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Exploring the Riviera Maya


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#1 BryanZ

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 02:14 AM

As a crisp dawn broke on the day after Thanksgiving, we began our long, perilous journey into the mysterious jungles of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula...wait, that's not right at all, let's start again. So much for the romance of exploring a new land.

It was an icy cold, pitch black morning--more night, really--when we set off from Newark, New Jersey. My traveling party of three would sleep in relative discomfort for much of the uneventful plane ride, only to wake up to the horrifying abomination that is Cancun. Less authentic Mexican, more Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Domino's, thankfully we would not be staying anywhere this shiny city of chain restaurants and high-rise hotels.

Instead, we headed south, down Mexico 307 to the environs surrounding Playa del Carmen. Granted, the jungles we would face on this trip would generally be of the manicured variety, we nevertheless planned to experience some of the local culture.

Since this was my first trip to Mexico--my traveling companions had spent a few days in Los Cabos the year before--clearly the best way to experience said culture would be through the food. There's a good deal of information out there about the wealth of activities, culinary and otherwise, that are available on the Riviera Maya. With that said, I hope that this report will be found by others in their trip preparations and serve as a guide. While this trip report hardly stands to be definitive, at least on the restaurant-front I do feel as though I've hit many, if not most, of the area's oft-recommended spots. But before we get to the food, allow me to share just a little bit more about the trip in general.

Our noble steed for this exploratory venture down the peninsula was the Nissan Tsuru, producing a whopping 105 horsepower.
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At $10/day, the mandatory insurance fee of $11/day, ended up costing more than the rental fee.

About an hour's drive south of Cancun is the heart of the Riviera Maya. Based on everyone I've heard, most people regard Playa del Carmen as the center of the action, at least from the tourist's perspective. We would be staying at the Fairmont Mayakoba, one of four hotels--the others include a Rosewood, Banyan Tree, and Viceroy (private residences only)--in the Mayakoba complex. The next development over includes a new Mandarin Oriental. Clearly, there is a lot of high-end real estate investment money being poured into this area, located about 15 minutes north of Playa del Carmen.

Entrance to the Mayakoba
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This entrance is, how should I put it, more tasteful and understated than some of the other properties on Mexico 307.

The majority of the Fairmont's buildings are built quite a ways from the ocean. This was done to preserve the mangrove forests that front the coast, thereby preventing the over development that many feel plagues Cancun.

The lobby is clearly set far back from the ocean, barely visible on the horizon.
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Does that Christmas tree light up?
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Obvi.

Despite the massive amount of manpower and resources surely required to create that beast of a tree, this resort does try to put forth some kind of pseudo-eco ethos. The property is bisected by man-made and lagoons and canals.

Like this one.
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There are fish in these waterways, fat tilapia to be exact. See, this is about food.

To get around, one can take a boat through these canals. Golf cart shuttles and bikes are also available. The whole open water thing is overcome by cool bridges.
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As one can also see, there are little casitas that line the waterways. Similar buildings also line the paths in the (heavily manicured) jungle that makes up the majority of the resort.

The rooms in said casitas further this whole luxurious-jungle shtick.
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It's like bringing the outside in.

Obligatory beach shot.
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The food is coming, I promise. Think of this like foreplay with pretty, non-food pictures.

We had one meal at the resort, a lunch at the casual beachfront restaurant. It would be the most expensive of the trip. That isn't to say the meal was poor, or even a poor value. As as resort food goes it was better than average, even good, and not too heinously overpriced (of course this is relative to other resorts of a similar quality). There were some chips and guacamole and salsa, a grilled grouper sandwich, and a noodle salad with crisp vegetables and shrimp. Yeah, again, it was fine, but boring, let's move on shall we?

Overall, however, the resort is excellent. Upkeep, service, rooms, I have no complaints. Definitely a five-star property. Or, because I hate stupid stars for hotels, deserving of whatever AAA Five Diamond Award is hanging by the front desk. If you're going to the Riviera Maya, stay here.

