Carretera TulumBoca Paila
Tel: 52 984 877 8523
Worship the sunset with a frosty margarita while nibbling on feather-light chips with lime-infused salsa. Segue to shrimp rubbed with achiote (a pungent yucatecan red spice similar to a curry) and flash grilled over a wood fire. Better yet, start the day with homemade yogurt over papaya and pineapple, and return for as many meals as possible. Renowned for its toes-in-the-sand simplicity, this deceptively rustic restaurant at the Zamas Hotel in Tulum serves some of the finest inexpensive meals in the Riviera Maya. Wood tables and chairs painted bright blue, orange and yellow balance on uneven floors indoors and sink into the sand beneath a grass awning beside the sea. A revolving display of handcrafted jewelry and textiles amuses diners awaiting a seat (pre-wedding parties and other large groups are commonplace at dinner). Check into an oceanfront hut for a few days, and you can work your way through the extensive menu from wood-fired pizzas to fish tacos, veggie-packed salads to grilled lobster.
Open daily 7:30 am to 10 pm.
Le Méridien Cancún Resort & Spa
Retorno del Rey
Boulevard Kukulcán, Km 14
Tel: 52 998 881 2260
Chef José Mejia has given the Méridien's formal Mediterranean restaurant some nouvelle Mexican flair, adding dishes like sea bass ceviche marinated in tequila and chicken breast stuffed with huitlacoche (a trufflelike corn fungus) to a menu previously dominated by foie gras and rack of lamb. But the real highlight at this multitiered dining room is the breakfast buffet. The breads alone—including an array of cheese-filled pastry puffs, chocolate croissants, and kiwi Danish—are worth extra time in the gym. Ask for the jugo verde (green juice), an antioxidant-packed blend of pineapple and orange juice with parsley and cactus. Both the omelet and quesadilla stations have fillings like spicy chorizo and huitlacoche. The dining room has a formal feel, with cushioned booths and banquettes tucked beside stone columns for privacy. The best seats are in the glassed-in sunroom with sea views and AC.
Open daily 6:30 am to 1 pm and 6 to 11 pm.
80 Avenida Río Magdelena-Canoa
Tel: 52 55 5616 6336
Fish is an afterthought at many restaurants in Mexico City—not a surprise, as the capital city is hundreds of miles from either ocean. Chef José Luis Uribe makes seafood the star at this restaurant in the southern suburb of San Ángel. The fish soup, scented with olive oil, clams, and chunks of tender fish, is a great starter, as are the tostadas piled high with shredded crab. For your entree, your server will suggest the pescado del día al carbon, the catch of the day grilled over an open flame. There are other choices, but this is one place where your seafood shouldn't hide under a heavy sauce. The dining room is open and airy, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows on several sides. If the evening is fine, ask for a table on the terrace.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1:30 to 11:30 pm, Sundays 1:30 to 6 pm.
22 Av. Escénica
Tel: 52 744 446 6845
Though it's been around a few years, the cliff-top Baikal has a continually hip vibe as well as a consistently excellent menu. Just getting to the dining room—it requires a trip down a special spiral staircase set into the hillside—makes you feel like a VIP. Once you arrive, the heavy bossa nova beats and dreamy underwater videos projected on wall screens evoke a chichi Manhattan nightclub. Diners tend to linger a long time here, sharing abalone with chipotle vinaigrette and crab legs with angel hair salad for starters, then gradually moving on to lobster tail with goat cheese and mushrooms, glazed duck leg, and the house specialty, steamed red snapper with lobster butter. Beautiful types make the indoor views almost as good as the outdoor ones.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 pm to midnight.
Bahia Hotel & Beach Club
Avenue El Pescador
Cabo San Lucas
Tel: 52 624 143 1889
A hot spot for surfers, supermodels, and the generally hip, Bar La Esquina, a Mexican–Mediterranean restaurant inside the Bahia Hotel, is more than just a pretty face. Juicy mesquite-grilled hanger steak is artfully presented with a side of broccoli and Lincoln Log–stacked potato frites; on the (somewhat) lighter side, a sweet and salty salad of arugula, walnuts, cranberries, sheep's cheese, and prosciutto could tempt even the strictest of dieting supermodels. One of the most extensive wine lists in Cabo San Lucas and desserts such as toffee pudding with dulce de leche ice cream and berry-topped crème brûlée round out the indulgent menu. The decor is a cross between a modern Mexican pavilion and a Middle Eastern nightclub, with white stucco walls, wood floors, and Moroccan-style lanterns—all of which helps make this the post-dinner party spot. For a decent table, get there before the bar crowd struts in around eight o'clock.Isabel Sterne
Open daily 8 am to 1 am.
407 President Masaryk
Tel: 52 55 5282 2064
This place is above the competition—literally. To reach it, you take a private elevator from the row of high-end restaurants that cuts through the mostly residential neighborhood of Polanco. In the sprawling dining room, angled wooden slats hide almost all the outside world. You wouldn't be contemplating the view anyway, as the food by chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso commands your full attention. The Basque-inspired menu is divided in half—one side traditional dishes, the other modern interpretations. But in reality, their presentation is so unique that every dish feels like it was created on the spot. Take the ensalada escuadrada de camarón, which literally means squared shrimp salad. The crustaceans arrive propped up on a little table constructed of leeks and fried yucca, an effect that might seem overdone if the shrimp weren't perfect. A small army of waiters tends to your every need, applying the finishing touches to many dishes, such as the sauce on the rib eye with baby corn and pigs' ears, tableside. They'll even light your cigar or provide a little stand for your purse.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1:30 to 11 pm, Sundays 1:30 to 5 pm.
San Miguel de Allende
In-the-know expats congregate for morning meals at Café de la Parroquia (11 Jesús; 52-415-152-3161) and El Correo (23 Correo; 52-415-152-4951). The former dishes up a wide range of Mexican standards like chilaquiles (fried tortilla strips with salsa, cheese, and eggs), while the latter offers everything from classic huevos rancheros to pastel tres leches aldaco (traditional Mexican cake). Breakfasters with a sweet tooth should pop into San Agustín Café for the city's tastiest churros and hot chocolate (21 San Francisco; 52-415-154-9102).
740 Guadalupe Sánchez
Tel: 52 322 222 3228
Chef Thierry Blouet's multiroom fantasia, Café des Artistes, is the fanciest restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, with some fancy prices to match. From the rooftop garden to the exclusive Cocina de Autor dining room with its tasting menus and hand-rolled cigars, the whole place is as dressed-up as Puerto Vallarta gets. The extensive menu, with dishes hailing from France, Mexico, and southeast Asia, ends up reading like what you'd find at a trendy Santa Monica bistro: escargot ravioli, glazed pork belly with tamarind vinaigrette, seared foie gras with a cranberry cookie, chicken stuffed with pine nuts and lemon confit. Don't be fooled into thinking Blouet is a dilettante, though; his influences may be scattered, but his meals are reliably delicious. The high-maintenance desserts—like chocolate fondant with caramel sauce and nutmeg ice cream—are big enough to be two-spoon affairs. Blouet has also opened Thierry's Prime Steakhouse in the hotel zone and Café des Artistes del Mar at the Hotel des Artistes in Punta de Mita.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 6 to 11:30 pm.
