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How do you find the best restaurants in Playa del Carmen? Like many who are newcomers, or even those who live here full or part-time, finding the best food in Playa del Carmen can be a challenge. This is partially because there are a lot of dining experiences from which to choose.
Options here range from sampling a traditional delicious taco from a street cart to enjoying a beautiful display of fresh local seafood served sauced and sizzling on a hot platter.
You can also dine seaside, where your favorite cocktail along with a fresh ceviche or juicy hamburger is delivered directly to your lounge chair.
However, restaurants come and go in Playa del Carmen. They can also be inconsistent, or just plain overpriced and touristy.
We decided to take on the daunting task of sorting through all of the noise, and narrowing down our choices for the best restaurants in Playa del Carmen.
You’ll find our recommendations for our favorite Mexican fare, seafood, hole in the wall gems, fantastic international foods and where to have that wonderful date night or special occasion.
Chiltepins Marisquillos is a laid back Mexican restaurant with a nice selection of tacos and tostadas, as well as a few other good choices. We especially like their shrimp quesadilla and nicely seasoned shrimp burger.
Not into seafood? No problem! Chiltepins also has a selection of grilled meats and burgers on the menu. Don’t forget to try some of their dishes prepared and served in a traditional stone molcajete made of volcanic rock.
Despite not being near the beach, the restaurant also features a pool directly in the center of the restaurant for those who don’t want to stray too far from the water on their vacation.
La Bamba Jaroca
La Bamba Jaroca is our top recommendation for fresh seafood in a locals’ off-the-beaten-path location. You can choose from a huge menu including ceviche, pastas, seafood rice or, our favorite, the Seafood Cazuela.
The cazuela arrives to your table as a hot bubbling traditional clay pot. It is a steaming soup chocked full of fresh tender shrimp in a delicious seafood stock along with melted cheese and chunks of smoky ham.
We usually order extra guacamole to add to the soup, giving it a creamy texture. You can also customize your bowl with a variety of hot sauces (beginners go easy on the homemade habanero salsa) along with pico de gallo and taco chips for a little extra texture.
If you have room, share a slice of their Flan Napolitano (egg custard with cream cheese drizzled with caramel sauce).
Pescaderia Y Cokteleria El Pirata
“El Pirata” (or ‘The Pirate”) has been dishing up Vera Cruz style Mexican Seafood dishes in a casual relaxed atmosphere for years.
It’s easy to overlook the restaurant due to it’s humble exterior, except the tables are often packed from open to close. Of course, this is always a clue that what you will find inside is well worth checking out.
The restaurant, which is also a fish market, will bring out an array of fresh fish or even lobster to your table, so you can pick exactly what you like. They are also famous for their shrimp and cocktails, if you are looking for something less elaborate.
Las Hijas de la Tostada
Hijas de la Tostada (translated to daughters of the tostada) is frequently packed with locals and tourists alike. They have fantastic ceviche (aguachile verde) and seafood tostadas “cooked” in lime juice.
If you aren’t into ceviche, they also have a nice grilled or fried seafood, such as a shrimp taco with cheese (Holbox taco) and fish and chips. There are also a few choices on the menu for meat lovers.
Camarones al Coco, Hijas de la Tostada, Playa del Carmen
Las Hijas de la Tostada has several locations, including their newest Beach Club location which offers a beautiful sweeping ocean view overlooking the beach.
El Fogon is our favorite place for classic Mexican tacos. The no-frills location has a giant rotating spit in front on the restaurant. One containing sirloin, and the other, their famous Al Pastor meat.
Al Pastor is pork that has been marinated and then stacked on a metal skewer and fashioned into the shape of a cone. It takes two people to wrestle the huge skewer onto the spit.
The meat is rotated and then expertly shaved onto tortillas and topped with a “flick” of roasted pineapple. We rate them as some of the best tacos in Playa del Carmen
Try it with their ample margarita and another of our favorites, the papa al horno (baked potato in foil, plain or topped with bacon, chorizo sausage, sirloin steak and cheese).
They also make grilled dishes that come out on a table top grill meant to share. Steak lovers will enjoy their marinated arrachera steak, which is tender and delicious.