Since I suppose this was my first trip to somewhere truly cheap, I was shocked to find how, well, cheap all the food was. Whereas in Europe this past summer, per person food budget on the worst/best days (depending on your worldview) might easily top a few hundred dollars per person, this was, like, $30 per person per day, with an excessive amount of eating and drinking. Rachael Ray would be proud. Granted, none of the places we ate at would ever be confused for a Michelin starred restaurant, but there is significant value to be had, and so close to the US, too. For those going to the Riviera Maya, I implore you that you rent a cheap car, leave your resort, and eat at least a close approximation of the local food.

So, first real meal: El Fogon.
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Pastor
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Oh sweet, sweet meat log. But instead of a cherry on top, there's a big hunk of pineapple. Good things are coming.

Michelada
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Think, like, a beer cocktail with a heavy savory-tangy note, analogous to Worcestershire sauce. I was surprised at the lack of tomato juice in all the micheladas I had on this trip; I'm used to them being more Bloody Mary-ish. This was probably $2, maybe a bit less. I just paid $7.50 for a 12 oz. Heineken at a warehouse music venue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn tonight. Why am I not back in Mexico?

Frijoles charros and a chorizo taco
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The beans here are revelatory. Very salty and savory, thanks to the addition of bacon, and so luxurious in the mouth. On our last day we would order a large bowl to-go for about $3, and eat it on the back of the Tsuru's trunk deck, fatty broth running down our chins. The chorizo taco was strangely, yet pleasantly, creamy and soft. I think we ate the pastor tacos before we had a chance to take a picture of them. Oops.

Arrachera plate
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Grilled flank steak with all sorts of goodies; the grilled onions were the consensus favorite. This was a good plate of meat, but would be eclipsed by the same offering from the iconic HC de Monterey at a later meal.

Alambre plate with chicken, onions, serrano chile, and cheese
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These are technically fajitas, but the addition of the serrano and cheese made this dish something new and interesting entirely its own.

"Fogoncito" plate
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This plate was placed on the table and actually said to me, "Bienvenidos a Mexico, bitch!" It was an epic plate of food that needed some serious attention. There's a big slice of lightly crisped pork belly, three thin pork chops, queso fundido, extra crispy chorizo, then all the vegetable matter.

Oh Fogon, how we loved thee. There are three locations, we went to two of them. I'll save my thoughts on the comparison between the tacos al pastor from Fogon and Pastorcito for later. Both restaurants are considered to have among the the best pastor in Playa del Carmen, but I found them to be strikingly different.

Edited by BryanZ, 04 December 2008 - 12:20 PM.


#2 Jaymes

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 10:25 AM

My traveling party of three would sleep in relative discomfort for much of the uneventful plane ride, only to wake up to the horrifying abomination that is Cancun.  Less authentic Mexican, more Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Domino's, thankfully we would not be staying anywhere this shiny city of chain restaurants and high-rise hotels.


Yes, but interestingly enough, all of my upscale Mexican friends love it. You'd be surprised how little they enjoy visiting "authentic Mexico." And frankly, I've noticed very few other North Americans like me while in Cancun; primarily there are Europeans and tourists from elsewhere in the Americas.

Although don't get me wrong, I don't much like Cancun either. I've traveled there primarily on business and wouldn't be interested in vacationing there.

Still, it's always interesting to me how much we want Mexico to stay "authentic" so that we can visit it, like some kind of Disneyesque "Mexicoland." But the majority of the Mexicans seem to prefer joining the 21st Century.

I do love the rest of the Yucatan, though. And adore spending time in Merida, one of my favorite of Mexican cities. Thus far your report has been terrific and I'm really looking forward to the rest of it!

Edited by Jaymes, 04 December 2008 - 05:31 PM.

"KNOWLEDGE TENDS TO ELEVATE THE HORSES" - cdh


#3 BryanZ

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 10:34 AM

The next day would bring us to dinner at the dubious looking La Pesca. It's funny that many of our favorite restaurants in PdC--Fogon, HC de Monterey, and La Pesca, not to mention a great little paleteria--are all concentrated around a hypermarket called Mega. The intersection at 30th Ave. and Constituyentes is a good place to be.

