Playa del Carmen is filled with various forms of handcrafted art. It can be fabricated from ceramic, glass, wood and other organic materials. Playa also provides the art of music which comes from a wide variety of musical instruments. But there is another form of art that delights our sense of smell and taste buds.
My name is Anthony Scopel. I am a travel writer and photographer for the travel site “You, Me and The Dock”. There are hundreds and possibly thousands of restaurants in one of Mexico’s most sought-after vacation destinations. Playa del Carmen with all its beautiful beaches, turquoise Caribbean water, and near-perfect weather also has a reputation for its worldly cuisines.
Everywhere you turn there are a wide variety of visual arts and the sound of music. Accompanying these blissful elements are the hovering aromas of freshly prepared gourmet cuisines. You don’t always find and/or have to experience top notch eateries in a town’s well-traveled touristy streets.
Our evening started out several blocks off the beaten path to El Curandero. This traditional eatery is located on the corner of 34 Calle Norte & 30 Av. It wasn’t hard to figure out that this restaurant was locally owned and family operated. We were immediately greeted and offered to choose where we would like to sit.
The open air and palapa styled dining area has a traditional and certain rustic vibe about it. Nothing seems mainstream to this neighborhood eatery. However, the restaurant appeared to be very clean and well maintained. Our waiter, whose name is Julio, politely introduced himself and took our beverage order. My partner and I both ordered the Tamarind Margarita specials. Upon the arrival of our handcrafted drinks, which were very tasty, we ordered our meals. Let the fun begin!
My guest ordered a Shrimp Ceviche tostada topped with avocado. The ingredients included red onions, Mexican seasoning and plenty of fresh shrimp. All these fresh ingredients are piled high on a homemade tortilla.
I on the other hand ordered Black and Gold Shrimp Tacos. They are a mix of grilled shrimp tossed in authentic Mexican seasoning, minced cilantro, and topped with avocado and a spiced white cream sauce.
Both of these meals were absolutely fabulous. Each one was made from fresh ingredients, prepared by hand, and spiced exactly on cue! We decided to order another round of the Tamarind margaritas and chit – chat for awhile. Believe me, when in Mexico you will taste quite a few fantastic margaritas along the way.
Julio, our waiter and Chef Camilo, along with yours truly – pictured right, provided great service before, during and after our meal. Chief Camilo prepared some absolutely fabulous eats which added to our overall experience. Out of a possible 5 star rating, El Corandero receives a solid 4.5 stars. This is a must try eatery!
The next night we walked a block east from El Corandero to another local restaurant. I don’t normally compare side-by-side eateries, but I had to see where the delicious aroma was coming from. Any way, on to our next dining experience!
Our next choice, Los Aquachiles is located at 34 Calle Norte & 25th Av. This is another open air – grass roof palapa styled eatery. We were graciously greeted and offered to select a perfect spot to enjoy our evening meal. Our waiter was prompt with menus and taking our beverage order. Please note that most restaurants in and around Playa del Carmen offer English written menus.
On this particular diner date, I order a Mexican cerveza (beer) and my partner had a glass of vino blanco (white wine). After our beverages arrived, we order our entrees. My companion tried another shrimp tostada mixed with plenty of local ingredients including avocado and topped with a fried noodle of some sort.
I went off ‘key’ this time – go figure, by ordering a dish created especially by the chef himself. I can’t remember the dish’s name, but it had a blend of Asian and Mexican flare. The fresh shrimp, red onion, sliced jalapenos and bean sprouts were tossed in a spiced soy sauce that tasted absolutely delightful. Both dishes were outstandingly prepared and served fresh! The presentation was uncommonly simple but at the same time, sight-fully appealing.
We had a very pleasurable dining experience. If I had to say anything negative about our outing, it would probably be directed towards the service portion of our adventure. The waiter neglected visiting our table on several occasions. I would give Los Aquachiles a 4 out of a 5 star rating. This is a restaurant that should be on every travelers list to visit. Especially if you are looking for a backstreet – locally owned establishment.
So far we are having a great time trying restaurants that are not normally visited by tourist or vacationers alike. We use to be one those people who wouldn’t venture off 5th or 10th Av. We now know better and are trying to encourage all types of travelers that there are options just minutes away from the tourist traps.
Papa Charly’s Cafe and Pasta Factory is an Italian – open air restaurant located on Calle 30 Norte and just west of 25th Av. Its motif blends a certain fine dine atmosphere with a comfortable setting.
