There are basically two kinds of restaurants in the Yucatan. Restaurants for tourists and restaurants for Mexicans. There is of course nice Mexican restaurants that cater to both Mexicans and tourists.
Tourist restaurants are generally Americanized. There are International restaurants and you can find almost any food in Cancun. The restaurants use bottled water for everything and purified water is used throughout the entire premises. You will find the same degree of cleanliness in the tourist restaurants in the Yucatan as you do back home.
If you stay in any of the major hotel/resort zones there will be a large number of restaurants within walking distance. If your resort is all-inclusive chances are you may never eat off the premises. We have found that Mexican all-inclusive buffets are well supplied with food with a high diversity, and guests rarely go hungry.
RESORT BUFFETS AND SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS
Mexican bakeries are amazing. If your resort has a good baker you are in for a treat. There are always lots of fresh fruit and juices!
Generally the buffets work like this:
If you are a fussy eater this will be your best meal of the day.
2 kinds of cereal
fruit: pineapple, melons, and bananas
Yogurt [plain or flavored]
fried eggs/omelets/scrambled eggs
sausage or bacon or both
mashed potatoes/fried potatoes
orange juice, mango juice
Breakfast Buffet is usually from 7:00 to 10:00
Most resorts have 2 separate meals for lunch. There will be the “inside” buffet and the beach or pool restaurant. Usually the beach buffet runs longer than the inside buffet. This is because the inside buffet has to close early so preparations can be made for dinner.
Inside Lunch Buffet Menu [typical]:
One or two of: poultry/beef/pork/fish
Full bread/pastry section
Almost every resort has a dinner buffet sometimes two with either one or more restaurants that you may eat at once. It has been our experience that the food in the specialty restaurants is no better than the food at the buffet and as a matter of course most people prefer the buffet as you can regulate your own portions and specific foods. Some specialty restaurants charge extra.
Dinner Buffet Menu [typical]:
One or two of: poultry/beef/pork/fish/seafood [sometimes lobster]
Full bread/pastry section
Quite often the dinner buffet will rotate a certain international food into the buffet. For example you will have Italian night with many Italian dishes. It is best to ask the restaurant manager or your tour operator what night has what so you can make plans.
Most resorts have an Italian restaurant and a Mexican restaurant. Usually the ambiance is much nicer than the buffet room. It is usually smaller, cozier and air-conditioned. The waiter staff will be the resorts top personnel and you can expect excellent service. You may order special drinks and wines, but some times at an extra cost.
Sometimes you get lucky and the restaurant is good and what you select turns out to be marvelous. Sometimes it can be bad and most resorts only let you make one reservation in the specialty restaurant. Some resorts let you eat in all of the specialty restaurants so long as you make a reservation.
Most specialty restaurants enforce a dress code that includes no shorts, sandals, t-shirts and tank tops. We have however broken all these rules on several occasions. Just eat quickly and be respectful to the staff. Leave a nice tip.
If you read some of the on-line forums about certain resorts you will see complaints about food being cold at the buffet. This may occur if you go to the buffet late. It is recommended to go to the buffet when it opens. You will get the choice seats. The food is piping hot and fresh and there is not a crowd of people.
At the old Robinson Club resort on the Riviera you get an hour and a half for everyone to squeeze into this small restaurant. It reminded us of a school cafeteria during lunch.
NOTE: Some resort buffets use shared seating arrangements which means you share your table with other guests. Because of the size of many of these buffets this means complete strangers will be rubbing elbows with you and sharing the salt and pepper shakers etc. If you do not mind this then no problem, but if you do not want this arrangement then check the fine print in your brochure on the resort. We mention this because we have had problems ourselves with crazy people sitting at our table and we have heard other negative things as well.
TIP! If you find yourself at a resort that uses shared seating and you prefer not to eat in the restaurant you can take the food back to your room or if they object have them deliver the food to your room. Most resorts will do this and you only need tip the waiter who delivers the food.