25 Calle San Francisco
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 152 1860
The jury's still out on star chef Eduardo Osuna's elegant San Miguel restaurant. It's certainly well dressed, with several dining rooms filled with linen-draped tables awaiting diners. The wine list is impressive, the service attentive, and the menu ambitious. But San Miguel's resident gourmands are slow to accept outsiders charging Mexico City prices. Still, Osuna's smoked marlin tacos, osso buco with chiles, and pork in beer sauce are well prepared and beautifully plated. Skip the grilled meats and go for Mexican specialties like charales (tiny fried fish), the salsas and guacamole prepared tableside, chicken in mole poblano served with plantains, and a fragrant, tasty pescado Veracruzano. Plan on a special night out and a pricey tab.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily noon to 10 pm.
Fracc. Laguna Mar
Tel: 52 998 877 0700
If you can't take the time for a complete escape on Isla Mujeres, sail to serene Casa Rolandi aboard the Cocoon I for a leisurely Italian lunch or sunset dinner. The ship departs from Cancún's Embarcadero dock to Rolandi several times daily; reserve a ride and seaside café table in advance. Manager Giancarlo Frigerio greets guests with genuine glee; once he gets you settled at a linen-draped table on the over-water deck, you can order beef carpaccio drizzled with white truffle oil, then try cheese tortellini and veal lightly seasoned with Sambuca and saffron. Ask Giancarlo for a wine recommendation; he's always adding to the extensive list. You'll likely want a strong espresso with the silky panna cotta for dessert; otherwise, you might be too sleepily satisfied to make it back to the boat for the ride home.
Bahía de Palmas
Loc. 2, 4, and 6, Col. Fonatur
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 142 5928
Like the clientele, dishes come in pairs at Casianos, a hot date spot in San José del Cabo. Chef Casiano Reyes's one-night-only, multicourse menus could include scallops with lentils, tomatoes, and cauliflower purée sharing a plate with seared duck, mango chutney, and turnip purée (a play on surf-n-turf), or a small plate of beet, goat cheese, and pumpkin seed salad alongside pan-grilled sea bass with pineapple purée and annatto seeds. If raspberries are in season, the chef might tuck them into mascarpone cheese and finish the dish with vanilla and caramel sauce. Meals are long but well paced, orchestrated by a small crowd of waiters who deliver a steady succession of dishes to the rustic wooden tables in the candlelit dining room. Sommelier Alejandro Mariscal pairs wines with every course, or if vino isn't your thing, he'll mix up a creative cocktail, such as agave nectar, hibiscus, and mint in a chilled glass rimmed with chile powder and salt. Between tasting menus and libations, dinner for two can cost upward of $100, so be sure you like your date.Isabel Sterne
Open daily 6 to 11:30 pm.
Calle Polar Poniente at Calle Orion Norte
Tel: 52 984 108 0681
Chef Claudia Pérez Rívas could easily challenge the competition in Mexico City or L.A., but she'd rather grind cinnamon in her metate in a serene house-cum-restaurant on a back street in Tulum. Pérez has traveled extensively throughout Mexico sampling complex moles and highly regionalized recipes, and tropical fruits and local veggies are staples in her repertoire, which includes savory-sweet chiles en nogada, earthy shrimp with huitlacoche, and a Kahlua bread pudding. It's a cash-only operation and service can be mañana-style, but nowhere else on the coast comes as close to presenting the core flavors of Mexico.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays 5 to 10 pm.
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 154 8363
Chef Ana Lilia Galindo serves up a globe-spanning menu in Chamonix's hearth-warmed dining room and on the candlelit patio. There's a cozy, homey dining room feel here, but the food exceeds that of most family kitchens. The menu ranges afar, but regulars return for the Vietnamese spring rolls, free-range chicken, potato pancake with sour cream and caviar, and the Swiss fillet—medallions of beef wrapped in ham and cheese.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 1:30 to 10 pm.
36 Retorno del Rey
Blvd. Kukulcán, Km. 13.5
Tel: 52 998 881 0808
The swank, sophisticated Club Grill at the Ritz-Carlton seems utterly out of place in Cancún. A charming manager leads you to your seats, where crystal sparkles under tea lights and the table is draped in layers of linen. The superb wine list includes several excellent selections from Mexico's boutique vineyards (and imported Bourdeaux, of course), and the menu promises mouthwatering confits, foams, and truffle oils, finished off with a swoon-worthy Caribbean chocolate soufflé. A cool jazz band playing by the bar adds just the right tempo.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 7 to 11 pm.
Avenida 5 between calles 38 and 40
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 873 0655
Chef Juan Diego Solombrino's infectious grin and playfulness shine through his creations: Risotto with fennel, chorizo, and calamari; tuna tartare with mescal foam; sticky toffee pudding. Stellar wines from Mexico's Casa Grande vineyard accompany the wide selection, though one wishes for more choices by the glass. The simple, stylish dining room only seats 50 and feels intimate and secluded—though it faces busy Fifth Avenue.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Mondays through Saturdays 6 to 11 pm.
1 Pasaje Agustín Ramírez
Tel: 52 755 554 2518
Ask around: Everyone in Zihua will tell you to come to this restaurant. It's housed in the city's oldest building, the Inguaran family's 1865 hacienda, which was the center of the then-thriving coconut industry. The palm-shaded garden, fairy-lit at night, is bucolic and romantic; the food is neither pretentious nor expensive. Locals rave about the coconut-crusted snapper and the shrimp baked in a coconut shell—but you can actually dine coconut-free here, and well. Start out with the heart-of-palm salad, then move on to charcoal-broiled pork chops, fresh-grilled fish, or the house special: chiles rellenos, potato-and-shrimp-stuffed Poblano chiles on tomato salsa. If, for some mad reason, you're feeling homesick for North American junk food, there's also a bar menu of burgers, fries, and chicken wings.
Open daily 11:30 am to 4 pm and 6 to 11 pm.
Tel: 52 55 5514 3169
Star restaurateur Gabriela Cámara's "beach food" shack in Colonia Roma is casually decorated to remind you of a palm-thatched palapa. The menu, though, is more refined than you might expect: The signature tuna sashimi tostadas are served with chipotle sauce and braised leeks, and the pescado a la talla—grilled fish of the day—is smothered half in green sauce (parsley and garlic) and half in red (chile and achiote). It's so hip, you'll probably see D.F.'s number one heartthrob, Gael García Bernal—as long as you don't try to come for dinner. Until further notice, only lunch is served, which around here means 1:30 to 6:30 pm.
Open daily 1:30 to 6:30 pm.
Tel: 52 55 5255 0912
The name brings to mind all sorts of things, but it's really an abbreviation for denominación de origen, or the official region from which a particular food comes in Spain. This place is serious about its food, which is why the servers carve a leg of Iberian ham right in the front window. This salty cured ham is sometimes eaten alone, or just as often in dishes such as ensalada de higos con jamón ibérico, a salad that includes sweet figs and tangy goat cheese. Main dishes are mostly updates of traditional recipes, so there's pescado a la sal (fish baked in a salty crust) and risotto de abulón y morillas (a saffron-scented risotto with abalone and black mushrooms). During the day, the glass-walled dining room is filled with same-sex groupings: businessmen in expensive suits at one table, scarf-wearing ladies who lunch at the next. In the evening, soft lighting transforms it into a popular spot for young lovers. A more intimate space is the bar, a long slab of orange glass lit from below. It's a great place to sample wines from Spain, Mexico (a rarity, even in Mexico City eateries), and the rest of Latin America.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 to 11:30 pm, Sundays 1 to 5 pm.