I say La Pesca is dubious looking not because it's unclean. In fact, on a block with barebones restaurants, the owners have actually chosen to invest a little something in the decor. The restaurant sits beneath a very large semi-open palapa. There's this nautically inspired waterfall installation in the back. It seems like it's going to be super touristy.

While this restaurant may not bring in the largest local contingent, the cooking here was actually spot on. Flavors were rich, balanced, appropriately seasoned. Sauces were not cloying. I had read on other blogs and message boards that the "side vegetables" that accompanied each plate were actually cooked with care. I was skeptical, but was thankfully proven wrong; even the vegetable medley that accompanied my fish was buttery and nicely cooked.

We ordered lightly here, as more dinner was in order at another locale. Prices were perhaps a few dollars higher than at neighboring restaurants, but we still thought this restaurant a great value.

Mixed seafood ceviche
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A generous dinner plate of seafood, lightly seasoned. Not too acidic, nothing tough or rubbery.

Shrimp casserole
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Less a casserole and more a rich and creamy soup, this is was full of shrimp. Not just a few strewn throughout the bowl, but at least a couple in each bite. A fair amount of cream and even cheese was incorporated into this soup, it was delicious and balanced, almost like a good bisque.

Fish fillet, Veracruz style
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Again, what struck me here is how such a simple plate of food could be so tasty. The preparation included olives, peppers, onions, and a tomato sauce. Everything was, again, balanced, nothing too briny or bitter or acidic. And the aforementioned vegetables were much better than you'd expect them to be.

Dinner #2 would be in the Tourist Zone, the area around 5th Ave.. The area was definitely not my scene, but I suppose I can see the appeal. It's right off the beach and has a lot of shops, restaurants, and bars. Too whitewashed for my tastes, but there were a couple restaurants in the area I did need to check out.

The restaurant we went to, Oasis is known for its shrimp tacos. We ordered a couple of these, a couple fish tacos, and a marlin tostada.

Shrimp tacos
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Delicious. These would be the best shrimp tacos we would eat on the trip. The difference between these and others was how firm and meaty the shrimp were beneath their batter coating.

Fish taco
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Although my mother and sister preferred the shrimp, I actually like the fish more. It was more delicate and seemed better in this taco application. The four condiments in the background are a barbecue-type sweet-tangy sauce, the most amazingly spicy habanero salsa, mayonnaise, and lime. The green hellbrew was my second favorite salsa of the trip. It was eye-wateringly, mouth-meltingly spicy.

Marlin tostada
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This was the weakest item, but I still quite liked it. It was a dry ragout of sorts, made with an oily fish so it was a bit fishy, but not in an offensive sense.

#4 BryanZ

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 10:41 AM

Still, it's always interesting to me how much we want Mexico to stay "authentic" so that we can visit it, like some kind of Disneyesque "Mexicoland."  But the majority of the Mexicans seem to prefer joining the 21st Century.

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This is an interesting point and, without getting too academic, one needs to roughly define "authentic." Authentic, to me, does not imply that I expect to see Mayan tribesmen in full warrior regalia. This actually strikes me as anachronistically inauthentic. While for some this version of authenticity is what they seek, it's not necessarily what I'm looking for. I flat out refused to visit the "celebrations of authentic Mexican culture" that are Xcaret and Xel-Ha purely to avoid that Disneyified Mexicoland mentality that you mention.

Authenticity, to me, is seeing how the people of an area actually live. To that end, I sincerely hope that most Mexicans are not frequenting the kinds of establishments that are commonplace in Cancun. Of course, my Mexican experience was far from authentic (well, minus the Nissan Tsuru, the car of choice of many locals), but I at least made it a point to eat as much authentic/local food as possible.

I'd actually like to address this point in more detail, when I post about my meal at Yaxche. This is one of the most famous restaurants in Playa de Carmen and one that portends to serve authentic Mayan cuisine. While this may be the case--though I have my doubts--the dining experience here was perhaps the least authentic of all the meals we had in Mexico, our eclectic resort lunch included. At least at the resort we were able to take in the natural beauty, the terroir of sorts, of our surroundings.

Edited by BryanZ, 04 December 2008 - 10:44 AM.


