Now, the reason I wanted to write this guide in the first place – to introduce you to my favourite local restaurants in Playa del Carmen!
These are my favourite ‘come muy baratos’ (very cheap eats) which provide excellent value, delicious meals at around 50 Pesos ($4) per person:
Dona Paula ‘the Pozole place’ – Calle 6 and Avenida 15
We were first brought to this unassuming restaurant by a Mexican friend who raved about the Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup packed with tender pork and juicy corn kernels known as ‘hominy’.
From the first visit, we were hooked, and after about ten months of faithfulness to the Pozole, Tyrhone branched out and tried the Chicken with Mole sauce (Pollo con mole), another traditional Mexican delicacy. It is delicious, one of the best I’ve had in fact. Meals are around 45 Pesos ($4) and includes an agua fresca (jamaica, tamarindo) and all the accompaniments like tortillas, lime, and of course, blow-ya-head-off habanero.
The Pozole is garnished with lime, crunchy lettuce slices, fresh onion and if you are game, a slither of habanero chili. Just be careful with the latter.
I include a photo of the exterior of the restaurant, because if I hadn’t been shown, I wouldn’t have known it existed.
Dona Paula will be seen having her lunch or reading the paper in the tiny dining room, while five equally tiny Mayan women busy themselves in the open sided kitchen. It can get warm and rather ‘cozy’ in the small seating area, but trust me, the food is worth the small amount of discomfort.
This is my favourite local restaurant in Playa del Carmen, serving a wide variety of traditional dishes from the Yucatan such as Cochinita pibil (braised pork) and Mexican classics such as Pozole, Mole, tostadas and salbutes.
La Floresta ‘The Shrimp taco place’- On the highway 307 between Calle 4 and 6 (On the right hand side, heading south, look for the large yellow sign)
Here you will find some of the best shrimp tacos in Playa del Carmen. They also serve ceviche, shrimp cocktails and more, though we never made it past the tacos. Take care with the green habanero sauce – don’t say you weren’t warned! Two drops per taco is my rule! Shrimp tacos are around 22 Pesos each ($1.90). Two is enough for me, though Tyrhone usually eats 3.
Note: Seafood is only available during the day. At night, La Floresta becomes a regular ‘meat on tacos’ joint and is run by different staff, which I don’t recommend as highly.
‘The Lunch Place’ or ‘Taqueria Viva Mexico’ – Avenida Constituyentes, between 30th and 35th Avenida.
This is a favourite lunch spot of ours, which serves a ‘Comida del Dia’, or menu of the day for 45 Pesos (under $4) from 12-3pm. It includes a drink, a soup and a main course which is usually a stew or grilled meat served with rice and beans.
They sometimes do a delicious beef or chicken soup for the main course. It is good, wholesome food at a great price, but the menu changes daily so it’s kinda luck of the draw. We’ve had mostly excellent meals here, with the occasional average one (but never bad), so with a 95% success rate at a great price, it’s still one of my favorite lunch places, hence the name!
It’s closed on Sundays and at night it becomes an al pastor taco joint, run by different staff (we haven’t tried it).
‘Tacos on Juarez’ – Avenida Juarez between Avenida 40th and 45th
This is a great taco joint, serving all the usual suspects like tacos, tortas, alambres and al pastor. The draw card here, however, is the buffet of sides to help yourself from. A selection of rice, beans, guacamole, chili, salsa, fresh cilantro, pico de gallo, spicy habanero-marinated onions and even creamed potatoes, turns your basic tacos into a gourmet creation. You can choose either maize (corn) or flour (harina) tortillas and they are around 15 Pesos ($1.20) each.
Tip: you don’t get cutlery (for a reason!), but the radishes make excellent edible spoons – thanks to my friend Alison who gave me that little tip on my first visit which I have passed on to many friends since!
Note: It is an evening place which opens about 5pm.
‘Cynthias’ or ‘The Tostada Place’ or ‘Machecados’ (the actual name) – Situated in an obscure location behind the Chedraui supermarket on Calle 1 sur and Avenida 45.
Local friends of mine call this place ‘Cynthias’ after a woman who used to live next door. “Let’s go to Cynthias,” they’d say, instead of the actual name. Long after Cynthia left, the name stuck and they still use it, so I’d like to keep the legacy going.
