From the tastiest tacos to finding the most delicious seafood, here are the best places to eat in Playa del Carmen © Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez / Getty Images
Playa del Carmen’s diverse gastronomy is a destination in itself. Thanks to an influx of digital nomads and travelers worldwide, the culinary scene in Playa del Carmen has evolved from streetside taco stands and casual beach shacks into an amalgam of hip vegan cafes, contemporary seafood bars, and regional restaurants.
Many restaurants are concentrated on the beach and along Playa’s main boulevard Fifth Avenue, but prices tend to be higher than average. Veer off the busy areas and duck into the side streets – you’ll discover a world of cheap eats and traditional bites that offer less gimmick and more value. From taquerias to fine-dining venues, here are the best places to get a taste of Playa del Carmen.
It's not hard to find good tacos in Playa del Carmen
Taco joints are the epicenter of the food scene all over Mexico – it’s no exception in Playa del Carmen. Get ready for some finger-licking action at these blockbusting taco houses.
El Fogón is a hugely popular taqueria
An institution in Playa del Carmen, El Fogón is the go-to taqueria for locals and visitors alike. The open-air eatery dishes out the city’s most authentic tacos al pastor: marinated meat grilled on the flames of a Lebanese shawarma grill, served on a handmade tortilla and garnished with tomatoes, onions, and coriander.
Other must-tries include the torta de arrachera (skirt steak sandwich) and alambre ranchero (grilled beef with chopped bacon, chorizo, and melted cheese). El Fogón has gained such a loyal following that it’s opened up several locations throughout Playa del Carmen. If you find a long line to get in, try your luck at another location.
La Cochi Loka serves delicious pork tacos
Steps from the beach on Calle 10 Norte, La Cochi Loka is a tiny, unassuming stand that serves the best cochinita pibil in town. Slow roasted pork cooked with a blend of Yucatan spices – including axiote and cinnamon – is dished out on freshly handmade tortillas and sprinkled with pickled pink onions. The tacos shouldn’t be missed, but if you are a hardcore foodie, try the costras with a crunchy cheese crust that’s griddled to perfection. There are just a couple of bar tables and high chairs – but don’t bother looking for a seat; you’ll be lining up for more tacos in no time.
Hermanos Taco Cart is one of the city's best food trucks
Tucked into the shadows of Mega supermarket in Centro, this nondescript spot may look like your typical food truck, but it slings some of the best tacos in Playa del Carmen. Of all the competing food trucks lined up on the curbside, Hermanos consistently has the longest line of eager diners. The stand only has a couple of plastic chairs during the day, but come on a weekend night to enjoy the makeshift outdoor market atmosphere.
The house specialty here is the tacos de suadero (made with thinly sliced beef brisket), but regulars also dig their tacos campechanos (a mixed bag of grilled pork, longaniza spicy sausage, and crispy chicharrones pork crackling). Be warned: every taco comes with a generous dollop of habanero chili!
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You'll find top quality seafood in Playa del Carmen's restaurants © kevin yulianto / Getty Images
Try the best, freshest fish at Playa's seafood restaurants
In a beach town like Playa del Carmen, seafood inherently plays the leading role. Folks here know their seafood, so expect only the freshest and tastiest fish in Playa del Carmen.
Pescaderia Y Cokteleria El Pirata serves affordable seafood
A long-established fixture in Playa’s food scene, El Pirata is perenially packed with hungry locals eager to dive into their affordable yet indulgent seafood. The casual setting of plastic tables and chairs around its front doors may not draw you in, but the glorious seafood will get you to stay. The restaurants’ headliners are the tangy ceviche, shrimp cocktail, and whole fried mojarra fish that crunches on the outside and melts on the inside. Lunch hour is always busy here; come for an early dinner instead as the restaurant shuts by 7pm.
Las Hijas de la Tostada's seafood tostada is a delight
With playful turquoise interiors, the contemporary seafood bar doesn’t just look good; it’s the food that keeps people coming back for more. The chain restaurant is known for its fun, modern seafood dishes like tuna tataki, shrimp tartar, and grilled octopus. But the star of the show here is the tostada, a toasted tortilla topped with all kinds of seafood, from chipotle caramelized shrimps to chili marinated tuna on a bed of guacamole. There are now a few locations in town, including one at Coco Beach with spectacular sea views, all featuring the same menu and reasonable prices.
From modern street food to restaurants serving traditional Mexican dishes, there are many great places to eat in Playa del Carmen © frantic00 / Shutterstock
Playa's traditional Mexican restaurants are local favorites
Despite Playa del Carmen’s big push towards the new and the hip, time-honored Mexican restaurants still rank high on the locals’ favorite places to eat in town.
La Perla Pixan Cuisine pays homage to Mexican staples
La Perla Pixan takes you back into the past. The open-concept restaurant features a rustic setting, with a palapa thatched roof overhead and the scent of copal – Mayan’s ceremonial incense – wafting through the air. The restaurant pays homage to Mexican culture through staples like pozole verde (green chili stew), chile relleno (stuffed pepper), and botana oaxaqueña (assorted meat and cheese from Oaxaca) – all served on clay pots and pottery plates. Adventurous foodies will love the chapulines con queso fresco y nopales, grasshoppers with cheese and cactus.
