The question we are most often asked by family and friends is, “What do you eat in Playa del Carmen?” The answer, like the city, is a very diverse one. There are hundreds of restaurants serving cuisine from all over Mexico and the world and running the gambit from food carts serving meals for a few pesos to upscale dining at prices comparable to nice restaurants in the States. (So moms you can quit worrying, we are getting plenty to eat).

While the grocery stores are reasonably priced and generally have a good selection we are finding that it is often cheaper and easier (not to mention more social) to eat out than to cook for ourselves at home. It also has a couple of hidden advantages – since we rarely run the air conditioner and we don’t have a dishwasher it’s nice to have someone else work in the hot kitchen and do the dishes! Rather than try and give you a complete run down of all the places we’ve eaten in Playa del Carmen I’ll give you a few of our favorites (so far).

Pollos Asados

Not sure if it’s the name of the place but that’s what it says on the outside and what they serve inside. This local neighborhood place is right around the corner from our apartment and serves up delicious grilled chicken. You order 1/4, 1/2 or whole chicken and it comes with rice, beans, slaw, tortillas and sauce. We order a full chicken with its accompanying side dishes. It’s more than enough for the 2 of us and costs about $5 U.S. Quite the deal!

Not sure if that's the name or the menu on the awning
Not sure if that’s the name of the restaurant or the menu on the awning. Likely both.
A delicious meal for 2 for $5? Yes please!
A delicious meal for two with leftovers for $5? Yes please!

El Fogon

There are a couple El Fogon’s around town but our favorite is on Constituyentes between Calles 20 and 25. They serve a full menu including tacos al pastor, quesadillas etc. but El Fogon has a Mexican dish known as alambres that’s outstanding and that’s all we order. An alambre is basically the meat(s) of your choice mixed with onions, peppers and white cheese and fried with some kind of magical seasonings. The heap of goodness is brought to your table still steaming from the flattop grill and served with tortillas, limes and a bunch of little bowls of peppers, cabbage and other assorted goodies for you to build your own masterpiece. Deidre and I typically share the pollo y tocino alambre (chicken and bacon) it’s plenty to eat and costs something like $7 US.

Sorry about the van, my phone isn't made for action photos
Sorry about the van, my phone isn’t made for action photos.
A great meal with Wandering Earl and his "Wander Across Mexico" group
A great meal with Wandering Earl and his “Wander Across Mexico” group. That’s a whole bunch of alambres on the table.

Piola

One thing that surprises a lot of visitors to Playa del Carmen is the huge number of Italian restaurants and pizza places to choose from. These places offer everything from large slices of pizza to go for $15 pesos (about $1 U.S.) to sit down dining experiences complete with white table cloths and extensive wine lists. Our favorite is Piola on Calle 38 between Avenida 10 and Avenida 5. Piola is in the middle of the the price range, has superb food and good drinks served with a cool, funky little vibe. We’ve eaten here a few times and haven’t even scratched the surface of the menu yet – they’ve got like 50 kinds of pizza! We typically share a pizza, have a couple of cocktails and, along with the free bruschetta appetizer which is oh so good, we are happy campers. We head home with a couple of left over slices and a nice buzz for about $25 U.S.

Worcester, soy and ketchup are all accepted pizza condiments here
Worcestershire, soy, ketchup and hot sauce are all accepted (and widely used) pizza condiments in Mexico

Beach Clubs

Being a beach town, Playa has approximately 5,983 beach bars offering tables, lounge chairs, beach beds, food and drink. They are similar with varying music volumes (normally some kind of techno or trance or some other equally confusing type of music), drink specials and shaded areas. We prefer things a bit more laid back so our favorites so far are Zenzi and Lido located next door to each other at about Calle 10 and the beach. Lido has a delicious mango sauce that they use on everything from chicken kabobs to salads and Zenzi has good burgers and Jamiroquai playing on a 24 hour loop so we usually just pick one or the other based on our mood. We can eat lunch and have some beers at either for about $30 US total. If you’re looking to just have a few cold ones and relax than you can always get a cubetazo (bucket of beers) for around $120 pesos, that’s $8-10 U.S. for 5 beers.

Beach clubs are a great way to spend the day if you've got deep pockets
Beach clubs are a great way to spend the day if you’ve got deep pockets

Tacos, Quesadillas, Tortas, Salbutes and Empanadas

By far the cheapest way to eat in Playa del Carmen is to hit one of the countless stands or carts selling tacos, quesadillas, tortas, salbutes or empanadas. Each vendor normally has one item that they specialize in and they all put their own twist on what they serve but the food is hot, fresh, handmade and cheap. When I say cheap I mean it, the empanadas in the picture below were each larger than my hand and cost $17 pesos each ($1.10 or so U.S.). It can be a bit intimidating at times trying to order from the carts if you don’t speak the language, or know exactly how to order, but just smile and wade in, you won’t regret it!

Another dinner for 2 for about $5
Another dinner for 2 for about $5

We’ve eaten at some other not so memorable places as well, and one that might have left one of us (not me) with the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge. I’ve been saying for years that turkey burgers are a bad idea, I think it’s now a proven fact. But we’ve barely scratched the surface of the restaurant and cuisine options here and that’s exciting to think about. Next up we’re going to try to track down some good Chinese food, something we’ve both been craving. Any suggestions on where to find that here in Playa del Carmen? Is that even an option? If not, my cooking skills are about to be put to the test in a new way. And we haven’t even begun to tap the market on the desserts.

So does any of this food look good to you? Are these the types of food you would expect to eat in Playa del Carmen? Would you try worcestershire sauce on your pizza (it actually wasn’t that bad….)?