#5 Jaymes

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 10:48 AM

Still, it's always interesting to me how much we want Mexico to stay "authentic" so that we can visit it, like some kind of Disneyesque "Mexicoland."  But the majority of the Mexicans seem to prefer joining the 21st Century.

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Authenticity, to me, is seeing how the people of an area actually live. To that end, I sincerely hope that most Mexicans are not frequenting the kinds of establishments that are commonplace in Cancun.


You don't have to worry about that. "Most Mexicans" cannot afford the "kinds of establishments that are commonplace in Cancun." But as I said, my upscale business friends that live elsewhere in Mexico are proud of Cancun, see it as a world-class resort destination (having as much or as little to do with the country it's in as do most world-class resort destinations, by the way, as they are primarily a breed unto themselves), and love going there on vacation. From their point of view, they can and do get "authentic" tacos al pastor and charro beans at home anytime. But dinner at Bubba Gumps followed by a night at a fancy disco is a welcome change.

As an aside: anyone reading this who is going to Cancun for one reason or another and wants to see "how the people of the area actually live" should go into the little town of Cancun. It's chock full of the Mexicans that work in the big resorts over in the hotel zone, which is basically one long street that runs along the beach. And that is an entirely different world. You can stay in the little town for $35 (and under) and eat for practically nothing. No beach, of course. Although you can take the same transportation out to the tourist strip that the hotel workers take.

The little town is really a very interesting place. Although located adjacent to one of the most famous destinations in the world, it qualifies as being "off the beaten path," because very few tourists ever go there. However, almost everyone speaks some English (and often at least a spattering of French, German and even Japanese) because it's populated with the workers that fill the hotels that cater to visitors from around the globe.

Edited by Jaymes, 04 December 2008 - 05:29 PM.

"KNOWLEDGE TENDS TO ELEVATE THE HORSES" - cdh


#6 BryanZ

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 03:08 PM

Onto the food indeed...but first, a few pretty pictures.

Just under an hour south of Playa del Carmen is the ruin of Tulum, an ocean trading post and stronghold. It's not that old, but the setting is striking.

Tulum
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One can swim beneath the cliffs and the buildings that overlook the beach. Very beautiful.

The ruins of Coba are the largest collection of Mayan buildings ever discovered. At Coba is the tallest Mayan structure in the Yucatan.

Nohoc Mul
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It stands about 130 feet and is quite impressive.

One can also climb this beast.
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Though it is rather steep.

Indeed, the natural beauty of this part of Mexico is rather striking. Just off the main highway are many cenotes, freshwater sinkholes, with crystal clear water that one can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive in.

This one is called Grand Cenote.
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Snorkeling beneath the rocks in near darkness was quite the experience.

After the day's explorations we made it La Floresta, a simple restaurant on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen, for the first of two late lunches. The menu is very simple: fish tacos, shrimp tacos, and various ceviches and seafood cocktails.

What artful signage.
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Mixed seafood cocktail and a fish taco
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Both types of taco were very good, but not quite as good as those at Oasis. The seafood in these here wasn't quite as fresh. The cocktail, however, was delicious. It was easily among the best things I ate the entire trip. The tomato sauce was less base than seasoning, allowing the seafood to shine. In this tall glass were shrimp, octopus, scallops, and delicious oysters. I'm probably even forgetting some items. It was so clean-tasting and delicious.

After Floresta we drove into the heart of Playa del Carmen. This would be the first time we'd see the city and its beach in the daylight hours.

Beach
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It's surely pretty but the beach clubs and restaurants that sit on the sand are a bit too loud and boisterous for my tastes.

About a block off the beach is the restaurant Carboncitos. This place is recommended about as frequently as the venerable El Fogon and HC de Monterey, but I was a bit skeptical going in. For one, it's in the Tourist Zone. Secondly, the people recommending seem, if I'm going to be un-PC about this, to have a higher gringo quotient.

Frontage
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My fears were generally unfounded, as the food was quite good. Perhaps not as visceral as less touristed locations, but tasty all the same. Sure, it was a few pesos more expensive across the board, but I certainly don't fault them for that given the location and partial ocean views.

