beautiful atmosphere, however the tiramisu was the only letdown. A must-do in Playa!
3. Mi Pueblo (late lunch)
Average to Good Mexican food with a live Mariachi band at night. Great place for people watching.
As you can tell I love them margaritas, here I am with a Mango Margarita on the rocks which was good. We started off with Guacamole as an appetizer which came with a side of chips and red & green sauce. The guacamole wasn’t flavorful and lacked lime and spice. On the other hand, the green sauce was flavorful and extremely spicy.
As our entrees, we split the Camarones Tostada (3 shrimp tostadas – left) which was pico de gallo and bland shrimp topped over a fried corn tortilla. The concept was good, but the shrimp lacked flavor. We also split Pollo Tacos (3 chicken tacos – center) which were good, but again the chicken could have really used more flavor. And here is a soft taco (right) I made for myself.
LOCATION: 5th Avenue and Calle 8, Playa del Carmen
VERDICT: 3 / 5
Unfortunately, Mi Pueblo wasn’t on my list of places to dine, however given how packed this place was during the evening hours, I assumed it would be excellent, but I was wrong. I don’t think it is possible to have bad Mexican food in Mexico, but you certainly can end up with average Mexican food. With that said, the food here was average to good, but wasn’t flavorful and amazing as one would expect of Mexican food in Mexico. You really are paying for the ambience and the super friendly service. A great place to people watch, but very disappointing food. Skip this.
4. Carboncitos (early dinner)
Very friendly service with great food and ambience especially if you dine here at night.
Both my husband and I each started with a HUGE Lime Margarita on the rocks… amazing drinks! Our waiter came by balancing each drink on his head. Now that’s talent!
As for my entrée, I went for the Pollo Enchiladas, I believe Carboncitos is one of the few places that serves enchiladas as dinner. This meal consisted of 5 shredded chicken enchiladas that weren’t too greasy or cheesy for that matter. Really good.
My husband went for the usual, yet again, Chicken Fajitas… that’s his favorite Mexican dish. The combined flavors of sautéed chicken, peppers, and onions was yummy, however I still thought El Fogon’s version was much better.
LOCATION: Calle 4th & 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen
VERDICT: 4 / 5
Carboncitos offers great ambience, excellent drinks, good food, and the friendliest waiters. The menu here is extensive and you will find they serve items such as enchiladas and burritos, they definitely cater to the American taste palette. The food here is very good, but I didn’t leave with that wow factor as expected. Overall, a great restaurant which meets the 4 star criteria in every category.
TELL ME: If you’ve been to Playa del Carmen, what are some of your favorite restaurants?
What’s your absolute favorite Mexican dish to order?