Riviera Maya Restaurants
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.