Mexico Musts: My 5 Favorite Food Stops South of Cancun

When I was hitting the dance floor at Señor Frogs on my high school senior trip to Cancun, I really never imagined that I’d return to the area more than half a dozen times over the next few decades. I also never imagined that culture on the Yucatan Peninsula—or really anywhere—could get better than tequila shots taken to the classic tunes of the Ying Yang Twins at Señor Frogs. It was a different time.

Anyway, these days I prefer to travel south once I fly into Cancun and, like a lot of Americans, it was my first international stop post vaccine. So, in case you’re joining the masses headed to Mexican beaches these days, I thought I’d share five of my favorite spots for a bite around Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

La Cueva del Chango for Lunch

Located in the center of the town of Playa del Carmen, this is a great post-airport stop on the way to Tulum. Or, if you’re staying in Cancun, it’s perfect for lunch during a day trip to the cenotes or Mayan ruins. The restaurant is all open-air seating in a lush jungle-like setting that belies the fact that you can walk down to the street market after lunch. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ordered here (guacamole and margaritas are obviously a must), but they have a dish on their lunch menu that I dream about sometimes. It’s a poblano chili pepper stuffed with cheese, corn, beans, and rice that is everything I love about Mexican flavors all on one plate.

La Reyna de Michoacan for Snacks

It’s in a part of Tulum not frequented by as many tourists, but this ice cream and popsicle shop is worth a stop. The paletas (fruit popsicles) are made with real fruit—think chunks of coconut and tart citrus flavors. If you’re there any time soon (read: the hot, hot summer months) these sweet chilled treats are a perfect afternoon snack.

Agave Azul for Dinner

Ok, it may seem a little odd to recommend a sushi restaurant in Mexico, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one. The Rosewood Mayakoba has really done things right with this gorgeous Asian restaurant set over a lagoon. This is one of those everything-is-perfect kind of restaurant experiences. The fish is fresh and delicious. The drinks are refreshing and creative. And the setting is stunning. Plan to get there early or stay late for a drink at the stylish Zapote, just across the lagoon.

Posado Margherita for Dinner

Yeah, I know, Italian food is also not a typical Mexico trip rec, but this charming beachside restaurant in an Italian-inspired boutique hotel in Tulum somehow makes perfect sense. They incorporate local seafood and vegetables into traditional Italian recipes. The bread is baked in house, the wines are Italian, and even the gelato is made in house. So, just embrace the idea of eating some of the best pizza you’ve ever had on a beach in Mexico.

Gitano for Drinks

Honestly, it’s been a bit since I’ve spent a night in Tulum so there are likely some recent additions I don’t know about. But I really felt like this spot had the best cocktail bar I’d been to in the region. If you’re into Mezcal, look no further—they have a selection of more than 50 from Oaxaca. But even if you’re not (I’m not), these cocktails made with local fruits and herbs are amazing. And the setting may be even better. The design was inspired by the idea of a room hidden in the jungle for the last century and the result is enchanting.

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