Winter. Wet, cold and gloomy. This is the time of year when people struggle to get through with an air of positivity. Get the seasonal lift you’ve been pining for with a sustained burst of golden sunshine in culinary rich Yucatan Peninsula.
If the thought of relaxing in paradise with delicious restaurants, bars and cafés just steps from the beach titillates your taste buds, Playa del Carmen is the winter hot spot for you. It’s kind of like a taste of the Amalfi Coast in the heart of the Riviera Maya. Plus, there is no shortage of pulse peaking activities, white sandy beaches and shopping to burn those calories.
We’ve put together our favourite spots, from casual sand-in-your-toes to post sun-kissed dressy.
LA FISHERIA SEAFOOD MEXICAN COCINA by Chef Aquiles Chaves
After a day of frolicking in the fresh water swimming holes (cenotes) or relaxing poolside with a good book, La Fisheria is a great choice for fresh seafood fare. It’s a casual place, ideal for families or those in need of a sun break. With amenable staff happy to recommend locally sourced, fresh daily offerings from the menu. Try the octopus three ways: Chips de pulpo al ajillo, con cremoso de aguacate (which loosely translates to octopus with garlic chips and creamy avocado) or the Shrimp Omelet with savoury melt-in-your-mouth cheese. The Ceviche is fresh and uncomplicated with the right amount of citrus zest.
This culinary hot spot nestled in a residential area called Playacar is a five-minute drive from Playa. Embarcadero 18 is like walking into a trendy hipster joint in LA without an air of pretense or the snob factor. It has a California West Coast easy feel to it thanks in part to the affable, welcoming head chef Ernesto Lizzarraga. “We get all of our fish from the Pacific daily, everything is fresh,” he says of the outstanding menu. With most seafood spots pulling from the Caribbean Sea the menu offers a welcome and slightly briny contrast. This is the place to find the creatively served Ceviche you’ve been looking for. Start with a cup of fresh fish broth and a crispy tortilla topped with Ceviche and don’t miss the Cevicoco, a hollowed out coconut that’s filled with a cilantro and lemon infused Ceviche. To. Die. For.
LOS HIJOS DE LA TOSTADA
No need for a reservation here, although it can get busy. The place is small, not particularly fancy and has the ambiance of a community cafe. But stick around and you’ll be treated to mouth-watering uncomplicated fare. As implied in the name of the restaurant ‘Tostadas’ are deep fried tortillas filled with seafood and a mayo aioli sauce. The stand out, nearly drop-your-fork dish is the Camaron Roca tostada, a blueberry and shrimp tostada and of course a plate of (you guessed it) Ceviche. The owners, twins Diego and Tony, might even hang out with you. Make no mistake, this is the place where chefs, the owner, locals and cool cats come to get the real deal.
This is the place to see and be seen. The large open concept patio has romantic candlelight seating surrounding a massive concrete centerpiece bar. Step inside and you can’t miss the antique furniture, chandeliers, and Mayan decor. The menu offers everything from steak to yellow fin tuna. However, if you’ve eaten dinner elsewhere, this is the place to come for dessert and cocktails. Try the unbelievably tasty burnt milk cheesecake with banana ceviche, mint, walnut and cashew. The live DJ set, dessert and a few well-timed drinks will quickly put you in holiday heaven.
Dining and dancing in the jungle? Yes, please. Round out your vacation with a visit to the eco-chic Tulum village, where rumours of celebrities and socialites buzz in the air. Here, Chef Erick Arguello focuses on sourcing fresh local produce and seafood for what he describes as a “Mexican Peninsular Cuisine.” A rustic wood burning oven is a centerpiece to the well provisioned bar and adjoining outdoor tiki-style dining sections. See if you can reserve the ‘magical table under the fairy tree’, order up half a dozen tacos and a round of tropical drinks from the Mezcal Bar. You might not be a celebrity, but at Gitanos you’re treated like one.