Birria de la 30
Birria tacos are Mexican comfort food at its unapologetic best. Birria is slow cooked beef, goat or sometimes pork that has been stewed in a liquid featuring adobo sauce.
Adobo is frequently used in Yucatecan dishes. The Mexican version of Adobo Sauce is made with dried chiles other seasonings including oregano, garlic, cumin, cinnamon and vinegar. The dried chiles gives the sauce a deep red color.
Traditional birria meat is shredded and then served with a side of the liquid it was cooked in, along with some finely chopped onions and cilantro.
Birria tacos are made by first dipping the corn tortilla in the red broth before grilling them and stuffing them with the shredded meat and often cheese. The tacos have a beautiful orange color that makes them unique and all the more flavorful.
Birria de la 30 is located on 30 Avenida Nte. 4, Tohoku in Centro. It’s a tiny spot with just a few tables, often with a line.
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Oh Lala by George
The George Restaurant Group has several establishments in Playa del Carmen, but Oh Lala is a hands down favorite for date nights and special occasions.
The menu includes steak and seafood, as well as some classic Asian favorites such as Penang curry. Every dish is perfectly cooked with attention given to both presentation and balance of flavors.
The service at Oh Lala is very attentive and professional, and situated within a venue that is intimate and tucked away from Playa’s bustling main drag. So all of the ingredients needed for that special night out are in place to enjoy.
We can’t make a recommendation for a special night out in Playa without mentioning Alux, with a caveat.
The most stunning thing about this restaurant is the location. No, not on the beach, Alux is a restaurant in a cave. It an experience unlike any other.
Dinner here will include the opportunity to explore inside all of the little and large rooms within the cavern, including some small waterfalls. They also have an extensive wine list and an impressive menu.
The unfortunate consistent feedback (and my experience) is that the flavor of the dishes often fall flat, and the hefty price tag to enjoy them in the magnificent surrounds for most doesn’t measure up.
They used to allow an admission fee to enjoy a cocktail and a self-guided tour of the cave, but at is no longer the case as of this writing.
While not a Mexican Steakhouse, Bovinos certainly has many of the trapping necessary for a memorable night out.
Bovinos is a Brazilian Steakhouse. For those who are not familiar, Brazilian Steakhouses offer a huge buffet with appetizers, sides, salads, sometimes even sushi. Once settled into your appetizers, the fun begins.
Diners get a card indicating “Stop” or “Go.” Waiters with large skewers of meat begin to circulate around the restaurant.
They slice off portions of various grilled cuts of meat or other nibbles such as chicken wings or chunks of bacon wrapped marinated turkey breast, for example.
Then you are faced with kicking yourself for eating too much from the buffet line. Happens every time, even when you know.
Is Bovinos the best Brazilian Steakhouse I have eaten in? Not really. But is it still a fun night out? It really is.
Anafre Cocina a la Leña y Vino
Anafre is a relative newcomer to the Playa restaurant scene. The restaurant was created by a Mexican chef who decided to design a gourmet experience of dishes cooked traditionally on a wood fired grill (or Anafre).
We love their grilled ribeye steak, grilled octopus and never visit without ordering the grilled romaine salad.
The airy interior with tables perched on a bed of pebbles isn’t the most interesting part of the venue’ it’s the location itself, although this is often a point of confusion to newcomers.
The restaurant has taken off-the-beaten-path to another level. While only about an 11 minutes drive from Playa Centro, most people are baffled by the location on a side street in a residential neighborhood of Playa. You’ll say to yourself, this can’t be right.
The entrance has a small plaque and a bell to announce your arrival. Hopefully they will be expecting you because at this point, because for now the restaurant takes guests on a reservation basis only.
We don’t often recommend restaurants directly on the touristy area of Playa’s 5th Ave, but Ah Cacao is an exception. The coffee and chocolate shop is a perfect spot for a quick pastry and beverage of your choice.
Many who visit us also decide to pick up some high quality Mexican Chocolate to take home. If you need a little Chocolate soap, you can find it here too.
Don’t miss the double stuffed carrot cake muffins, chocolate croissants, or grab a few brownies for the road.
La Petit Shoux
La Petit Shoux’s brightly colored mural and laid back setting is only trumped by its fantastic coffee, fresh juices and tempting menu. The dishes are French inspired, some with a Mexican twist.
