by Michele Kinnon
Anyone who has spent any time at all in Playa del Carmen can tell you that there are hundreds (nearly 800 to be more precise) restaurants and eateries to choose from in this eclectic city. It would be nearly impossible for any one person to try them all, especially since some in the fickle tourist zone seem to be reinvented on a yearly basis. We certainly have a lot of choices when it comes to what we are going to dine on and where we are going to do it. Playa has everything from top notch American style steak houses to sushi bars to taco carts and everything in between! It's almost overwhelming sometimes when I try to decide what to eat! There is so much to choose from and yet, it seems there are some places I return to time after time. Inspired by my pal Tacogirl and her Top Ten Lists, I decided to break out with a Top Ten of my own: Top Ten Cheap Eats in Playa del Carmen. These are arranged in no particular order as they all seem to fit a different need in my personal feeding schedule.
#1- Empanadas Luis
Located on calle 12 between Avenues 20 and 25, Senor Luis has been selling empanadas every morning for as long as I have been here. He and his chatty assistants set up their cart Monday through Friday at about 5am and start cranking out the best and freshest deep fried flour empanadas I have ever had. He has a selection of cheese, potato with chorizo, carne molida, chicken and bean empanadas served up on plastic plates or "to go" heaped with your choice of shredded cabbage, pickled red onions, crema and a variety of salsas, both spicy and mild. He also offers delicious bean filled "salbutes" and cold sodas from a cooler. I recommend you get there well before 9am as he sells out every day to a regular crowd of taxi drivers and other working folk. Luis is a larger than life character and once said to me "Ah, you are from the United States? So close to Mexico yet so far from God." How true Senor.
#2 - Carnitas Teresitas
Introduced to us several years ago by my sister in law's then boyfriend Milo, Carnitas Teresitas has become a staple in our dining routine. Frying up a fine selection of kastakan, buchy, chicharron, masiza and blood sausage, Teresitas has been a defining factor in the lack of definition around my waistline. Despite the fact that I can feel my arteries clogging as I type this, I return to this unassuming restaurant every weekend for a kilo of the good stuff, served with diced white onion, cilantro and salsa aguacate. The owner and his staff are super nice and have finally gotten used to the tall gringa coming for her weekly pork fat fix. They have a handful of tables in an adjoining dining room and serve from 8am to 6pm in their storefront on Calle 1 sur between Avenues 20 and 25. Fresh tortillas can be purchased just up the street if you are taking the meat home with you.
#3 - Ty Coz
Just south of Downtown Playa del Carmen on the west side of 307, Ty Coz is located at the "new" Pemex station, next to Oxxo, Ty Coz opened their only Playa del Carmen location about 2 years ago. A popular chain in Cancun, Ty Coz serves up delicious sandwiches on REAL crusty french baguettes and enormous croissants to throngs of patrons from 7am until 10pm. A favorite of local laborers, taxi drivers and well...just about everyone it seems, the tiny store cranks out thousands of sandwiches every day. They have quite a nice variety, everything from vegetarian to Italian mix and chicken b.reast is offered but the most popular by far has to be the Economica. This is a 12 inch baguette, smeared with Ty Coz' special pesto-like sauce and topped with a few thin slices of luncheon meat and jalapenos in escabeche. It doesn't sound like much but the combination has a strangely addictive flavor that keeps everyone coming back for more. At just 15 pesos, the price doesn't hurt either! This is the perfect place to load up before heading south for a day on the beach in Akumal or Tulum.
#4 - Doña Juanita
A sentimental favorite of mine, Doña Juanita served us one of our very first meals when we made the move to Playa back in 2004. While now there is a well priced printed menu available, the daily blackboard specials are the real hit in this family run kitchen. The menu del dia includes a soup or "crema" to start, always served with buttered bread, a main course which varies from day to day and a pitcher of flavored agua de casa. The various pots of food are displayed on the far end of the counter and guests are invited to lift the lid to see what looks good! Keep in mind; this is very traditional family fair, food that would be served in the home of any of the women running the show. Braised chicken or pork served over rice with a side of black beans is standard fair and oh so delicious. Priced at about 60 pesos for the daily lunch special, this is really good cheap eats. Doña Juanita is located in the bright green building on the corner of Juarez and Avenue 45.