The waitress allowed us to select our desired table and then handed us our English written menus. She returned within minutes and took our drink order. We are starting to notice that this type of protocol is becoming pretty standard throughout the Playa del Carmen’s servers.
Our beverages arrived and at the same time, we ordered our entrees. I choose the Lasagna and my wife is trying the Eggplant Platter. Our complementary hors d’oeuvres arrived beforehand. The bread was good and so were the condiments. However, with an Italian menu, wouldn’t you think the accompanied condiments would be of Italian flavor?
There was no second guessing that I had a plate full of food. But unlike other lasagna dished I have had in the states, this one seemed to be smothered in a pool of marinated cheese sauce. It was a bit different and could of used a little less salt but with that said, it was actually pretty tasty. The presentation was simple but yet it did catch my attention.
My wife’s Eggplant Platter had a great presentation. It was prepared as described and was a healthy serving of food. She did say it tasted very good and seemed to be spiced accordance to its Italian origin. The only negative she gave was that the bottom portion of the meal was hot and from midway up was cold.
Overall, both of our meals were very appetizing. The service was satisfactory and the ambiance offered an intimate dining experience. This particular eatery is not a drinking establishment, but more of a Ristorante. I would give Papa Charly’s a 4 out of a 5 star rating.
We decided to switched gears and explore a restaurant that served a cuisine that was continents away. Some friends of ours wanted us to try a French restaurant along the back streets of Playa del Carmen’s South Central district. We accepted their invite and off we went.
La Brocherie is a curbside restaurant that offers a quaint atmosphere. But I feel its decor is a bit of a stretch from its European roots. The inner dining area offers smaller square wooden tables and chairs, glass drop lights hanging from the ceiling, and French like wall-artwork scattered throughout the room.
The owner – Fabian, seated us curbside and then proceeded to give a brief description of the menu and in particular his Rotisserie chicken. It was rather refreshing to be enlightened on the restaurant’s specialty dish. We ordered our drinks which was obviously wine.
We all decided to order the Rotisserie chicken. It is served in full, half and quarter meals. It comes with a side of choice. My wife ordered that salad and I choose the spiced rice.
Our meals arrived promptly and they looked delicious. The chicken isn’t like your typical rotisserie chicken. It isn’t as greasy like North America’s typical styled rotisserie chicken. The seasoning also tasted a little more herby and less salty. Personally, I really can’t say anything negative about our dinners. However, if your expecting a grease dripping, garlic saturated, over seasoned and spiced drenched meal, you might want to consider another eatery. But keep in mind that you should be able to taste the chicken as well.
Our service was spot on with Fabian casually visiting our table and attending to our requests. Even though we sat curbside, the ambiance was surprisingly comfortable. With all this said, I would give 4 1/2 out of a 5 star rating to this French-dish establishment. If you would like to experience an international cuisine while in Mexico, I would seriously suggest trying La Brocherie. Tell Fabian that the travel site, You, Me and The Dock” sent you.
Before I complete this foodie tour, I would like to give a brief shout out to Zenzi Bar & Restaurant. This beachfront eatery and local watering hole offers great eats and fantastic beverages. When my wife and I are visiting Playa del Carmen, we always stop in and have a few adult beverages and one of their delicious appetizers.
Our latest visit to Zenzi was not only to have a few refreshing cocktails, but also to order a sushi grade Ahi Tuna tostada. This fabulous dish starts with fresh tuna tossed in a spiced mayonnaise dressing, laid on a bed of lettuce and tomato served on a toasted corn tortilla. Can you say, “Scrumpdillyicious!” I can’t complain about the views as well!
Towns like Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Puerto Morales have lots of fabulous restaurants. And Guess what? They are not always on the streets where tourist seem to migrate towards. Take the opportunity to venture just a couple blocks off of main street. You will find several eateries that will not only serve authentic prepared meals in a traditional atmosphere, but will also be a bit easier on the wallet. Don’t be afraid to live life. You will thank yourself in the end.
P.S. I want to thank my travel partner which just happens to be my beautiful wife. I Couldn’t do it without you babe!
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photography: Anthony & Maureen Scopel
Article Creator & Formatting: Anthony Scopel
Associate Editor: Maureen Scopel
Technical Mastering & Web Support: Matt Kemper
Publish By: You, Me and The Dock