Over the past several years, the North end of Fifth Ave has begun to welcome an array of new restaurants. Many of them are coffee and sandwich places that are open just for breakfast and dinner.
This makes this area a great place to stroll in the morning and grab breakfast. La Petit Shoux, located on the corner of 5th Ave and Calle 55, is a great example of this.
You can view their menu here, available at their sister restaurant, Choux-Choux, located closer to Playa Centro.
Que Huevos is another popular breakfast and lunch place located on the north end of Playa’s 5th Avenue. The menu features standard breakfast fare, such as pancakes or omelets, and also Mexican classics, such as huevos rancheros.
Que Huevos, however, is known for its avocado toast, which is served with French fries, making it the clear choice for us. Fries for breakfast? Always yes!
This is a second location of Mama Linda’s Bistro, the first being on the Island of Cozumel. This location isn’t big (tiny actually) and it isn’t fancy. What it does have is a story, a big heart and some really interesting menu items.
Chef Dany opened this location in Playa where he cooks up some dishes that have been passed down from his mother and grandmother. Beyond some Mexican classic dishes, such as chilaquiles (think breakfast nachos), Dany also comes up with new inventive items.
Our favorite is the Waffles with Serrano Ham, Goat Cheese, Spinach and Fig Reduction. It’s probably the breakfast you’ll remember most from your trip.
If you go, and it isn’t busy, Dany will often come by and chat. Ask him about his family and his love of food, he’s got some wonderful stories.
Off The Vine
Off the Vine is a combination wine shop and wine bar that also serves up delicious fresh sliced cured meats. Our go-to dish here is a combination meat and cheese platter overflowing with cured meat, a variety of cheeses, and seasonal fruit.
If you’re not a wine fan, don’t worry. They make excellent mixed drinks, and have craft beer as well (some even on tap).
CMC Craft Brewery
In the past, the only beer choices in Playa del Carmen were the usual mass-produced suspects: Pacifico, Modelo,esTecate, and Corona, as examples . In more recent years, local craft breweries like Cerveceria Pescadores, Cerveceria Akumal, and Isla Brewing Company have popped up, and produce some amazing varieties.
Most of these are widely available by bottle, but rarely on tap. That’s where CMC (Colectivo Mexicano Cervecero) steps up. CMC has a constantly changing list of local and international craft beers on tap. The staff are friendly and very well educated about the beers on hand.
CMC also offers snacks and sandwiches, including a cochinita pibil sandwich which is one of our favorites.
Don Chendo offers up fantastic deep-dish style pizza and other homemade Italian dishes. It doesn’t matter where you land in the age-old argument of Chicago-style versus New York style pizzas, these deep dish pies are amazing.
All the ingredients are fresh, including their delicious chunky tomato “Sunday Sauce” which brings their deep dishes to the next level.
Luma Taverna del Mar
Luma is a small, unassuming looking place just a few steps from the beach on Calle 38. They provide top of the line meat and pasta dishes with great service.
The menu changes seasonally, but always features fresh seafood, grilled meats, and at least one unique stuffed pasta option.
We’ve found their steaks to be some of the most consistently delicious and reasonably priced in Playa.
Pro tip: ask for some homemade limoncello for an after-dinner aperitif!
La Famiglia has consistently been one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Playa del Carmen. Here’s one example as to why.
We often order a Caprese Salad along with a large pizza. This became a disappointment when for several months the salad was not available.
When we asked why, the server told us that the manager refused to offer the salad because at the time they weren’t able to access quality mozzarella cheese. That says a lot.
Happily that problem has been resolved, and we are again able to enjoy one of our favorite pizzas in Playa. Try the Mexicana with chorizo and jalapeno!
They also now have a new location that offers the same menu but with an ocean view.
Da Enzo Caffetteria e Ristorante
Da Enzo is a small family-run Italian restaurant nestled on Calle 42 between 1st and 5th. Their wood-fired pizza has crust with the perfect amount of chew and stretch, and they feature all the typical Italian dishes you would expect.
One of our favorites is their version of Fettuccini Boscaiola, fresh fettuccini served in a creamy garlic sauce with homemade sausage and mushrooms.