This place is worth the walk or taxi ride for their delicious tostadas de pollo (chicken tostadas), sopa de limon (lime soup with shredded chicken – delicious), salbutes (a soft, spongy tortilla base layered with chicken, avocado and tomato), liquados (fruit shakes) and their signature sweet icy sundaes called… ‘Machecados’.
It opens in the afternoon and stays open late into the night. There is seating under a huge tree on an outdoor terrace and it is a favourite for local families as there is a small playground out front (with very squeaky swings!).
The main event here is the chicken tostadas – cripsy tortillas piled high with shredded chicken, beans, tomato, red onion, cheese and sour cream. Served with delicious salsas, these things are messy but totally worth the trip to the lavenderia (laundry) the next day. They are 22 pesos each ($1.80), and two is plenty (though my sister Holly and I went for three one night just to make sure).
Holly and my friend Shelly threw me a surprise birthday party here. I thought I was just going for a normal dinner, but arrived to a table of decorations, props and the whole restaurant singing to me in Spanish. We had a pinata which the local kids impressively bashed within an inch of it’s life. It remains one of my favourite memories of my time in Playa.
*Closed on Tuesdays.
The Cochinita cart on 30th Avenida and Calle 20, under the huge Ceiba tree near the DAC store.
I have to thank my friend Simon from Australia who first took us here for breakfast after a recommendation from his Mexican friend. Sometimes it is intimidating eating from stands when you don’t know what they are serving, but this one is known for Cochinita, a slow-cooked pork.
A popular breakfast for locals throughout the Yucatan, I wasn’t sure how I would go eating it in the morning, but it was lighter than I expected and absolutely delicious.
My Mum and I preparing for Cochinita
The tacos are served with pickled red onions which I have come to love so much and a spicy salsa (to taste). If you try them you’ll see why it’s so popular with the locals, who are probably wondering why people are spending so much money on scrambled eggs and cafe lattes over at La Ceiba, the popular cafe across the road (I tend to agree with them).
This stand is set up early from 7 am and he packs up around midday, possibly 1pm, so if you’re not up for pork for breakfast, it makes a nice early lunch.
‘The cheap taco place’ or ‘Los Tarascos’(the real name) – 30th Avenue near Calle 32
This place serves our favourite, so-cheap-it’s-almost-criminal ‘al pastor’ tacos. The regular price for 5 tacos is 40 Pesos, which is around $3.
During our stay in Playa, they had a special on Tuesdays and Thursdays which was buy 5 tacos and get 5 free, which means 10 tacos for $3. Not only are these excellent value, but they are seriously the best al pastor tacos I’ve had in Mexico.
The special has since moved to Mondays. They are garnished with cilantro, fresh onion, pineapple and served with muy picante habenero-infused onions and salsa (on the side).
Que Rico! The ‘cebollitas’ (grilled onions) and the guacamole are also excellent.
Open from 2:30pm. Closed Sundays.
Asadero El Pollo or ‘The chicken place’ – Calle 2 on the cnr of 20th Avenida (and a few other branches around town)
The only thing on the menu here is whole chickens grilled with delicious spices served with rice, sliced red onions and tortillas for 110 pesos ($9). Quarter and half portions are also available. It makes a great lunch after getting off the collectivo from a morning at one of the cenotes or beaches along the coast. They are open during the day only and close around 6pm.
Ninos pizza – Several chains around town, but we can recommend the one on 30th Avenida near 24th Calle.
This cheap and delicious pizza joint serves freshly made, thin crust pizzas. We can’t go past the grande peperoni con pina (large pepperoni with pineapple) for 100 pesos ($8) for a Friday movie night.
Don Tomato – On 10th Avenue near 26th.
This little gem is excellent for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. The owner/chef makes everything on the premises, like spinach pie and a wide selection of empanadas (pastry pockets filled with either meat, mushroom, spinach or ham). There is not much atmosphere in the dining room, but he does a roaring take-away trade. The spinach pie is a must and his chimichurri salsa is addictive (the green one).
Billy the Kid (‘the 8 Peso taco’) – Calle 2 and Avenida 15
If you are on a budget and looking for cheap, tasty eats, then look no further than this simple eatery with delicious 8 peso tacos, topped with grilled onions, cilantro and lime. They are a little greasy but so, so good and not to mention excellent value. There is a second branch on Avenida CTM, near 35th.
Check out the following page for my selection of cheap-ish restaurants.