#5 - Taco Paco
My current pick for fried fish and shrimp tacos is Taco Paco located across from Centro Maya Mall and also just south of the entrance to Puerto Aventuras. Made famous from just a small cart next to the Pemex station in Puerto Aventuras, Paco moved his operation south to Xpu Ha for a year or so before finally being pulled back up north towards Playa. There are several options in town for shrimp tacos (RIP Dr. Taco) but none quite as fresh and tasty as these. The added bonus is the lovely array of salsas and side salads that accompany the tacos. There is a spicy pico de gallo, tamarindo, peanut sauce and more.... At $20 pesos apiece you can expect tacos with two very large shrimp or a good sized fish fillet, battered and fried to order. A word to from the wise: the tacos are best eaten on-site. If you get them wrapped "to go", the steam inside the plastic bag gets the crispy batter coating all soggy and chewy. So pull up a plastic chair and enjoy!
#6 - Doña Mary
Located on Avenue 30 and calle 28, well off the tourist track, Doña Mary and the ladies have been serving to a packed house every evening for many, many years. The menu is a variety of traditional Mexican fare, empanadas, tamales and caldos and such and everything is made fresh everyday. For me, the real standout "must eat" item is Doña Mary's tostada. Piled high with beans, shredded boiled chicken, cabbage, onions, farmers cheese and crema, each tostada must weigh about 1/4 pound and requires some skill to consume neatly. I generally end up picking half of it up off of my shirt not wanting to miss a single morsel. If you are there early, you may be able to slide into an open table. More likely, you will left standing for a bit on the side walk, looking in and salivating as family after family enjoy their nightly meal. The tostadas are also good "to go" so don't be afraid to get them "para llevar".
#7 - Pummarola
Now in three locations in Playa del Carmen, Pummarola is one of the best Italian restaurants in all of Playa del Caren. That's saying something with competition like De Gabi, Era Ora and Il Pescatore among others! Pizza can be found on every street corner in town but none is quite like that of Pummarola. On 1st Avenue and calle 12, right in the heart of the club zone, Pummarola has opened up a late night option for those of us who occasionally keep odd hours. For just 25 pesos you can choose from a selection of gourmet, thin crust pizzas fired to order in a real wood oven. Rather than grabbing another cardboardy, reheated slice, why not grab your own, personal made to order pizza hot out of the oven! Service starts at around 7pm and goes until late.......
#8 - The Fruit Ladies
When I first arrived in Playa del Carmen, I started taking Spanish lesson straight away. After class, my head exploding with Spanish, I would head down to the beach for some study time. Three kids at home never made for a great studying atmosphere but the beach right next to the ferry dock always seemed to fit the bill. An important part of this daily ritual was a stop to see the Fruit Ladies who set up their wares on the south east corner of Parque Fundadores. These lovely Maya ladies come every day with their colorful assortment of pealed and ready to eat fruit. Each plastic cup is stuffed to the rim with slices of mango, watermelon, papaya and coconut and offered with or without a splash of fresh lime and a dash of chili powder. For 20 pesos this is a refreshing and healthy snack that can pull you through the day without breaking the bank.
#9 - Tacos Gomez
Lengua, masiza y buche, oh my! That's right all you offal lovers out there, if you are looking for your fix of the "nasty bits" look no further than Tacos Gomez on calle 2 between Avenues 15 and 20. From 4pm until about 2am the staff at Taqueria Gomez puts out the loveliest pork and beef tacos and tortas to a loyal following. I have blogged about my love for all things "Gomez" before so I won't go into a description of the entire menu. Suffice it to say, if you have an adventurous palate and an appreciation of traditional Mexican cuisine, this is a "must eat" restaurant for your culinary bucket list. Those of you with more delicate constitutions will still love the masiza torta, a soft sandwich filled with juicy flavorful pork and topped with sautéed onions. You can sit at a table or up near the counter...just to make sure they don't slip in something scary!! Kidding.
#10 - Mom's Hotel
Chances are by now, you have heard about the great food coming out of the tiny kitchen at Mom's Hotel. Monday through Friday from 4pm until 11pm your host Jurgen Janz is meeting and greeting, slinging beers and putting out some of the finest home cooked meals in Playa del Carmen for just 80 140 pesos a plate! Expats, aching for a taste of "home", crowd the bar ordering up old school favorites like meatloaf, pork chops, beef stroganoff and the now famous hickory smoked baby back ribs. What makes Mom's food taste so good? Love....and to be fair, probably a whole lot of butter! Jurgen is the consummate host always there with a smile and a hug, making sure everyone is treated just like family. If you haven't made a trip to Mom's yet, be sure to put this spot high on your to do list for your next trip to Playa. Jurgen will have a seat and a heaping plate of good food waiting for you! Mom's is located on the corner of calle 4 and Avenue 30. The bar and restaurant are upstairs.
I hope this list helps you all in your culinary adventures during your visits to Playa del Carmen. I would love to hear about your experiences in these and any other great places for "cheap eats" in Playa. I look forward to your comments!