Red Pozole
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I like to think of pozole as the soup of Mexico. Surely, this is a reductive statement, but it tastes so right to me. I also like how with the soup, various garnishes were also presented. Cilantro, avocado, onion, oregano, etc. A nice bowl of soup.

Frijoles Charros
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There are individuals all across the internet who swear by the frijoles at either El Fogon or Carboncitos. We preferred the former, but can see how the thicker, beanier nature of these could be more appealing. The salt and pork fat of the Fogon redition sealed the deal for us, however.

Queso fundido
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This version was made with Manchego cheese. It was simple but surprisingly delicious.

Alambre with pastor, onion, and nopales
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Again, a typical preparation method made interesting by atypical ingredients. I've always loved nopales and having them with hot slices of pork in a tortilla was wonderful.

#7 BryanZ

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Posted 05 December 2008 - 11:35 AM

After returning to the hotel post-back-to-back lunching, we would venture out again in a few hours for a lateish dinner at the much lauded HC de Monterey. The establishment began as a butcher shop, then began selling its most popular cooked meats by the kilo. Realizing that they could charge more and lure in more customers as a restaurant, so the evolution of this meat purveyor continue.

We arrived shortly before 10 pm to find the place full. We had to wait about five to ten minutes for a table. We considered this a good sign.

Like many restaurants, the seating effectively spills onto the sidewalk. This is not a city for jewel box, enclosed dining rooms.
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There's something about the smell of meat grilling over charcoal that strikes some kind of evolutionary chord. In other words, once our steaks were set in front of us, we kind of forgot to take pictures before wolfing them down. Oops, again.

This picture of an empty grill seems fitting.
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One can just see the glow of the charcoal from below.

This was perhaps the most satisfying meal of the trip and my mother's favorite. She liked how the steaks were not overwhelming large and served with numerous accompaniments. One makes a meal not from meat alone as is the case in American steakhouses but by combining smaller bites of protein with grilled potatoes, onions, and guacamole. The roasted chile salsa here was undoubtedly the favorite of the trip. Its smoky notes paired beautifully with the light char on the meat. Often times the sum of a dish is no greater than its parts, here the beef and salsa elevated each other. We also ordered an apppetizer/side of Spanish-style chorizo sausage. This was smokey, meaty, and pleasantly chewy.

If visiting this restaurant, one should keep in mind that these aren't USDA Prime, fully trimmed steaks. These are thinner, fattier, and take some work. Then again, they're delicious. The arrachera was very good, the most tender of the bunch. The strip steak the least tender but most steaky. As one might expect, the ribeye was somewhere in the middle and, as a result, was either the best steak or the worst steak, depending on your perspective.

After our steak feast, we walked around the corner to the paleteria that borders the Mega parking lot. For less that US$.80 one can get a rather large paleta de agua. I tried the watermelon and the pineapple with chile.

The premium item, however, is the paleta de crema at just under US$1.40. These are popsicles that are a bit creamy and coated with chocolate and coconut shavings. Now, I'm of the opinion that these things, technically speaking, aren't all that good. But they're addictive. The textures in this one popsicle are so diverse, and the strawberry one, pictured, had this astronaut ice cream vibe going on, maybe because it was made with powdered milk. We tried strawberry and coconut varieties during our multiple visits.

Watermelon and coconut paletas.
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Edited by BryanZ, 05 December 2008 - 11:41 AM.


#8 Sneakeater

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Posted 05 December 2008 - 12:04 PM

And adore spending time in Merida, one of my favorite of Mexican cities. 

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Even perhaps one of my favorite cities period.

#9 RobC

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Posted 05 December 2008 - 05:06 PM

We also ordered an apppetizer/side of Spanish-style chorizo sausage.

Anybody who orders a side of sausage to go with their steak is okay in my book.

#10 Holly Moore

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Posted 05 December 2008 - 05:38 PM

My impression of Cancun spiraled downward while lined up at immigration and staring for a half hour at a wall sized back-lit ad for an United States sit-dowm chain restaurant - happily I forget which one.

Now I view Cancun as merely the gateway to Isla Mujeres - a twenty minute taxi ride and then a 30 minute ferry voyage from the Cancun airport.

