Playa del Carmen has long been known as the top foodie locale on the Riviera Maya for food. For decades, chefs from all over have been lured to this low-rise town, an hour south of Cancún, by the dream of opening their own little place by the beach. But when a few margarita-and-mariachi chain restaurants moved in, it began to look as if Playa’s incredible range of dining options might be overrun.
Luckily, that hasn’t been the case. New restaurants are still sprouting, and they’re sleek and sophisticated, hip and quirky—anything but run-of-the-mill. As new places open, others close, so you never know quite what to expect. The following are some current faves, but as you stroll along Fifth Avenue, Playa’s pedestrian-only main street (also known as La Quinta), keep your eyes peeled for the next hot spot.
Most Playa restaurants are on Fifth Avenue, but not this one. La Ceiba is a no-frills open-air spot on 30th Avenue, just a few blocks off Fifth. Sit at wooden tables for a traditional Mexican breakfast (chilaquiles, huevos rancheros) and stellar juice concoctions (try the Maya energy drink, made with celery, cucumber and chaya, a leaf used by the Maya). The restaurant is conveniently attached to a small grocery store selling fresh produce, flowers, herbs and spices and those striped tote bags that are so indispensable in Mexico (and make great souvenirs).
LA CUEVA DEL CHANGO
Fifth Avenue is gradually extending its boundaries, and one of the first spots to open at the northern “newer” end was this jungly restaurant (the name means The Monkey’s Cave). It tends to be crammed with locals at breakfast time on weekends, so go on a weekday. A curving roof covers part of La Cueva, but you can also sit at outdoor tables beside a trickling stream where koi and turtles swim. Families take over big tables in the leafy garden, feasting on crepes and milkshakes.
FUSION BEACH BAR AND GRILL
Sometimes the old-school places still resonate. Fusion, a Caribbean-style beach hangout, feels as if it’s been around for 25 years (in a good way). Grab a table under a beach umbrella so you can wiggle your toes in the sand while you snack on guacamole, salads, calamari and frosty cervezas. A towering palapa (palm roof) and cement floor keep the interior cool and comfortable; the long bar will have you pondering a return that evening.
This Veracruzan seafood restaurant sits on the terrace of a 15-room “industrial contemporary” hotel made largely of recycled materials (the lobby floor, for example, is lined with new tires discarded because of manufacturing defects). Ride the wire elevator to the breezy second floor, which has views of the ocean a block away. Hip staffers wear orange Ts and have a laid-back air; what’s the rush? Order guacamole, seviche and the stellar poblano pepper stuffed with corn and cheese.
La Ceiba: 30th Ave. at Constituyentes St.; 52.984.873.3334
La Cueva del Chango: 38th St. N. between Fifth Ave. and the beach; 52.984.147.0271
Fusion Beach Bar and Grill: 6th St. at the beach; 52.984.873.0374
Hotel Basico: Fifth Ave. at 10th St.; 52.984.879.4448