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Travel blogger Ryan Gargiulo of Pause the Moment recently spent a year as an ex-pat in Playa del Carmen. We asked him to share his insider knowledge on the best spots to eat in this bohemian Mexican city on the Caribbean Sea. Stay tuned in the coming days for more stories in Mexico.
With an average of 240 days of sunshine per year, its proximity to Cancun International Airport (CUN) and the fact that it’s directly on the edge of the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean, Playa del Carmen is truly a destination that can’t be missed when traveling to the Riviera Maya.
Foodies, rejoice! Some of the best places to eat (and my personal favorites) include options for every budget. From street side vendors to the best in Mexican and international cuisines, I’ve got you covered. While Playa has it’s fair share of tourist traps and gimmicky restaurants, it also has some absolute gems. If you follow my advice on the restaurants and street stalls listed below, you’ll find more than a few places to choose from to add to your list.
Best Local Authentic Mexican Restaurant: La Coronela
If you’re looking for an authentic Mexican restaurant in Playa del Carmen, look no further than La Coronela. This little hole in the wall serves up some of the most authentic and delicious Mexican food in town and it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some of my favorite dishes include the fajitas, burritos (chicken/steak/arrachera), the house salad with grilled chicken and the tortilla soup. Oh, and don’t forget to order a side of Guacamole. It’s to die for.
I consider La Coronela to be one of Playa’s best kept secrets and I dine there often. Not only is the food incredible, but the owner, Gricelda, always makes her customers feel at home.
Best Restaurant for a Special Occasion: Oh Lala
Oh Lala is the #1 rated restaurant out of more than 700 restaurants in Playa del Carmen for a reason. It’s that good. It’s a high end restaurant in town serving up quality food, service and overall atmosphere. It’s perfect for couples who want to step away from the madness of Playa and enjoy a really nice meal in a quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
Tip: For main courses, I highly recommend the filet mignon in red wine sauce or the butter soy tuna steak.
Best Restaurant for Healthy Eats: Bio Natural
Bio Natural is a breath of fresh air when it comes to finding healthy food in Playa. The menu is fairly extensive and includes fresh salads, falafel, quinoa, cous cous, tofu, vegan lasagna, veggie pitas and a whole lot more. Vegans, vegetarians and those who enjoy eating natural, organic meals will absolutely love this place.
Tip: Bio Natural has an all natural/organic food store next door to its restaurant for those who want to grab healthy food on the go
Best Falafel: Falafel Nessya (no website, Calle 4 between 10th and 15th Ave.)
This little hole in the wall has three small tables inside and a couple of seat cushions set up on the curb for those who want to sit outside and enjoy their meal in the shade. The menu is simple and straightforward. You either order a falafel pita, which comes stuffed with fried potatoes, tahini, hummus and salad or a falafel plate served with a giant portion of falafel, hummus, veggies and pita. The pita option is plenty for one person and the plate can easily be shared by two.
The owners of Falafel Nessya always have me coming back for more. Not just because they serve up the best falafel in the Yucatan, but because they genuinely care about their customers.
Best Deep Dish Pizza: Don Chendo
Deep dish pizza in Mexico? That’s right, folks. Trust me when I say that you haven’t had a real deep dish pizza until you’ve had one at Don Chendo in Playa del Carmen. Russell, the owner, chef and culinary genius behind Don Chendo is a Playa ex-pat who was fortunate enough to learn everything he knows about pizza by a little old Italian woman in New York City.
While Don Chendo is still relatively new (opened in November 2013), the word is spreading fast across Playa’s growing ex-pat scene and the restaurant has quickly become a favorite for many Americans, Canadians and other foreigners living in Mexico who yearn for a taste of home.
If deep dish pizza isn’t your thing, no worries. Don Chendo isn’t only about their pizza. They also serve up some of the most delicious Italian cuisine in town. I highly recommend the chicken parmesan with ziti, angel hair with shrimp and broccoli and the spaghetti with meatballs.
Tip: When it comes to deep dish pizzas at Chendo, your best bet is either the Meatball or the California.
Best Jamaican Jerk Chicken: Ferron’s Jerk Chicken
Believe it or not, but the #2 rated restaurant in Playa is actually a Jamaican jerk chicken joint. At Ferron’s you’ve got three choices: a full, half or quarter chicken, which come with a slew of sides including corn on the cob, coleslaw, bread and more. The owner, Ferron, is a native Jamaican cook, so you’re guaranteed to have some of the best jerk chicken ever.
The only issue with Ferron’s is that it’s located on the other side of the Federal Highway, which makes it a little tough for most tourists to get to. If you’re not the adventurous type or worry about getting lost, you’re in luck, because Ferron’s delivers.
Best Restaurant Style Burrito: Mayan Bistro
Mayan Bistro is a small restaurant connected to an amazing little boutique hotel called Aventuras Mexicana. The size of the burritos at Mayan Bistro will absolutely blow your mind. You have four choices: vegetarian, chicken, beef or shrimp. All burritos come out bulging with rice, beans, lettuce and cheese. The burritos also come with a seriously generous portion of guacamole on the side that you can toss on top of your burrito.
Best Street Tacos: El Rey del Taco (Locations: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the side of Mega at Constituyentes and 30th Ave. and in the front right corner of the Mega parking lot on 30th Ave. from 4 p.m. to midnight)
Looking for the best street tacos in town? El Rey del Taco (literally translated to “Taco King”) has you covered. It’s a small street vendor that sets up shop by the Mega grocery store. You’ll notice the line that forms are mostly locals, which is a good thing. As I always say, if there’s a line of locals, it usually means three things: it’s cheap, it’s authentic and it’s delicious.
Chicken (pollo) and steak (arrachera) tacos go for 12 pesos each (approximately $0.92 USD). Adding cheese raises the price up to a whopping 15 pesos (approx. $1.15 USD).
Best Street Food Burritos & Tortas: Street Stall (Location: Corner of 15th Ave. and Benito Juarez through the stone archway, it’s the first stall on the left)
The cheapest and greasiest burritos and tortas in Playa del Carmen can be found at a small street food stall located just inside the park on the corner of 15th Ave. and Benito Juarez. If you’re hungry and you’re on a budget, or you just want a quick bite on your way to the beach, this is your best bet.
Tip: Chicken and beef burritos cost a mere 25 pesos (approx $1.91 USD) in the morning hours and 30 pesos in the afternoon and evening.
Best Churros: Street Stall (Location: Corner of 25th Ave. and Benito Juarez)
If you’re on the hunt for a traditional Mexican dessert, do yourself a favor and hit up one of the best churro stands in town. My favorite can be found on the corner of 25th Ave. and Benito Juarez at dusk.
Tip: If you can’t find this churro cart, there’s also a small street vendor that sets up shop on the corner of the park on 20th Ave. and Calle 2 Norte.
TPG Tip: When traveling abroad, make your purchases with a credit card that has no foreign transaction fee, like Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or American Express Platinum. For an added bonus when eating out, use your Chase Sapphire Preferred card for 2x dining bonus, plus there’s no foreign transaction fee.
Do you have any questions for Ryan about Playa del Carmen? Have you been to any of the spots on his list or have other suggestions for dining in Playa? Please share below.
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