Next time you're in the area, if you haven't already done so, please allow some time fo Isla Mujeres. Though there are areas that focus on the tourist industry, much of it is still "authentic" small village Mexico and the food you drove all over the Yucatan for is but a golf cart ride away from anywhere on Isla Mujeres.

BryanZ, ou're killing me with these reports and pics, but please keep them coming. I'm back on Isla for three weeks starting the end of January. Your write-up is both getting me psyched and making the time til January 22 seem twice as long.
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#11 BryanZ

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Posted 06 December 2008 - 02:34 PM

The next morning we woke up early to visit La Cueva del Chango for breakfast before heading down to Akumal for the day. The restaurant serves all three meals but is best known for its breakfast offerings.

The restaurant is located in northern Playa del Carmen, a little bit removed from the hustle. It's got something of a jungle-like setting.
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The dining rooms is split between an outdoors seating area beneath the tropical trees and a quirky semi-open dining room with a water installation as well. There's a mural of sorts on the roof that depicts two snakes eating each other.
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The little windows in the ceiling are actually wine bottles. Quite cool.

The restaurant makes fresh juices to order.
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One can select from several different options and mix or go with the "house juice," a lightly sweet, mildly grassy concoction. These were quite tasty.

The restaurant was out of chicken, so we effectively had a vegetarian breakfast. Although the items might appear on the heavy side they were all characterized by a certain lightness. Everything was very tasty, almost surprisingly so.

Empanadas
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Filled with nopales and a light creamy cheese. This was our waitress's preferred filling combination.

Enchiladas
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It would make sense for the wrapper to be a corn tortilla, but I'm pretty sure that this was more delicate. The filling included cream cheese and mushrooms. Interesting and very good.

Chilaquiles
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Almost like a tortilla chip casserole of sorts. A red sauce made from peppers and chiles seemed to be baked with the chips. On top, two fried eggs.

I'm not a big breakfast guy, but we were all surprised at how tasty, satisfying, yet not overwhelming the meal was.

After snorkeling in Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay, we sat down to lunch at La Buena Vida, a beachfront restaurant in the latter bay. Half Moon Bay is a very low-key place, with no large hotels, just simple condo-type accommodations. Very relaxing.

The restaurant sits right on the sand.
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What are those wooden tower things, you ask?

They're not lifeguard stands.

They're actually crowsnests where guests can order drinks and look out to the bay.

Hauling in the bounty from below.
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Yes, via rope and tin bucket.

The view from our raised palapa.
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This was a unique experience to be sure. So simple, too. Surely there are liability issues that would prevent a larger resort or restaurant from offering the same seating option.

The food here was good but not necessarily special. Still, the setting was beautiful and I wouldn't necessarily have faulted the place had they charged even more for worse food. The prices were about on par with a casual restaurant in the US. $7 for a bowl of soup, $9 for three fish tacos, $16 for an order of fajitas. Don't get me wrong, I still liked this place, it just wasn't as exciting as some of the other spots.

Fish tacos
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These were good but not as those at Oasis. More on par with the offerings at La Floresta.

Soup
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A house soup of sorts, this had all kinds of vegetables and squash. It was quite nice, not too salty nor bland.

Chicken fajitas
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A simple but satisfying rendition.

Guests at the restaurant are able to use the chairs and umbrellas free of charge.

In general, we really liked Akumal. It's a very relaxed area with no large, chain hotels. Small shops, lots of villas, semi-paved roads. Still touristy in that everything is clean and easily arranged, but a few steps off the beaten path.

Edited by BryanZ, 06 December 2008 - 02:41 PM.


#12 BryanZ

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 02:19 PM

On our last night in Mexico we decided to try a place we had some misgivings about. My sister wanted to do a progressive dinner of greatest hits from each of our preferred restaurants. I had read about Yaxche in pretty much every guide book, blog, and forum, so decided we had to go. In the end we compromised and had a light meal at Yaxche plus a bunch of other items from Oasis, Fogon, the paleteria, and Pastorcito's.