314 Olas Altas
Tel: 52 322 222 0566
The name is tacky, but the lobster tacos are transcendent at Daiquiri Dick's, a palapa restaurant right on Los Muertos beach in Puerto Vallarta. Tissue-thin tortillas envelop chunks of juicy lobster and asparagus drizzled with tangy hollandaise sauce. Sadly, they're only available when the lobster is fresh, but the shrimp tacos give them a run for their money. You also won't want to miss the seared dorado slathered with a bell-pepper sauce, grilled whole huachinango (snapper), and coconut shrimp risotto. Breakfast and lunch are equally superb, making Daiquiri Dick's an all-day hangout, popular with artsy expats. The beachfront setting means you just might spot a sea turtle lumbering onto the sand near your table in summer, and you'll surely survey a parade of vendors selling high-quality folk art in winter.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 9 am to 11 pm, November through April; Wednesdays through Mondays 9 am to 11 pm, May through October.
8 Boulevard Mijares
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 142 0499
Damiana is named after a Baja desert herb that is used as an aphrodisiac, and dinner on its romantic outdoor patio might indeed put you in the mood. The restaurant is housed in a 150-year-old colonial hacienda, and a century-old bougainvillea with lights glimmering in its boughs dominates the patio. Inside, the decor is traditional Baja, with folk art on the walls and a high, wood-beamed ceiling. The cuisine is Mexican with a European inflection, and with an emphasis on protein. Of the many meat and fish dishes, the Imperial Shrimp Steak, mentioned in Bon Appétit magazine, is a must: a fillet of succulent shrimp knit together and grilled. Reservations are recommended on weekends—Damiana has a devoted following.
Open daily 10:30 am to 10:30 pm.
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 172 6269
This location used to house Havana's, a semisecret, oft-packed Latin club, and replacing it was no easy feat. But chef Drew Deckman has claimed the palapa on a slight hill just south of San José's coastline and made it a foodie and music magnet. Every item on the menu has a stated pedigree, from the organic chicken with local zucchini blossoms to the Magdalena bay shrimp and the Ensenada mussels. If dorado is in the day's catch, the smooth white meat becomes that night's carpaccio. Pray you're there when the ahi are running so you can try the sashimi, tartare, and tataki trio. Dancers waiting for the salsa beat to kick in fuel up on a rib eye with organic veggies from nearby Miraflores, where specialty produce has become big business. Rock, jazz, and salsa bands kick into gear as the night progresses, and nearly everyone, including kitchen crew, is on the dance floor by midnight.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 5 pm to midnight.
Blvd. Mijares 27
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 142 0266
At Don Emiliano's, elegant women with slicked-back chignons and courtly gentlemen in tailored guayaberas gossip in rapid Spanish as they judge haute Mexican cuisine à la Chef Margarita Carrillo de Salinas. Sophisticated diners who've tasted the latest from Mexico City's reinas de las cocinas (queens of the kitchens) sample tamales with seasonal baby spinach or huitlacoche wrapped in light masa, flaky empanadas stuffed with flor de calabaza, and an aromatic catch of the day glazed with achiote. Such regional ingredients do appear on other Mexican menus in Los Cabos, but Salinas uses them creatively, blending them into the popular shrimp chile rellenos with goat cheese sauce and crisp fried cilantro. Slatted wood awnings filter the dry Baja air into dining gardens and terraces where skillful mariachis display their mastery without blasting diners' eardrums. The menu always includes crowd-pleasures like jalapeño martinis, fresh artisan cheese with salsa verde, cinnamon ice cream, and chile–chocolate desserts.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 6 to 11 pm.
Tel: 52 322 222 7195
Owner Carmen Porras relied on memories of her grandmother's kitchen to create El Arrayán's clever style. At this café, votives flicker beneath religious pictures, tin pots hang from industrial-chic metal pipes, and floral oilcloths cover wood tables in a brick-walled courtyard. The cooking is equally vibrant, reviving old family recipes with locally sourced ingredients. Heady aromas accompany shrimp pozole, beef tenderloin with mole, and cochinita pibil (Yucatan pork marinated with bright-orange annatto seed and roasted in banana leaves). Sip a shot of smoky Oaxacan mezcal to start, order a Santo Tomas tempranillo from Baja California with dinner, and finish with café de olla (coffee simmered with cinnamon) and silky passion-fruit sorbet. Groups gather for animated dinners early in the evening. Later on, things get more romantic as couples claim candlelit tables in quiet corners and nooks around the courtyard.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 6 to 11 pm.
1490 Calle Juarez
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 142 2544
The Virgin of Guadalupe murals San José's not-so secret Mexican standout teeter on kitschy, but the excellent cooking and wine and tequila selection more than make up for them. Chef Armando Montaña uses chillies from throughout Mexico to enhance the flavor (without burning the taste buds) of traditional and continental dishes, coating rack of lamb with chili ancho and sugar-cane honey and boosting the flavor of gazpacho with habanero. The menu changes frequently, inspiring Montaña's fans to pack the narrow dining room and sample multiple courses while lingering over boutique wines and tequilas.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 4 to 10 pm. Credit cards not accepted.
Playa de los Muertos
Tel: 51 322 222 4124
Chef Juan Zuno's fans vie for prime sunset seats at this redo of a 50-year-old favorite on Playa de los Muertos. Duck carnitas, miso sea bass, and chipotle-glazed ribs suit the beach setting. If you prefer your food sans sand, choose a table on the long wooden deck or in the dining areas beneath the A-frame palapas. The spiffy restaurant/bar also doubles as a casual beach club where flamenco performances, fire shows, and Middle Eastern music entice diners to stick around well into the night. Mornings at El Dorado begin with hearty chilaquiles verde and shrimp omelets with lobster sauce.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 8 am to midnight.
95 Hernández Macías
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 152 3229
This high-end French eatery is popular with Continental types, who come for traditional Parisian dishes such as French onion soup, salmon à la provençale, braised sweetbreads, and châteaubriand in béarnaise sauce. Dinner is served in a splendid courtyard garden and the cluster of small dining rooms surrounding it. Come early to the always-packed wine bar for an aperitif; or, if you prefer, come late for postdinner tapas.—Maribeth Mellin
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 110 1351
From hearty bacon and eggs with bracing coffee at noon to Caesar salads, grilled sea bass, and potent Margaritas at night, this quirky café serves a satisfying, far-ranging menu of American and Mexican specialties. Most waiters speak English, making it a go-to place for tourists. The meringue-topped fruit pies taste as great as they look. Check out the amusing and poignant nichos displaying skeletons in varying tableaus on the walls.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Mondays through Saturdays 8 am to 10 pm.