If you are in Cancun in the hotel zone you may have to walk quite a distance to actually find a real Mexican restaurant. Many restaurants can be found in Cancun City. You can tell it is a Mexican restaurant when you look inside and only see Mexicans.
The first time we actually ate in a Mexican restaurant was in Playa del Carmen. Our waiter was 5 years old. We can honestly say he tried harder than any waiter we have ever seen in our life. Not a single person on staff could speak a word of English and our Spanish does not help in these circumstances. After much pointing to things on a Spanish menu we ordered something that had chicken in the title. The food came and it was excellent. It was also a fraction of what you pay on 5th Ave. Ever since then we eat in Mexican restaurants.
HOW TO FIND A GOOD MEXICAN RESTURANT
The best thing to do is ask a Mexican where a good restaurant is. Mention you are not interested in “tourist food” but want to go to a place where the Mexicans go.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL RESTAURANT
In your travels you will come across some restaurants that make you wonder how anyone could ever eat in such a place. Doesn’t Mexico have any restaurant regulations?Well the answer is yes; of course Mexico has numerous laws regarding the operations of a restaurant. What may appear, as a loose run operation is nothing short of miraculous as Mexico feeds its growing population and flood of tourists. Mexican restaurants are different. The food is most often excellent. We have personally found the best food in a restaurant with plastic tables, no matching cutlery, photocopied worn menus, concrete/dirt floor and an outhouse for a bathroom.
The biggest problem we have is figuring out what is what on the menu as every cook has their own specialties and sometimes the words do not even translate in our handy dandy translator. You have to throw caution to the wind and just order something. Generally the prices are so low, if you don’t like what you get, you can try again!
You can purchase bottled water everywhere you go in the Yucatan except some of the long barren highways between Playa and Tulum, Tulum and Chetemal or Cancun to Merrida. There are however gas stations, stores and towns along the way, which will sell water. Any road to any attraction, or ruin site will have stores along the way.
Xel-Ha Ruins has no stores or water.
Mayapan Ruins has no stores or water.
ExTempo Ruins has no stores or water.
Kuhunlich Ruins has no stores or water.
Kenenchna Ruins has no stores or water.
Dzbenchia Ruins has no stores or water.
Every resort uses a water purifier. Some say that this water is okay to drink, some say it is not. We have drunk it many times and have never become ill. This does not mean we have not picked up a parasite. Rule of thumb is if you’re only staying for a short period you can find bottled water everywhere, so drink that. Use your hotel water for brushing your teeth if you wish and taking showers but drink only bottled water everywhere you go. Almost every resort and hotel offer 1 or 2 bottles of water per room per day. If not you can purchase it in the resort/hotel store or in a nearby store.
The Yucatan is a rather safe place to be unless there is a hurricane. This does not happen that often. Crime does happen but not any more than say rural Minnesota. Mexican police if not visible, are there. Crime affects everybody; mostly Mexicans and the greater majority of Mexican people are hard working law abiding people. If you don’t mess with them they will not mess with you.
The same street proofing techniques you use where you live, apply to Mexico. In other words do not strap on your $10k Rolex watch and travel out to west Cancun down a deserted back alley to make a deal on some cigars, at night, by yourself.
You and your family can be assured of total and complete safety on your travels in the Yucatan. You can guarantee that the Mexican Government is exceptional in handling these matters. What sometime may appear to be a curt response to a situation by authorities rarely results in nothing short of heads rolling.
Mexican police patrol all tourist zones and many attractions have their own securityOnce at Xel-Ha we were relaxing when panic broke out in the water. Within seconds 3 lifeguards had come out of nowhere and jumped into the water. More security and staff responded to the shoreline immediately. A small girl was retrieved. The situation was taken care of extremely professionally and the Xel-Ha staff is to be commended for their work. They responded instantly.
FACT: You are more prone to being robbed or having something stolen from you by a tourist.
TIP! Always use a hotel safe even if you have to pay a daily charge for it. Store your passport, driver’s license any travel documents, jewelry, and cameras and of course credit cards and money.