Many travelers are probably content to dine within the cozy confines of their resort restaurants. Although if you aren’t staying at an all-inclusive, you probably have a lot more interest in visiting a variety of restaurants in the area! In today’s technological age, websites like Trip Advisor, Yelp and many others make it a lot easier to decide where to dine. It’s always nice to have a little inside/local scoop though!
Cancun’s restaurant scene is really spread over two different locales–the Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera), and the downtown core.
Cancun’s Hotel Zone is home to many of the international dining establishments most of us are familiar with. This area of Cancun definitely caters to the tourists who are looking for familiar fare.
In the cityscape of Cancun–population approximately 1 million–is where you’ll find some amazing homemade Mexican dishes and fresh seafood. If you’re really looking to get a true taste of Mexico, this is where you want to be!
HOTEL ZONE RESTAURANTS
As mentioned, the Hotel Zone, is where you will find more American-style restaurants (and generally higher prices). By no means does that refer to below-average food though! Here you will find restaurants like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Hooters, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, Outback Steakhouse, among others.
There are definitely many restaurants along this 30-kilometer peninsula that are unique not only for their cuisine but also for their ambiance and beauty! Many of these restaurants face the Nichupte lagoon (on the west side of the strip), where you can enjoy an spectacular sunset while having a delicious meal.
Foodies, take note! Cancun is privileged to have several AAA Five Diamond award-winning restaurants, including the Club Grill and Fantino. (Both of these are located in the Ritz-Carlton. Reservations are recommended!)
A few other suggestions you may want to experience for yourself are La Habichuela (located in the city) and La Habichuela Sunset (in the Hotel Zone, lagoon side). There is only one beach restaurant in this part of Cancun, called Casitas (at the Ritz-Carlton). Enjoy excellent seafood, as well as steak and salads, in a sumptuous, romantic setting. Harry’s Prime Steakhouse & Raw Bar features ice-cold shellfish and sashimi and boasts Kobe beef and USDA Prime Choice Beef. Their 1700-degree broiler and wood-burning grill give you delightful, tasty options!
RESTAURANTS BEYOND THE HOTEL ZONE
Cancun is a big city, home to a lot of people and a lot of food! As you would expect in any metropolitan area, there are tons of franchise restaurants and well-loved names you’ll recognize. Think Chili’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Applebee’s, Waffle House, Sirloin Stockade, etc.
But let’s be honest, if you’ve traveled this far, you probably want to taste and experience something different from what you would get back home!
Peter’s is an intimate and charming eatery run by the eponymous Dutch ex-pat. The menu is a blend of French cuisine with native Mexican style and ingredients. Try the pork ribs with tamarind sauce or the bouillabaisse with freshly-caught Caribbean fish. It’s a small place so definitely make reservations so you’re not disappointed!
La Dolce Vita serves amazing Italian food in a cozy, candlelit atmosphere. The service is fantastic, but be patient and give yourself lots of time to enjoy your meal.
For those of you that are even more adventurous, here are a few well-known establishments to try while you’re in Mexico!
Pollo Feliz is a franchise restaurant specializing in roast chicken tacos. El Fogón serves up marinated pork tacos, called “pastor”, that are to die for. Waiters carve off chunks of meat from a gigantic spit, or “trompo”, garnishing each taco with a few slices of fresh pineapple for a flavor fiesta! The prices are incredibly cheap and the quality is deliciously good.
Try some local specialty dishes like “chili rellenos” (stuffed chili peppers), and Mayan cuisine at La Destilería. For great seafood, we recommend Los de Pescado and Pescado con Limón.
It’s always good to know a little Spanish if you plan to eat away from the beaten track! Bring a phrasebook along with you or download a language app on your smartphone so you won’t be confused by the menu. Staff at most restaurants do know some English, though, and are very eager to help you enjoy your dining experience!
Fruits and vegetables are always rinsed and disinfected before being prepared. This is standard practice in any tourist zone in the area, since the economy depends largely on tourism. Spicy chili peppers are found in many dishes, so be careful if your stomach is a little sensitive! Papaya seeds, horchata water, lime juice and tortillas are some local remedies that cut the heat!
Unlike restaurants in the US or Canada, a glass of water isn’t usually complementary with your meal, as restaurants here serve bottled water instead. The ice in your drink is also made from purified water.
Service can be slow in Mexico, especially outside Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Mexican culture values non-hurried meals with no pressure. So when you’re ready, you’ll have to ask for your bill (“la cuenta, por favor”), as it probably won’t be brought to until then!
Lunch is the biggest and heaviest meal for locals, and dinner/supper is usually served late (after 8pm). Typical American breakfasts with eggs, hash browns, hot cakes, etc., are hard to find at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but plentiful on the strip.
A federal tax of 16% is incorporated into menu prices (called IVA). You probably won’t even notice it. A service charge for large parties (8 or more), may be added to your bill at some establishments, but if not, a standard tip for good service varies between 10 and 15%. Servers really appreciate your tips, whether in American or Mexican currency.
Transportation is not difficult in Cancun; although you’ll need time to get around, as it is a big city. Taxis and buses frequent the hotel zone at all hours and have standard rates. If you’re heading into the city from the hotel strip, it’s best to agree on a price with your cabbie before you get in. Or have your hotel concierge call you a taxi.
Some of the best vacation memories are created during meal times! Dig in and enjoy the feast of flavors that Mexico offers to you, no matter what your taste or budget may be!