The restaurant scene in Playa is always vibrant and dynamic. Each month, it seems, new restaurants pop up, with inspired menus and a fresh take on food. There are several well-established and well-loved eateries in this young city too. It’s an absolutely spectacular scene for foodies!
When you choose to stay right in Playa, half of the fun each day is meandering 5th Avenue in search of the perfect restaurant! There are literally hundreds to choose from. No matter what your taste or preference is, you will probably find it. From steakhouses, sushi, and authentic Italian pasta, to fresh seafood, Mayan and Mexican cuisine, and vegan/vegetarian options…the list is virtually endless!
Most restaurants are open-air, even beachfront. Playa also has a lot of fantastic rooftop bars and restaurants. (No building is higher than 4 storeys total, so you can catch ocean views even from a few blocks back.) It’s so refreshing to enjoy the evening breezes off the ocean while you sip a delicious drink and indulge in a tasty meal. The people-watching is also excellent from up here.
Even picky or non-adventurous diners will be happy–there are familiar franchise restaurants and lots of “comfort food” options to choose from when you don’t feel like tacos!
If you’ve spent the day at the beach and don’t want to go far to eat, try one of these spots. Or perhaps you just want to get the most ocean time possible during your vacation! The views never get old. Day or night, these places serve up delicious food in a fun atmosphere.
Every weekend you can treat yourself to a full buffet brunch and Texas-style BBQ at WAH WAH’S [between calle 2 and 4]. The huge palapa restaurant sits right on the sand–no shoes required! There’s also an upstairs deck where you can enjoy the unparalleled views of the sea. There are beach games, live music, and a huge dance floor inside, so the fun doesn’t stop even when it rains!
Just north of that is a little seafood restaurant that’s been around forever…it’s called LA TARRAYA. Run by a local family, this restaurant is decorated in a nautical theme and serves up the most amazingly fresh seafood daily! The margaritas are huge, the beer is cold, and the best part is you can keep your toes in the sand while you eat and drink. (Note: This place closes around 8:30pm daily.)
The mood at ZENZI is always hip and chill. There are low tables and lounge chairs on the beach along with tables on the deck and bar seating inside. Palm trees are encircled with twinkle lights, and this place becomes even more enchanting at night. There is live nightly entertainment (our favorite is the reggae cover band that usually plays Fridays).
La Cueva del Chango
Does brunch on the beach sound good? Check out the trendy new restaurant at the end of calle 8, called C-GRILL. The vibe is reminiscent of a California beach house, and the food is outstanding. It’s also open for lunch and dinner.
A favorite in Playa, with 3 different locations, is EL NATIVO. Here you can order a liter of some fresh-squeezed juice concoction, a delicious omelette or tasty Mexican breakfast like chilaquiles verdes. Look for their trademark thatched palapa roof and colorful sign. They’re located on the corner of Juarez and the highway, as well as north of the MEGA grocery store [on 30th Avenue].
Prefer to stay downtown? If you can only manage to stroll a few steps from your hotel to rustle up some coffee and grub, try these spots. Right in the middle of downtown is 100% NATURAL, an outdoor restaurant with lots of healthy options, smoothies and delicious indulgences like chocolate-chip pancakes [on 5th between 10 & 12]. Further north on the strip is LA VAGABUNDA [on 5th between calle 24 & 26] and LA CUEVA DEL CHANGO [on calle 38].
TIP: If you’re trying to please kids or just want to play it safe with breakfast, we recommend IMPREVIST [on 1st Ave between calle 14 & 16bis] and CHEZ CELINE [on 5th and calle 34]. These are the top two breakfast spots in Playa del Carmen!
These rooftop terraces are best enjoyed in the early evening or at night, when you can cool off, relax, see and be seen!
LA SANTANERA is a trendy rooftop bar and club in the heart of downtown [on the corner of 5th Ave and calle 10]. At the ground floor reception area, there’s a huge neon light wall display of a DJ Jesus spinning tracks. Ride the elevator up to the top and enjoy great views of the ocean and the strip.
Try the pretzel bread with mustard butter, or fresh grilled fish at the stylish new rooftop restaurant/bar CATCH[at the top of the Thompson Hotel on 5th and calle 12]. Even if you go here for just a drink, the views alone are spectacular.
TIP: Many hotels on the strip have a rooftop bar or restaurant that is open to the public. Just ask at reception if you are curious! For example, a really chic place to hang out day or night is at NIBS, located at the top of the Cacao Hotel [5th and calle 32].
Craving a succulent steak and perhaps a glass of red wine to go with it? Playa definitely caters to the carnivores out there, with Argentinian and Brazilian steakhouses galore.
For huge appetites and samples of every cut of meat imaginable, you must visit BOVINO’S. This new location in the popular restaurant chain just opened in Playa in 2015. It has a fantastic buffet and staff serve you delicious cuts right off the skewer–lamb, filet mignon, bison, you name it. You’ll find this brick restaurant on the corner of 10th Ave and Calle 10 [across from Coco Bongo’s Nightclub]. RIO BRAZILIAN is a similar, less-crowded but still fabulous option that’s tucked away behind La Bodeguita del Medio Cuban restaurant [on 5th between calle 34 & 36].
Looking for something elegant, with great service? For that extra special evening with your significant other, we have 3 recommendations!
SUR is a glamorous choice, and you’ll be treated like a king. The Argentinian theme showcases prime beef cuts and a fine wine selection. You can’t miss it, it’s on the corner of 5th Ave and calle 10.