Carretera Tulum–Boca Paila, Km 5
Tel: 52 984 134 8725
Tel: 52 984 125 7172
Spice up the chips-and-guac routine with a trip to El Tábano, a welcome addition to the comida-starved southern end of Tulum's hotel zone. Homemade bread and avocado salad make delightful stand-ins for the region's more ubiquitous starters, while other local treats—airy jalapeños rellenos or ceviche con mango—are sexier versions of street-cart fare. The flavors may be refined, but the atmosphere is undeniably homey: Silverware emerges from a battered wooden dresser; diners sit at mismatched tables under the stars; and the modest open kitchen is housed under a simple palapa roof. Offerings on the oversize chalkboard menu change weekly, but standbys include albóndigas (Mexican meatballs) seasoned with tamarind, a delicate vegetable lasagna with tortillas in place of noodles, and clay-pot chicken with apples and avocado leaves. Reservations are a must.—Alison Baenen
Open Mondays through Saturdays 8:30 am to 9:30 pm.
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 154 6390
Formerly a vegetarian restaurant, El Tomato has switched dramatically to Argentine-Italian fusion cuisine, meaning quality grilled beef is the new highlight here, with entrées like a tender arrachera and juicy rib eye served with roasted potatoes, green beans, and an almost perfect chimichurri sauce. Loyal patrons from the old days still find vegetarian lasagna with tofu, veggie ravioli, and several meal-size salads. Large street-side windows brighten the small dining room; there's also a small patio in back.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily noon to 9 pm.
Tel: 52 624 355 4564
Success has been kind to Flora's, a busy farm just north of San José that supplies local chefs with organic fruits and veggies. The Field Kitchen, once a casual affair, has become a full-blown brick and glass restaurant serving all things hand-crafted, from crunchy breads and pizzas straight from the wood oven to herb-fried farm-raised organic chicken and roasted pork. Sausages and hams are smoked on site, seasonal fruits become marmalades, fresh veggies are pickled, and tuna is filleted and canned. In essence, Flora's specializes in serving and preserving everything you can grow, raise, catch, or create in Los Cabos. During the winter season, the restaurant overflows with diners here for Sunday brunch served family-style. Flora Farms Grocery sells organic meats, sausages and bacon, artisanal breads, and seasonal produce along with sandwiches, soups, and salads.—Maribeth Mellin
Field Kitchen open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9:30 pm and for brunch on Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm.
Grocery open Tuesdays through Saturdays 9 am to 3 pm.
Tel: 52 55 5525 8128
For a memorable meal in the Zona Rosa, think small. Bypass all the tourist traps along streets like Londrés and Genova in favor of this tiny restaurant on the quiet side street of Liverpool. (In case you didn't realize, all the streets in this neighborhood are named after cities.) Looking much like a fonda (country inn), the whitewashed walls are hung with copper pots so shiny you can see your satisfied reflection. It's known for its atmosphere (refreshingly laid-back) and service (charmingly old-fashioned), but the real reason to come to one of the city's oldest restaurants is the authentic regional cuisine. Look for dishes such as manitas de cerdo en vinegre (pigs' feet in vinegar) or chicharron en salsa verde (deep-fried pork rinds in a spicy green sauce). If you're here on Saturday, for dessert there's huevos reales, the "royal eggs" that are baked in the oven and basted with a light syrup.
Open daily 1 to 11 pm.
Manuel Doblado at Miquel Hidalgo
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 142 3350
Chef/owner Jacques Chretien has opened (and closed) other locations around Los Cabos, including a much-loved candlelight, crystal, and linen restaurant in the Corridor. He's now concentrating on this artsy bakery and bistro in San José's historic district. The sweet smells of crusty baguettes and buttery croissants fresh from the oven draw a prework crowd savoring frothy cappuccinos and more leisurely types lingering over egg and chorizo crêpes or huevos rancheros. The menu and pastry displays change during the day, with lobster soup, ricotta ravioli with foie gras foam, burgers, and escargot on the Bistro lunch and dinner menu. Red and white linens cover tables in a casual café setting that encourages lingering, though space can be tight at lunch. Stop in anytime for coffee with handcrafted ice creams, chocolates, and devilishly tempting tarts and tortes.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 1 to 4 and 6 to 11 pm.
23 Avenida Melgar
San Miguel , Cozumel
Tel: 52 987 872 0946
Cruise-ship captains and officers hide out at the tree-shaded courtyard tables at this unassuming pizza parlor. Cozumeleños often run into friends at Guido's (old-timers still call it Rolandi's, although the restaurant changed names all the way back in 2000); conversations get lively over orders of puffy garlic bread, wood-fired pizzas, and seafood pasta. Lingering over the homemade coconut ice cream with Kahlúa can make you feel you're part of the local cognoscenti—so it's no wonder island visitors tend to drop in again and again.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 am to 11 pm.
Boulevard Kukulcán, Km 14.2
Tel: 52 998 840 6550
Carnivores seeking hunky steaks and courtly service feel right at home amid Harry's expense-account ambience, dry-aged USDA prime beef, and freshest-of-the-fresh shellfish platter. The wine flows freely into Zwiesel goblets and the AC is blessedly powerful in the understated, chic dining room—though open-air lagoon-side tables are far more romantic. The competition is fierce with the more happening Puerto Madero next door, but not everyone wants a side of sceney-ness served with their filet. Come to Harry's for intimate tête-à-têtes; stay for the wispy cotton candy that comes at meal's end.
Open daily noon to 1 am.
Rancho San Eric
Tel: 52 984 879 5020
This secluded spot is well worth the eerie drive down rutted dirt roads and secret paths. Hechizo, which means bewitchment, is run by chef Stefan Schober and his pastry-chef wife, Hui. How this multinational couple, who met while working in Singapore, ended up in Tulum is a story Stefan gladly summarizes while crouching beside your table and describing the unwritten menu. Don't be surprised if the night's offerings include braised veal cheeks, maple leaf duck, and roasted beets. Yes, you are still in Tulum, but have entered the rarified land of Rancho San Eric, where a few prescient families vacation in beach villas abutting the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Dinner is served during three set seatings, and reservations (best obtained through e-mail) are a must.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Tuesdays through Sundays with seatings at 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 pm.
515 Presidente Masaryk
Tel: 52 55 5280 1671
In Mexico, it's the women who cook, and it's women who consequently get famous for food. Patricia Quintana, after countless cookbooks and TV appearances, is probably the country's best-known chef. Appropriately situated in the Gucci-Vuitton row of Polanco, her home base is full of well-dressed business people who, though they appear to have more fun than their counterparts back home, lend Izote a serious air. The Aztec-shtick decor and too-bright lights do nothing for the atmosphere, but the food is exceptional. Quintana tinkers with pre-Columbian ingredients and traditional dishes, and the results can be mind-blowing. Setas (oyster mushrooms) in bitter orange vinaigrette and crusted rib eye with apple and sweet potato puree are the kinds of things she does best.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 pm to midnight, Sundays 1 to 6 pm.
Avenida Xpuhil SM 19
Tel: 52 998 883 9800
Brilliant underground promoter John Gray has lent his name to yet another buzz-worthy restaurant, this time in downtown Cancún. Hotel concierges barely know of the restaurant's existence, and if they try to track down the chef, they're often referred to the classier Grill 14, which carried his name for a while. But Gray, a former Ritz-Carlton chef, is a do-it-yourself kind of guy, with restaurants in Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen. His Cancún foray is all about making the scene amid the melange of languages and pretty people filling the industrial chic rooms. Although the food doesn't quite live up to the hype, downtowners are thrilled to have a chic neighborhood haunt for posing among the pretty people. Choose the savory onion soup, avoid the paté, and stick with the steak-frites entrée or the daily specials on the country French–Mexican menu.
Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to midnight.
Av. Margaritas 29
Tel: 52 998 892 3056
The Pezzotti family has long wooed diners off the strip of the Zona Hotelera and into Cancún's earthier downtown area. Their romantic, stylish La Habichuela restaurant was the first venture (it's next door and still worth a visit); now, Labná takes Yucatecan cuisine to new heights. Chef Carlos Hannon whips up papadzules (hard-boiled eggs wrapped in thick corn tortillas and topped with pumpkin sauce) and salbutes (small fried tortillas topped with shredded turkey or egg and marinated red onion) as appetizers. The culinary adventure continues with entrées like cochinita pibil (tender pork chunks marinated in achiote and sour orange) or lobster flambéed with the honey-anise liqueur called Xtabentun. Unlike most of Cancún's chefs, Hannon doesn't tame the seasonings for tourist palates. Beware of the habanero chile salsa, however, unless you've a cast-iron tongue.
Playa Caleta Lado Oriente
Tel: 52 744 482 5007
Sandy feet and wet swimsuits are de rigueur at the Alvarez family's restaurant on jam-packed Playa Caleta. This is old, old Acapulco, where Mexican families descend en masse for Sunday gatherings. La Cabaña has been a Caleta landmark since the '50s, when composer Augustín Lara and film siren María Félix danced barefoot in the sand. Settle in at a white plastic table and order a pitcher of sangria and the seafood combo platter—piled high with fried and grilled fish, shrimp, lobster, octopus, and whatever else the fishermen happened upon that day. Lockers are available if you want to go for a swim to work up an appetite—you'll need it.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 9 am to 9 pm.
Avenida 5 at Calle 2
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 803 0232
This tasteful aerie overlooking Playa's Fifth Avenue is a welcome escape from the youthful cacophony at street level. In the evening, pierced tin stars glitter beneath a peaked palapa, and candlelight illuminates the linen-draped tables. The sophisticated Euro-centric menu offers pulpo gallegaoctopus with paprika and boiled potatoesand Hungarian goulash with spaetzle to diners who prefer their conversation sans shouting.
Open daily 11:30 am to midnight.
200 Calle Adolfo Rosado Salas
San Miguel , Cozumel
Tel: 52 987 872 0958
Dependably interesting regional Mexican cuisine keeps La Choza filled with first-timers seeking safe experimentation. The open-air building with its towering palapa-style roof feels like an oversized shack (choza is Spanish for "hut"), albeit one where tables are covered with bright cloths and Talavera dishes. Traditional standouts include shrimp-stuffed poblano chiles, chicken in roasted pepper sauce, tortilla soup (their Sunday specialty), and the only-occasionally-available cochinita pibil (spicy marinated pork baked in banana leaves). The margaritas are also excellent, and the weird-sounding chilled avocado pie is actually delicious.
Open daily 7 am to 10:30 pm.
208 Calle 8, between avenidas 10 and 15
San Miguel , Cozumel
Tel: 52 987 872 5533
You don't find a lot of seared ahi on Cozumel menus—or chicken livers, duck pâté, and olive tapenade, for that matter. But such exotic ingredients lure diners with refined palates to this restaurant's new downtown location (the original branch operated for ten years in another nearby building). Chef Margarito Estrella uses his talents much the way the restaurant's namesake firefly flits: a little here, a little there. He serves up good pasta dishes, salads, steaks, seafood—something to suit every craving. The wine list is reasonably priced, and the black-and-white photos from New Orleans, Manhattan, and Cuba on the walls add a sophisticated touch that's rare on the island.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 to 11 pm.
Av. Bonampak at the bullring
Tel: 52 998 887 0660
Yes, you can find traditional Mexico in Cancún. Just head to the downtown bullring on a weekend afternoon (or on Wednesdays, when the bulls are battling). Families, office workers and afternoon drinkers gather at cantinas circling the ring's fa¿adethis one puts all the essential elements together perfectly. Mariachi bands, flower sellers, and shoeshine boys wander past wooden tables covered with beer bottles and botanes, appetizers like moronga (blood sausage) and squash blossom empanadas. Linger over a leisurely lunch of sábana (a thin strip of beef) with grilled chilies and cheese or camarones en salsa diabloshrimp with a spicy sauce that'll keep the icy cervezas coming.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 to 11 pm.
Carretera 200, Nuevo Vallarta exit
Tel: 52 322 224 5584
Come to La Laguna on a Sunday afternoon and you'll soon feel like a part of the family—or multiple families, who while away several hours under a gigantic palapa beside a lagoon (don't feed the turtles!). Leisurely lunches begin with a pitcher of sangria and soda glasses packed tight with shrimp or oyster cocktails. If you're with a large group, share the one-pound platter of steamed shrimp and the whole red snapper Zarandeado, rubbed with spices, slow-grilled, and served with tortillas, marinated red onion, and salsas. The seafood al ajillo with shrimp, conch, octopus, and scallops in a guajillo chile sauce is mighty tasty as well. In fact, you can't do wrong even if you chicken out and order the fajitas de pollo.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 11 am to 8 pm.
Boulevard Francisco Medina Ascencio, Km 2.5
Zona Hotelera Norte
Tel: 52 322 293 0900
Cynics beware: Judgments must be held at bay when encountering the milky-white color scheme and quirky aesthetic (ink-doodle facade outside, metal shelves with towers of white canisters inside) at this casual bistro. La Leche Almacén is the go-to place for locals seeking a chic bar and dependably excellent meal. The duck, whether served in tacos, chimichangas, or as a seared breast, gets rave reviews all around town. Chef Alfonso Cadena's daily menu is described in detail by waiters in white gym shoes. The simplest dishes are best: local greens like endive, red leaf lettuce, and romaine with silky goat cheese; delicate shrimp ravioli; fresh-caught tuna as sashimi or tartare; lobster risotto; and, should you still have room, chocolate mole over popcorn ice cream. Dress is resort-casual, unless you're lounging at the bar, where short skirts and fit bodies dominate.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 5 pm to 1 am.
Avenida Tercer Mundo
Tel: 52 311 258 4123
Although Puerto Vallarta's hungry masses have plenty of choices right in town, they'll happily drive 30 minutes north to the town of San Pancho (a.k.a. San Francisco) to swoon over the hearty offerings at La Ola Rica: coconut shrimp with mango sauce, pasta primavera, barbecued pork ribs. The owners opened the café in 1996 as a dessert and coffee house and have expanded over the years as their fans demanded more choices to go with all those pitchers of frosty margaritas (the pasta primavera was the first dish they introduced). The dining room now fills a half-block-long stucco building festively decorated with Frida Kahlo posters, colored lights, and plenty of pink bougainvillea. There's live music some nights, and reservations are advised in winter.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Mondays through Saturdays 5:30 to 11 pm, November through July.
