Main photo credit: Kin-Toh, Tulum
n recent years, the Mexican Caribbean — from Cancun through Tulum, all the way south to Chetumal — has quietly become a foodie force, offering everything from unique dining experiences served high (yes, treetop dining is a thing) and low (in actual underground caves) to the kind of molecular gastronomy that transforms a meal into a work of high art. Read our guide to the best of the Mexican Caribbean’s culinary and dining experiences, all beckoning you to discover the most tempting parts of the deliciously abundant region.
Mexican Caribbean cuisine is undoubtedly influenced by the diverse people who have found a home on its beautiful shores. Immigrants from different parts of Mexico and the world have all brought food traditions from their native lands. Through the years, those ingredients and dishes have also incorporated the bounty found in the area’s verdant jungle and turquoise sea, both of which offer a plethora of veggies, fruits, and proteins.
While the Mexican Caribbean is now full of contemporary dining spots — smoothie shops and vegan restaurants are not uncommon — a visit to the area isn’t complete without trying some of the area’s more traditional offerings. Chefs in the region have been mastering and modernizing recipes including all of those classic Mexican ingredients for decades. The “Maya” component of the Mexican Caribbean equation is evident in the many exquisite regional dishes of the area, some of which are still prepared as they were in pre-Hispanic times. Traditional dishes of Quintana Roo include tikin-xic (pronounced teekin-SHEEK), which is a spice-coated fish wrapped and roasted in a banana leaf.
While Cancun was once known mainly for its big resort restaurants, the city — located in Quintana Roo, bordering the Caribbean Sea — has now become a hotbed for molecular gastronomy, thanks to some trailblazing chefs who use cutting-edge techniques (think deconstruction, emulsification, and powderizing liquids) to elevate traditional, regional Mexican cuisine into something new and entirely extraordinary. If you want to eat an entree that looks like a dessert, a cocktail that presents as a sphere, or the perfect bite served in a hollowed-out book, Cancun is the place to do it.
Resorts in the Mexican Caribbean go above and beyond when it comes to culinary excellence, so you can expect inventive dishes made with the best ingredients, served alongside unique, hand-crafted cocktails and local wines and beers. Many resorts pride themselves on the renowned chefs that oversee their on-property restaurants, which range from casual poolside cafes offering margaritas and tacos to fine-dining establishments with extensive tasting menus. Also look out for culinary experiences like wine tastings, chef’s table or in-kitchen dining, and cooking classes, which allow resort guests to get better acquainted with Mexican cooking techniques and flavors.
Located between resort towns Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos has retained much of its charming fishing village character, making it a wonderful spot to indulge in all of the ocean’s abundant offerings, but the dining opportunities don’t end at the sea. The town’s growing popularity can also be attributed to a thriving group of family-run restaurants serving both international cuisine and authentic Mexican flavors, including classics like tacos and cochinita pibil. (Be on the lookout for restaurants that cook using a traditional pib oven, an underground cooking technique used by the Mayans for centuries.) Seafood is, however, the town’s speciality, as many local fishermen deliver fresh seafood daily to local eateries.
Playa del Carmen, an energetic coastal resort town, offers both modern restaurants and others that allow you to fully immerse yourself — literally — in ancient natural splendor. Offering elevated dining in the lowest of settings, some Playa del Carmen eateries serve contemporary Mexican cuisine in enchanting natural underground caves, where stalagmites and stalactites mingle with crystal chandeliers, colorful lights, and must-try dishes. After you dine on poblano risotto and local seafood, be sure to wander around the magical, ancient grottos to commune with nature — and find some great photo ops.
The ultimate destination for those who want to commune with nature, connect to their spiritual sides, and still get the perfect shot for their Instagram grids, Tulum offers more than full-moon parties and wellness retreats. In fact, it’s become a culinary hotspot, attracting big-city chefs and those who follow them to its Caribbean coastline setting. But the most magical place to dine in this Pueblo Mágico (magic town) isn’t the beach. Instead, head to the treetops, where multiple restaurants offer sky-high seating spaces nestled in the jungle. Some even feature dining nests — tables built inside giant wooden structures resembling bird’s nests and offering 360-degree views of the treetops and sea. While visitors might come for the stunning setting, they’ll be equally delighted by the elevated Mexican gastronomy, featuring local organic ingredients used to create dishes that combine ancient Mayan cooking traditions with modern techniques and presentation. Yes, in Tulum, dining is best done among the stars — both literally and figuratively, as the area is known for attracting celebrities.
The Mexican Caribbean has one of the richest (no pun intended) chocolate histories in the world; at times, the cocoa bean was so valuable that it was even used as a currency. Indulge your sweet tooth while learning about the traditions and flavors of Mexican chocolate in Cozumel, where you’ll find completely unique and delicious chocolate experiences. See how authentic Mayan chocolate is made, and discover how recipes featuring the cocoa bean have both transformed and held up throughout generations. Of course, delicious tasting opportunities abound.
Experience a culinary journey of unique aromas, flavors and textures throughout all destinations in the Mexican Caribbean.
Visit https://www.mexicancaribbean.travel/restaurants/ to learn more.