Tucked away in a more intimate setting is PLANK. It’s the only smokehouse in Playa! Food here is served on salt rock slabs, and the vibe and service are both supreme.
Probably the top choice for steak is the brand-new HARRY’S, located in the Calle Corazon shopping plaza [5th Ave and calle 12]. This upper-level restaurant has a raw bar and the service is excellent. With 28-day-aged steak and handmade cocktails, it’s more than just a restaurant…it’s an experience!
MEXICAN & MAYAN RESTAURANTS
While you’re here, you’ve just got to sample Mexican and Mayan cuisine–it would be a tragedy not to!
Mexican and Mayan? Yes, they are different! YAXCHE restaurant showcases the unique flavors and ingredients of Mayan food. The menu offers such delicacies as cochinita pibil [a rich marinated pork dish] and flambéed mango crepes. And have you ever tried a jalapeno cilantro margarita? The successful restaurant is opening a new location on 1st Ave and calle 38 shortly.
For the best Mexican restaurants, you’ll have to venture off touristy 5th Ave. (LA PARRILLA is lots of fun, though, with live mariachi music and dishes from all the regions in Mexico! It’s on the corner of 5th and Const.)
When you see a restaurant packed with locals, you know it’s gotta be good! We recommend the marinated pork tacos [called el pastor] at EL FOGON. For tacos with tender, juicy strips of steak, visit HC DE MONTERREY. Both are located near the MEGA grocery store [30th Ave and Constituyentes].
OTHER ETHNIC CUISINE
There’s more to Playa del Carmen than Mexican food–way more! Think big. Think international!
If you’re a fan of Italian food, you have to visit Playa’s Little Italy district. It spans several blocks on both 5th and 10th Avenues [roughly between calle 28 and 38]. There are dozens of fine Italian restaurants; with forno ovens, red-checkered table cloths, even some with chefs preparing handmade pasta right in view! CENACOLO[calle 28] is one of them. Also, look for LA PIOLA, on calle 38. Both are simply excellent!
One of our favorite little hole-in-the-wall spots is ROMEO’S[on calle 4 between 10th and 15th avenues]. You can easily walk to it from your condo or hotel. With only a few tables, the atmosphere is cozy and comfortable. The food is absolutely divine, and you can watch the chef prepare it. You finish your meal in the traditional Italian way–with limoncello!
Off the beaten path is DON CHENDO, serving up delicious deep-dish pizza and the best chicken parmesan you’ve ever had! The owner is American and super friendly; he’ll always stop to chat a bit with his patrons and see how you’re enjoying your meal. You can find this little spot on 30th Ave, between calle 24 and 26 [not far from the MEGA grocery store].
In the gated community of Playacar, a big favorite among the local Italian ex-pats is CASA SOFIA. This charming restaurant has excellent lasagna, ravioli and forno pizza. With both air-conditioned and open-air dining, it’s an elegant choice for a memorable meal.
For a coastal Caribbean city, the Asian food here is pretty great! What’s your fancy…Thai? Vietnamese? Japanese? You don’t have to go far to find all these tasty offerings.
Sophisticated, air-conditioned and gourmet–if that sounds good, ASIANA is the place for you. It’s located in The Royal Resort [Constituyentes and 1st Avenue]. The menu covers all things Asian. Try the sashimi or sushi, spring rolls with spicy strawberry sauce or the tempura ice cream. (Note: You must be 18 or older to visit this restaurant.)
BABE’S is a well-loved restaurant that’s been around for more than a decade. Its unique fusion menu offers fresh seafood, delicious teriyaki chicken and shrimp, Korean and Vietnamese choices, Swedish meatballs, and delectable noodles. The ambiance is fun and retro, with vintage pin-up posters decorating the walls. You’ll find it on calle 10, between 5th and 10th avenues.
GLUAY MAAI THAI has great traditional Thai food and vegan options as well. It’s located in the trendiest part of 5th [on calle 38]. One of the chefs is Thai and will happily explain the menu and make recommendations. Try the sweet green curry or the papaya salad for something different!
For tasty sushi at reasonable prices, NIKKORI on 10th Ave is good [between calle 32 & 34]. Order two-for-one on Wednesdays! SUSHI LALO WEY is adorable and has consistently excellent sushi and keeps clients coming back for more! You’ll find this little gem in the food market on 10th Ave [between calle 8 & 10].
VEGETARIAN & VEGAN RESTAURANTS
With Playa’s international, health-conscious crowd, there are too many delicious options in this restaurant category to mention! Here are just a few favorites to get you started:
Got a big appetite but prefer to fill it with healthy goodness? SALADE is the place for you; right on the corner of calle 10 and 15th ave [near the Yoga studio and the CrossFit gym]. You get to choose among the freshest ingredients to create the perfect wrap or salad. And they’re huge! Their mint lemonade is also sensational; definitely a must.
KAXAPA FACTORY is a touch off the beaten path and has delicious Venezuelan food with lots of vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free options. Go down calle 10, and you’ll find it between 15th and 20th Ave. The owners are wonderfully nice and the service is outstanding. Don’t have time to sit down and eat? Just order a fresh juice to go; you won’t be disappointed.
For fresh, healthy food with a middle-eastern flavor, visit FALAFEL NESSYA. It’s on calle 4 between 10th and 15th Ave. The hummus is excellent, as are the pitas and of course, falafel! This is a laidback, cozy and clean spot with really reasonable prices. It makes for a refreshing change from most of the food you’ll find in Playa.