13 Cuna de Allende
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 154 7588
Terrace tables fill up quickly just before sunset at this rooftop restaurant, as the Parroquia's ornate spires seem to glow against the rose-tinted sky. Don't blame the Margaritas—the setting is utterly romantic, even if you're only sipping agua mineral. Hearty posole with all the fixin's (oregano, onions, lime, avocado chunks) is a good choice on chilly evenings. In general, the Mexican specialties, including a savory cochinita pibil, are far better than the tourist-mandated pricey salmon and steak entrées. In winter, when the day ends early, plan on a late, late lunch and finish your meal with coffee, flan, and the dreamy sunset.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 1 to 10 pm.
90 Paseo del Pescador
Tel: 52 755 554 2687
A jolly fat mermaid (sirena gorda) watches over barefoot beer drinkers from paintings decorating the walls at this casual café—on Zihua's seaside walkway. The tacos pescado al pastor (fish tacos with savory sauces) are legendary, as are the seafood stews and grilled fish. Some travelers have been known to begin the day with the mermaid's fragrant coffee and French toast and end it with cheladas (beer with lime and salt) at the same wooden table, watching fishermen mend their nets and display the catch of the day on the sand.
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays 8 am to 10:30 pm.
Tel: 52 55 5286 2015
While lots of eateries in La Condesa strive to outdo one another with daring decor or flamboyantly overprepared dishes, Litoral's approach is refreshingly straightforward. It occupies an uncluttered, loftlike space, and serves simple, elegant food (meaning you'll never have trouble identifying what's on your plate). The specialty here is seafood: Grilled octopus comes on skewers; shrimp arrives atop strips of fried blue tortillas. It's especially appealing for lunch, when one of the choice tables by the massive windows gives you a view of the passing parade of young fashion victims and older well-heeled types.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1:30 pm to 1 am, Sundays 1:30 to 10 pm.
12 Plaza Jardín Centenario
Tel: 52 55 5658 6054
Sometimes it seems that you can find any kind of food in Mexico City except Mexican. Los Danzantes, in the southern suburb of Coyoacán, takes care of that. You'll find dishes made with traditional ingredients, such as a flat leaf called hoja santa (here stuffed with cheese from Oaxaca) and a zucchini blossom called flor de calabaza (in a delicious soup). If you're brave, try huitlacoche, carefully translated on the menu as "corn mushroom." It's actually a fungus that grows on kernels of corn, and it's a delicacy in these parts. Try it stuffed in ravioli, where you can enjoy the flavor without having to contemplate the blackish color. Grab a table on the covered terrace, which overlooks the gorgeous main square. If you're here on a weekend, vendors from the weekly market will offer you everything from faded postcards to handmade jewelry—a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view.
Open daily 1 to 11 pm.
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 152 0097
When you're visiting Mexico, there comes a time when you must devour nachos and enchiladas and sip giant margaritas as mariachis sing "Guadalajara," all without feeling totally touristy. You can do all that, plus dance to a salsa band or sing a Mexican ballad with your fellow diners, in the tchotchke-filled courtyard at this noisy, fun spot near the Jardín Principal. The molcajetes—stone mortar–type dishes filled with sizzling meats, grilled onions, and cheese—are juicy and flavorful.—Maribeth Mellin
Calle Quilla at Calle Proa
Tel: 52 322 221 3124
Arrive for lunch by noon or you'll be waiting for a seat at Mariscos 8 Tostadas, a bare-bones dining room in Marina Vallarta where families, office workers, and fishermen crowd every available table by 2 pm. Seafood rules here: Try the camarones en aguachile (shrimp with lime juice, cucumbers, and serrano chiles), octopus ceviche, and an unusual sashimi of thinly sliced tuna in a puddle of soy sauce with green onions and lime (available only if the fishermen reel in tuna that day). Thick corn chips and saltines accompany most dishes, and a variety of hot sauces add even more spice, if your tongue's made of iron.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 11 am to 6 pm.
Calle 10 at Avenida 5
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 879 4448
The sturdy señora behind the counter at the Hotel Básico's second-story puesto (food stall) knows her way around pescado (fish) and mariscos (shellfish). Her ceviche is a pure and simple blend of the freshest fish with cilantro, lime, onions, and olives—add a side dish of white rice and fried plantains for the perfect light meal. In keeping with the hotel's industrial-chic decor, fish tacos are served with the flimsy brown napkins typical at old-fashioned neighborhood taco stands. But don't be fooled: Even the tortilla chips here are nouveau—freshly fried and served with small bowls of chipotle dip, mayo, diced pineapple with cilantro, and pico de gallo.
Tel: 52 55 5564 7799
Gabriela Cámara, the star restaurateur behind Mexico's impossibly
hip seafood shack Contramar, is tackling a
new protein. Its name derived from the Spanish words for fish and bull, MeroToro is the Slow Food queen's take on surf and turf. Still, expect a similar combination of refined food in an informal Condesa setting. Cámara's executive chef, Jair Téllez, combines the flavors
of Baja with the best possible ingredientsadmirer José Manuel Baños describes the restaurant's short seasonal menu as "Mexican cuisine in a Mediterranean style" (entrées, $15-$26)
Must eat: Grilled octopus with pickled vegetables, sea beans, and green chiles.
Chef Gabrielle Cámara's favorite new restaurant: Melissa Perello's Frances, San Francisco
Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Km 1.5
Tel: 52 984 804 1452
Tulum meets Ibiza at Mezzanine, a too-cool restaurant/bar/hotel overlooking white sand and azure sea. DJs spin lounge music while bikini-clad escapists sip mango smoothies under soaring kitelike awnings. The chef's spicy beef salad with mint is a treat on a hot afternoon after a leisurely dip in the sea, while the more substantial shrimp pad thai and green curry go well with martinis during Friday night lounge parties. (The bar's signature cocktail is the "Mezzquito," made with Absolut Citron, Thai basil, Cointreau, lime juice, and raw sugar.) Local devotees drive from as far as Mérida to take part in the scene, and sometimes crash in one of the four hotel suites before sunrise.
Blvd. Kukulcán, Km 9.5
Tel: 52 998 883 0398
Cancún has surprisingly few beachfront restaurants outside the hotels. Mocambo, however, sits right above the sand. Although it's next to an unsightly parking lot, the view from the palapa-shaded deck takes in a parade of bikini-clad beach bunnies and local families setting up umbrellas and blankets for the day. Enjoy the scenery while savoring a michelada (beer with ice and lime juice in a chilled mug with a salted rim) and shrimp ceviche with plenty of fresh chips and salsa. The Monday-through-Thursday buffet is a steal at $15, but it's far better to order a whole grouper à la carte. It's fried and delivered fresh; queasy types can ask to have the head removed in advance.
10 Andrés Bello
Tel: 52 55 5280 2506
Buddhist convert Mónica Patiño is responsible for introducing the city to the dreaded concept of Asian fusion. But Patiño's interpretations of the genre are inspired: The corn chowder with curry and the braised oysters with chipotle béarnaise are top-notch. The vibe here is upscale (this is Polanco, after all) but youthful. In other words, you'll spot fresas (Mexican slang for yuppies) galore—as well as local rock stars (assuming you're able to recognize them).
Open daily 1:30 to 11 pm.