Although Yaxche is perhaps the only frequently mentioned restaurant in the area that serves authentic Mayan cuisine, it was certainly the most touristy of our dining experiences. The food was alright--two thing were very tasty--but felt phoned in or dialed down to play to American tastes. Had we ordered a full meal it would have been the most expensive meal of the trip, as main courses range from about US$12-$25.

In order to try as many things as possible while still preserving stomach space we ordered two sampler plates.

Appetizer sampler plate with Mayan-inspired dishes.
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From 12 o'clock clockwise, lobster ceviche tostada, a type of tamale, shrimp taco in mole, stuffed grilled pepper. In the center, some grilled corn.

Main course sampler plate.
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Shrimp, grilled chicken, fish steamed in banana leaf. The fish was really tasty thanks to the achiote that gave it a bright orange hue and an interesting tang.

Turkey with mole, egg, and ground beef.
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So this rather horrifying plate of food was, along with the fish, very tasty. What you have is braised turkey meat topped with what's effectively a Scotch egg, a fried meatball of sorts stuffed with a whole boiled egg. The dish is then topped with a relatively light mole sauce. There was no chocolate in this mole, but there were pleasing faint bitter notes.

As I wrote earlier, the type of authenticity that this restaurant espouses is not the kind that many food travelers are necessarily looking for. It's a Disneyland version of the food of the Yucatan, well-intentioned but quite far removed from the real thing. The two dishes I liked most were in fact very tasty and I'm glad I tried them, but I wouldn't necessarily seek this restaurant out again.

After this meal, we walked the few blocks to Oasis so my sister and I could begin the progressive part of our dinner. We ordered a fish taco and shrimp taco and confirmed, even after sitting in a styrofoam box for a few minutes, that these are better than the same offerings at Floresta. We also reconfirmed that the habanero salsa there is insanely hot. Tears were shed. Literally.

After that, a quick car ride up to the Mega parking lot where we picked up another couple paletas. They were bizarrely tasty, as always. From there, a quick walk up 30th St led us to another Fogon location and Pastorcito's. In a back-to-back comparison of these pastor specialists we actually found it difficult to come up with a favorite. At Pastorcito's the pork is a bit chewier and has more crisp bits. This was a good thing. The pork is also seasoned less agressively. At Fogon the pork is softer and much more spiced. You get arguably more spice than pork, making it more memorable but less the pure expression of porkiness that a pastor taco should be. Spice here refers to seasoning of course, not capsicum hotness. Finally, there's price. While one could argue that Fogon is significantly more expensive (approx. US$.65 vs. US$.50), both are so cheap on an absolute level that it's hardly worth thinking about price. To be honest, I firmly believe that both are delicious, end of story. At Fogon we also picked up another order of their frijoles charros which we would snack on for breakfast the next morning.

We would spend the next morning on the beach before heading back to the cold. Considering this was just my first trip to Mexico, I was very happy with all we were able to see and do in just a few days. Though I've loved authentic Mexican food for some time now, this trip was still quite eye-opening. I look forward to returning.

Edited by BryanZ, 07 December 2008 - 02:21 PM.


#13 BryanZ

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 09:14 AM

Perhaps obviously, I haven't eaten a ton of Mexican food. But then again, nothing around me would measure up and would surely be more expensive. The utility-proposition there isn't too compelling. The first thing I made when I got home was ma po tofu. My mother commented that this kind of thing was exactly what she was craving. Although still spicy, the soy sauce and bright, floral heat of the Sichaun peppercorns was a welcome change. In the week since the trip, hmm, I've had Eastern European food at Veselka, American Southern food at The Redhead, more Sichuan at Grand Sichuan, less beer and more spirits (it was Repeal Day this weekend after all).

I can't say that I've been eating poorly at all. And, perhaps ironically enough, I'm scheduled to grab some fish tacos at a NYC taqueria with a friend in the next few days. It seems I can't stay away.

#14 Jaymes

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 09:58 AM

And, perhaps ironically enough, I'm scheduled to grab some fish tacos at a NYC taqueria with a friend in the next few days. 


Well, buena suerte. I haven't had all that much luck with fish tacos in the US. Get back with us and let us know how they were, will you?

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