La Cueva del Chango serves fresh regional dishes
Ask anyone where the best place to eat traditional Mexican food in Playa del Carmen is, and they’ll inadvertently point you in the direction of La Cueva del Chango. “The Monkey’s Cave” awes with its jungly setting, complete with hanging roots and running streams in the outdoor terrace.
La Cueva prides itself on serving quality regional dishes using the freshest homegrown ingredients. Hot favorites on the menu are the chicken in poblano mole sauce and shrimp with serrano chili cream sauce. Call in advance to make a booking, especially on weekends.
The best high-end restaurants offer a unique experience
While many of Playa’s upscale restaurants are ensconced in private resorts and exclusive to guests only, there are still a handful of dining venues that promise to be the highlight of any visit to Playa del Carmen.
Alux Restaurant offers top cuisine in a cave
Alux isn’t just a restaurant: it’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Housed in a cenote cave, Alux brings new meaning to the concept of fine dining, plating haute cuisine in a rustic grotto setting. The multi-colored lights and neon signs may be kitsch, but its contemporary Mexican menu and impressive wine selection add a touch of decadence. Under thousand-year-old stalactites, feast on pork belly drenched in mole sauce, pork terrine covered in curry pineapple, and roasted bone marrow glazed in chili. And after the meal, take a wander around the cavern into an underworld of icicle-like stalactites and rocky hideouts.
The Traveler’s Table is an interactive dining experience
Good food is best enjoyed with company, and it can’t be more true at The Traveler’s Table. The concept restaurant promises a communal dining experience like no other, and it delivers through a meld of storytelling, hands-on participation, and social interaction.
The idea is simple: the host first sets the tone with flutes of champagne at sunset and provides historical context for the food you’ll be tasting. Then guests are served an elaborate five-course menu designed by Spanish celebrity chef Eva Millán. There’s a convivial atmosphere in the air as you dine barefoot on the beach with new friends, make your own cocktails, and taste the finest mezcal and tequila.
Vegans and vegetarians will find lots of tasty options in Playa del Carmen © Anna_Pustynnikova / Shutterstock
Playa has a strong vegetarian and vegan scene
As a digital nomad hub, Playa del Carmen fully embraces the vegan food trend. Every month there seem to be new vegan cafes popping up, vying for attention with leafy interiors and ingenious creations.
Peace and Bowl serves colorful, tasty vegan dishes
Peace and Bowl is comfort vegan food at its best. Fresh raw ingredients and bright colors fill the creative menu, with many items you won’t find at other spots in town. Start with an eye-catching açaí bowl and finish with a power-packed buddha bowl – regardless of what you choose, it will taste as good as it looks. If you’re counting your pennies (and calories), get a sweet potato hummus toast and Patcha Matcha smoothie, and you’re set for the day.
Come for the food but stay for the ambiance – the cozy swings, Turkish floor pillows, and plunge pool make it an excellent spot to while your day away.
Fresco Habito has an earth-to-table ethos
This hip all-vegan cafe is a huge hit with plant-based eaters for good reasons: the long list of mouth-watering vegan dishes are all photo-worthy and ridiculously good. Plus, its earth-to-table ethos shines through in the restaurant’s bright, open design, punctuated with tropical mural paintings and hanging plants. Don’t pass up on the ceviche tropical with coconut and matcha, the pita pastor, and little donkey burrito. If you can’t decide on what to order, pick and choose from the arsenal of grains, nuts, and superfoods to create your very own bowl.
Don't miss Playa's breakfast culture at these top places
Playa del Carmen is big on breakfast, and it shows from the long lines of early birds at lively breakfast joints in the morning. Get there early if you want a taste of Playa’s breakfast culture!
Restaurante Nativo is a good value breakfast hut
A mainstay in Playa del Carmen, Nativo ticks off all three Bs on a Mexican’s list – bueno, bonito y barato – good, pretty, and cheap. The setting is distinctively “Playa”: a palapa roof sits over the wooden hut, decked out in rainbow-colored furniture and vibrant wall paintings.
Part juice bar, part Mexican diner, Nativo serves a repertoire of breakfast classics, from fruit bowls to bacon hotcakes and traditional huevos motuleños (eggs on tortillas with black beans and cheese). But what appeals most to regulars are the licuado fruit smoothies, lauded as the best in town. Order one to share, as they are definitely big enough for two.
Chez Céline serves the best baked goods
This Parisian-style boulangerie might be the only reason to jostle the crowd on Fifth Avenue. Chez Céline has long been feted as the best place in Playa del Carmen for freshly baked croissants, baguettes, and macarons. Late starters will be happy to know breakfast is served till 1pm every day – after which you can still pick from a delectable spread of oven-baked toasts, bagels, and savory croissants, and pair them with a glass of mimosa.
Amate 38 is popular with local families
With a small waterfall, koi pond, and a jungle setting, Amate 38 is a rare patch of greenery and an inviting space to start your day. This earthy restaurant draws high praise for its Yucatecan regional cuisine, prepared with ancestral cooking methods. Its breakfast menu is hugely popular with multi-generation Mexican families, who flock here for their chaya omelet and teko tekoh eggs (slow-cooked eggs).