Calle 16 between Avenidas 1 and 5
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 803 2248
Fashionable scenesters converge for late-night meals, cocktails, and thumping music at this restaurant and club. Even jaded sophisticates can't resist checking out their reflections in the beach-meets-bordello glass floors and abundant mirrors. The ambitious Mediterranean menu plays second fiddle to the high-style Italian decor. Stick with multiple starters and salads, and order a Mendoza malbec from the impressive wine cellar, which serves as an intimate private dining room for groups. Standouts include duck tacos, salmon tartare with avocado mousse, and the ceviche.
Open daily 7 pm to 2 am.
You'll be sorely tempted to lick every drop of cilantro sauce off your plate after savoring the rosy tuna sashimi at these high-style Japanese restaurants. The owners' fishing fleet supplies Nick-San's two restaurants with sea bass, dorado, tuna, and wahoo for impeccably fresh sushi with a Mexican flair. Owner/chefs Angel Carbajal and Masayuki Niikura frown upon diners who insist on soy sauce and wasabi. Their creations are tastily spiced with jalapeños, habaneros, and serranos, or blended with mango and avocado. Chopstick battles are common over fresh Pacific oysters with ponzu, spicy fried fish, and tuna tostadas—dine with friends who enjoy sharing. The second location in the Corridor is far larger than the original crammed restaurant/sushi bar, but it can still be hard to get a seat near the masterful sushi chefs. Nick-San has proven so popular that the owners opened locations in Mexico City and Nuevo Vallarta and launched a Wasabi clothing line bearing their artful logo.—Maribeth Mellin
Original location open daily 11:30 am to 10:30 pm; second location open daily 12:30 to 10:30 pm.
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 110 3283
Blood-orange walls, a well-stocked tequila bar, and a poster wall with Shepard Fairey artwork are all signs that this Asian-fusion noodle bar isn't your typical strip-mall dive. The location, at a major glorieta near the Mega grocery store, is perfect for commuters and explorers returning from excursions to Dolores Hidalgo. But the Thai peanut-sauce shrimp salad, pho bo, and chicken curry are worth a trip to the burbs anytime. Hang around after dark for a wasabi martini or cucumber fizz and random DJ sessions.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 10 pm.
Avenida Melgar, between calles 8 and 10
San Miguel , Cozumel
Tel: 52 987 872 2141
Cheery marimba musicians play trilling tunes during lunch at this downtown courtyard spot, when cruise-ship day-trippers arrive to tuck into fishbowl-sized margaritas and deep-fried chimichangas. Why, oh, why don't they just stay at the restaurant's other location in the Puerto Maya cruise terminal? No matter; the whole climate changes when the white sea monsters chug away at sunset. Then you can order a jar of sangria and a bowl of silky cream-of-cilantro soup to cool the palate, then fire it back up with chipotle-spiced beef dishes (beware the blistering habañero salsa if you don't like your heat index too high). Dining here can be so seductive you might end up buying all-new dishes and glassware at Los Cinco Soles, the tasteful yet massive souvenir shop in Panchos' front yard.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 11:30 pm; Sundays 5 to 11:30 pm.
PB Hotel NH Santa Fe
44 Juan Salvador Agraz
Tel: 52 55 2591 0429
The business district of Santa Fe, with its shopping malls and office buildings, can be disappointingly generic, a Mexico City version of London's Canary Wharf. The restaurant Paxia, however, puts you back into fiesta mode. The young chef, Daniel Ovadía, has brought the playful attitude that made the original Paxia in San Ángel one of the city's most popular restaurants—but cuts out the long drive (and accompanying traffic). The menu takes a nostalgic look at Mexican home cooking, a south-of-the-border answer to the American comfort-food trend. Standout dishes include quesadillas with black mole sauce, osso buco with habañero chiles, and duck enchiladas. Colorful presentations complement the orange and chocolate hues of the contemporary dining room: A tasting of tequilas comes in holders made from Mexican lottery cards; fire-engine-red chamoy margaritas are inspired by Mexican candy; and blue, gold, and green tortillas accompany your meal.
Open Mondays through Thursdays 1 pm to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays 1 pm to 1 am, and Sundays 1 to 6:30 pm.
Carretera Transpeninsular, Km. 10
Hacienda del Mar
Tel: 52 624 145 8010
Precious few Cabo restaurants have tables close enough to the sea to feel a salty spray. This Pacific Rim winner is right on the sand, tucked in the Cabo Real development behind a hotel and golf course. It's definitely not a secret, however. Chef Volker Romeike has developed a loyal following since 1995, when he first presented his lobster hash (now lobster risotto) and coconut shrimp with chipotle sauce to diners eager for something different. His competition has grown like gangbusters in recent years, but you'll still find the multi-tiered circular dining room filled with happy eaters delighting in lobster martinis, spicy shrimp napoleon, and ginger crème brûlée. In keeping with Cabo's culinary ambitions, the wine cellar contains more than 500 international wines.
Open daily 5 to 10:30 pm.
311 Cinco de Mayo
Tel: 52 951 514 4707
Rick Bayless calls José Manuel Baños Mexico's "most promising rising star," and the 31-year-old chef delivers, combining
traditional flavors with modern technique learned at El Bulli. Sopa de fideos comes with capsules of liquid cheese that burst in the mouth, while the lamb chops in Oaxacan green mole are served with white bean foam. The setting, like the cuisine, is Old World and New: In a restored colonial house in the historic district, the restaurant has white walls and contemporary art to make it current. And almost everything, from the vegetables to the 43 varieties of mescal, is local (entrées, $7-$20).
Must eat: The six-course tasting menu, with mescal pairings.
Chef José Manuel Baños's favorite new restaurant: Gabrielle Cámara's MeroTero, Mexico City
Blvd. Kukulcán, Km 14.1
Tel: 52 998 885 2829
The beautiful people fuel their engines at this Argentine-style beef palace before club-hopping till dawn. It's hard to imagine where those leggy tanned model-types stash their intake of tuna sashimi, huge steaks with chimichurri, and fried soufflé potatoes (which are like puffy potato chips). Apparently, they burn it off dancing. Locals air-kiss as they break from their cell phones to mingle with co-workers, while tourists with hefty expense accounts grow ever more exuberant under the influence of hearty Mendoza wines.
254 Francisco Petrarca
Tel: 52 55 5545 4111
Chef Enrique Olvera has often been described as being at the vanguard of cocina mexicana, and his restaurant Pujol makes almost every local's short list of the city's best. This small Polanco restaurant is elegantly understated, with whitewashed walls, discreet track lighting, and simple, minimalist tables and chairs, letting the dishes take center stage. Olvera focuses on Mexican ingredients, sometimes in the service of traditional recipes (duck with mole) and other times in more European preparations, such as avocado ravioli with corn foam, or venison carpaccio in banana puree. The restaurant's 200-bottle wine list, which includes several Mexican vintages, is an unusually broad selection in this not-so-oenocentric city. The menu changes seasonally, so the restaurant deserves repeat visits. You'll also want to dress for the occasion: Most men wear suits or jackets. If you'd prefer a more casual night out, try Olvera's spot at the hip Distrito Capital hotel in the Santa Fe area of town.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1:30 to 5 pm and 7 to 11:30 pm.