Check their site for 2 for 1 pizza specials!
The Big Bambu
The proprietors of the Big Bambu are serious about their burgers, and you can taste it. This funky restaurant even sports a full sized wall mural of Samuel L. Jackson from the movie Pulp Fiction, eating a burger.
To go all out, order a double patty burger, a burger so big it’s actually nearly impossible to take a bite of it. And if burgers aren’t your thing, Big Bambu offers tacos and lots of incredible sides, including a gooey mac and cheese.
Mu Burger certainly has its fans. Some who swear by the big juicy burgers and smothered fries who come back year after year. Others aren’t so impressed. We invite you to join the debate. Our experiences here generally have been mixed.
La Vagabunda 38
There are a few things that make a restaurant a favorite among the expat community in Playa del Carmen. Some of those key ingredients include drink specials, good international menu items at reasonable prices.
A bonus draw includes opportunities to mingle, such as offering live music and maybe some dancing. La Vagabunda 38 has it all, including a great location close to the beach in an open setting under an expansive thatched palapa bar.
La Vagabunda 38 is always mixing things up with different themes, such as salsa or tango dancing with paella specials or a jazz brunch complete with a bottomless mimosa.
And, as you can imagine, every so often Elvis is in the building.
The other draw for us is one of our favorite Tex-Mex style giant chicken quesadillas with plenty of grilled chicken and gooey cheese.
Papa Charly is known mostly for their ample lunch specials. It is includes an appetizer, main course and a fresh fruit refresco. The prices and the food are equally good. Try our favorite — creamy cilantro pasta with chicken. Did we mention that they make their own pasta?
Zenzi is a long-standing favorite of expats. They serve a mix of food ranging from Mexican specialties to burgers to seafood. The big draw for Zenzi is their beachfront location.
It’s a great spot to grab a table on the beach, where you can eat with toes in the sand while gazing over the blue water of the Caribbean. As a bonus, they often have live music.
The Lost Tiki
The Lost Tiki is an off-the-beaten-track venue offers some wonderful cocktails and a creative menu featuring fusion cuisine. It’s a great place to go and mingle while sharing a plate of bang-bang shrimp and Korean tacos or tucking into a bowl of ramen while listening to live music. Check their site for specials.
There are plenty of places to get rotisserie chicken in Playa, from supermarkets to chicken-only stands. El Pechugon has great chicken, but it’s really about the potatoes here.
These potatoes are roasted underneath the rotating chickens on the rotisserie, so as they cook they are basted by the delicious juices of the chicken dripping from above.
Tahini is located on the lovely Calle 38, which has bucked the trend of high-rise condos by preserving trees and nature along one of the few winding streets in Playa.
Tahini specializes in Lebanese food, and they serve up delicious and authentic kebabs, salads and dips, as well as more substantial fare like rack of lamb.
Rockas Jamaican Kitchen
Rockas is a little family place brings the intense flavors of Jamaica to Playa del Carmen. The standard dishes like jerk chicken and Jamaican patties are delicious.
For a real treat, try the Rasta Pasta – this pasta dish is smothered in a spicy and flavorful Jamaican sauce, and is accompanied by chunks of jerk chicken and grilled shrimp.
We were thrilled to learn that Rockas is opening a new branch on Calle 38. Rockas Beach Town Grill will include some of it’s famous Jamaican dishes but will also have some fusion food including Vietnamese menu items. We can’t wait!
You’ll usually find De Local filled with locals, with an occasional lucky tourist whi has stumbled upon the Argentinian restaurant.
Their great selection of Argentinian offerings include juicy gilled steaks and a huge selection of empanadas. They also have a great assortment of milanesas (deep fried chicken or steak) which arrive on a large platter with your choice of side.
They provide plenty of food for two with some leftover. They also have a nice pizza with plenty of cheese! Best of all, the prices here are very reasonable.
Flama Wood Fired Cuisine
Almost all the items at Flama are cooked in a wood-fired oven, so this is definitely a place to get your smoke on. With unique dishes like grilled salad and clam pizza, Flama stretches the boundaries of fusion food, but delivers deliciously.
Other Playa del Carmen Recommendations
Here are a few more articles about things to do (and eat) in and around Playa del Carmen.