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 154 7862
A Moorish-style archway marks the entry into a fabulous dining experience where chef Donnie Masterton uses local ingredients to create elegant, familiar dishes with delightful twists in a classy setting. Tables are scattered about a large, sparsely decorated courtyard, where the walls are a subdued cream color and a fountain trickles in the background. Servers move about efficiently, delivering crab and octopus lightly dressed with cilantro-caper mayonnaise stacked atop avocado slices, grilled calamari with house-cured bacon, melt-in-your-mouth short ribs with snow peas, and other comfort foods. Finish with the tangy-sweet panna cotta and mint tea, followed by a slow stroll to the nearby Jardín Principal for a perfect San Miguel evening.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 6 to 10 pm.
21 San Francisco
San Miguel de Allende
Tel: 52 415 154 9102
Famous for its crisp, sugary churros and hand-whipped chocolate, this popular colonial-era restaurant also serves some mean enchiladas suizas, tortilla soup, and chile rellenos. Try the calabaza (squash flowers) crêpes and, in season, crepas con huitlacoche (similar to a dark truffle). Owner and Argentine actress Margarita Gralia, star of Mexican telenovelas and a past model for the Spanish-language Playboy, can often be spotted cleaning tables or chatting with distinguished men and sharing a bottle of vino tinto in the late afternoon. Lines are so long on weekends that bouncers literally drop the velvet rope when a table opens.—Maribeth Mellin
Open Sundays through Thursdays 8 am to 11 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 9 am to midnight.
50 Diego Rivera
Tel: 52 55 5616 1402
Always packed with regulars, this 17th-century former monastery is where locals take their out-of-town guests. There's nothing trendy here, just black-jacketed waiters carrying platters of regional favorites, such as Veracruz-style sea bass simmered with onions and tomatoes. The dining room, decked out in crisp linens, is lovely, but try to snag a table outside near one of the fountains. The restaurant is in the suburb of San Ángel—a bit far if you're coming from the Centro Histórico, but perfect if you're checking out the nearby homes of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 pm to 1 am, Sundays 1 to 10 pm.
Calle 12 between Avenidas 5 and 10
Playa del Carmen
Tempted to try the street food but afraid of ghastly gastro repercussions? Head to Señor Tacombi. The once-roving taco operation has put down roots on Calle 12, Playa del Carmen's busy nightlife strip. The outdoor stand is a riot of color, with a kitchen operated out of an avocado-hued VW bus with the top sawed off. Line up behind the crowds, and order a carnitas taco. And one with cochinita pibil. And one with flank steak, peppers, and onions. Actually, do yourself a favor and get one of each (plus a torta for good measure). Tuck into your spread at one of the vintage diner tables with chairs reupholstered in bright orange plaids and sunshine yellow florals. It's the cutest and tastiest spot in Playa del Carmen.—Colleen Clark
Calle Pescadores at Marinos
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 172 2093
Peso pinchers and starving night owls converge upon The Hangman for tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas stuffed with carnitas (marinated pork), flor de calabaza (squash blossoms), rajas (poblano chilies), and lots of melted cheese. Others opt for bowls of fragrant, soupy charros-style beans with hot corn tortillas. The backstreet dive is close to San José's art district and has a few wobbly tables and chairs. They lack a liquor license but don't mind if you bring your own cervezas. It officially closes at midnight but you'll often see the post-club crowd filling up as late as 2 or 3 am.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 6:30 pm to midnight.
La Isla Shopping Village
Blvd. Kukulcán, Km. 12.5
Tel: 52 998 883 1401
Walking through the tourist-filled La Isla Shopping Village inspires doubt: Could there really be a sophisticated restaurant here, among the cheesy souvenir shops? Thankfully, there is. Sitting on the lagoon side of the mall, near the Interactive Aquarium where kids can swim with dolphins, pet starfish, and learn about all things aquatic, Thai is an alfresco sanctuary where the private dining alcoves are set amid tropical greenery. Diners can choose to eat in elevated huts, where they sit maharajah-style on silk pillows (careful climbing those stairs), or candlelit over-water bungalows, perfect for romantic tête-à-têtes. Hip locals and knowing visitors dine on flavorful pad thai, satays, and authentic curries, accompanied by ambient beats (a DJ spins Thursday through Saturday). After dinner, join the stylish crowd at the bar where bartenders work their muscles pounding mint for mojitos.
Open daily 5 pm to midnight.
The Aztecs considered chocolate to be an aphrodisiac, and if the sensory intensity of Trio's molten chocolate cake is any indication, this dish may just prove them right. Keep that in mind as you choose among the consistently excellent starters and entrées, from cilantro- and ginger-marinated calamari to oven-roasted rabbit, mushroom-coated sea bass, and braised goat raised in the nearby ranching town of El Tuito. Chefs Ulf Henriksson and Bernhard Güth have endeared themselves to legions of fans who wouldn't consider visiting Puerto Vallarta without spending a special evening or two amid the dining room's frescoed walls and marble pillars or out in the romantic, ivy-laced, brick-walled courtyard. The same duo also operates the laid-back Vitea Oceanfront Bistro on the malecón, which serves refreshing dishes like a fresh vegetable, avocado, and feta cheese sandwich and yummy crab cannelloni with salsa verde.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 6 to 11:30 pm.
Colonia Alta Vista
Tel: 52 322 222 3570
Even the most jaded Vallarta locals propose to their lovers and celebrate anniversaries at Vista Grill, an old-school restaurant on a hill high above downtown Puerto Vallarta. Dining room tables with all-encompassing views of the city and bay are in high demand, and conversation stops whenever fireworks explode over the bay (chances are good you'll catch some explosive action coming from tour boats, resort parties, or other events most Friday and Saturday nights). But do pay attention to the food. Ancho chiles and edamame purée accompany the shrimp starter, a chipotle glaze lends zest to the walnut-crusted rack of lamb, and the grilled beef filet comes with a ten-chile sauce. Top it off with a flaming Sexy Coffee (made with Kahlúa and whipped cream) and watch the sparks fly.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily 5:30 to 11:30 pm.
Avenida Melgar between Avenidas 13 and 15
San Miguel , Cozumel
Tel: 52 987 869 1517
Penthouse dining and bow-tie-wearing waiters aren't usually Cozumel's style (you certainly won't see diners in jackets and gowns), but this ballroomlike restaurant on the ninth floor of a waterfront condo "tower" is angling for honors as the best "special night out" venue. It's all about the view at sunset—come after dark, and you'll miss the main event. An impressive wine list and Mediterranean-gringo menu (imported U.S. steaks, crab mac 'n' cheese, grilled scampi) please those accustomed to $20 entrées; others stop by the bar for martinis and calamari frito at the magic hour. Tables are generally easy to come by, but it's worth making a reservation to ensure prime seating.
Open daily 5:30 to 10 pm.
Avenida 5 at Calle 22
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 873 3011
Yucatecan cuisine prepared from la abuela's recipes and using the finest ingredients has made this family restaurant so famous, it now claims a hip corner on the arty part of Playa's la Quinta. Starters include fine versions of the salbutes and panuchos sold on Mérida's street corners, while entrées stray from tradition while including all sorts of chiles and fruits. Chaya, similar to spinach, appears frequently, and several dishes are flambéed with Xtabentun, a honey-flavored liqueur dubbed the Mayan aphrodisiac. There's a noisy buzz in the two-story dining room—choose an upstairs table by a window to take in the shows both inside and on Fifth Avenue.—Maribeth Mellin
Open daily noon to 11 pm.