Interested in Cancun?
We'll send you updates with the latest deals, reviews and articles for Cancun each week.
When we are on vacation, we try to avoid chains that we have at home or overly touristy places. We don't set out looking solely for the authentic Mexican experience (I actually don't like "Mexican" food); we just try to find good food, friendly staff, and reasonable prices. All the places I've listed are within the hotel zone, so I don't really consider them the places "locals may eat", but I'd consider them places where a tourist who is looking for local flavors might eat. (okay, one place is where Locals may eat).
Prices I list are on average what we spend on dinner for two people, with or with out adult beverages as noted. If there's a smile : ) beside it, it means we really enjoyed our experience here on our last trip. Everything I list we've eaten at within the last year or so. I'm not one to list places that may have been fine 5 years ago, if I haven't been back since then because things do change.
I've never eaten here and not had tequila, so the low price is just my ballpark. Our bill is usually half tequila, half food. Course, we've also come here for "dessert" and spent $53 on 6 shots of tequila. This is a small friendly place with lots of tables outside under an awning. Located across the street from a bright yellow store called La Fiesta (adjacent to Plaza Caracol). We get off the bus at Hard Rock and walk through the alley to get here. They have a varied menu with something for everyone. Our meals usually include two entrees, 1 side, 2 soft drinks and several tastings of tequilas, my favorites which you can find in my Tequila Go List. The waiters and seating host/hostess always have good suggestions for dishes to try. The tequila menu here is fabulous and reasonably priced. For us, this is always a good meal in a relaxing atmosphere. Friendly staff. Credit card machine not always working.
2008 update: While our waiter wasn't the most knowledgeable in Tequilas that we've come across, it was still solid service, good food and excellent tequilas.
2013 Update: Tequila menu has shrunk a bit but this remains as one of my "go to" places in the hotel zone
Aside from a lunch in a small town in the middle of I don't know where, this was one of our best meals in 2008. We learned of this place from the stylist at the Royal Caribbean. It's located in the Wal-Mart parking lot. For us they had to dig out the menus that are in English. Our waitress spoke no English, and we speak very little Spanish. We were able to point to things on our menu and find the corresponding one on her Spanish menu. We had a quesadilla appetizer made with fresh epazote, I had a pot roast type of dish that was a bit like a stew, and BubbaQ had a spicy bbq dish. We had more food that we could eat, refills on our drinks, fresh made tortillas, and excellent service. I had mentioned the place reminded me of a Denny's. When we paid our bill, the receipt had VIPs on it. That explained the Denny's feel. All round satisfying.
Two words. HUGE MARGARITAS. This is a festive place with solid Mexican food choices. It is located across from Kulkulkan Mall. The service is excellent. The waiters are quite knowledgeable. Was impressed when I dinned here with a friend who has Celiac disease (gluten allergy), and the wait staff was able to assist her in making choices that fit into her diet, right down to dessert. What the waiter was unsure of; he popped back and checked with the chef. The food is reasonably priced. The first price I list is without alcohol. The second price is with. Here is where I learned I love exploring tequilas. They have a very nice tequila assortment, and the waiters are very knowledgeable in this department. I was given many good choices simply by describing what I like. The down side here is it can be VERY noisy. A Mariachi band plays and in a small place it's very very loud. Also, the jumbo margaritas might tend to make people speak a notch or two above normal volume. I don't advise actually purchasing bottles of tequila from here, they are overpriced.
2008 Update: We spent $60 on lunch. Yeah, it was all tequila. We did thoroughly enjoy a complimentary dessert they gave us. It was a frozen drink of Lime Sherbet, Tequila and Mint. mmmMMMMmmm. Oh, apparently the bar is just for show. We sat there and were moved to the area off the dining room with sofas. It made for a nice relaxing liquid lunch ... even if they had NASCAR on TV.
2013 update: I still don't like the acoustics inside.
This place is across from the JW Mariott. The first time we ate here, we left saying "next time we need to dress nicer." Not that we were dressed as slobs, just this is an upscale place, so while they didn't turn us away, I'd say slacks for men. Reservations are a good idea. We travel to Cancun in the slow season, and this place is always packed. Especially if you dine later, as many do in Mexico. Although it can get a bit noisy inside, it's never so much that you feel the need to shout at your dining companions. We've enjoyed both steak and seafood dishes here. Our meals usually include one appetizer, two entrees, 2 sides, 1 dessert, 2 coffees and 2 soft drinks. We've eaten here for under $100 by skipping the appetizer and coffees. The only dish I've had here that I did not like is the house flan. The Cancun Tips booklet may have a coupon for a free bottle of wine with your meal.
2013: Still one of my choices for a special celebration
This place sits next door to the bright yellow [plaza] la Fiesta store I am using as a landmark in this go list. Follow the marimba music. This is a nice place to sit outside and people watch as you enjoy your dinner. We've always seen it full, but never stopped for dinner. We now know we've been in the wrong. Excellent meals. Friendly staff. Strong Margaritas. A good combination in my book. One thing we didn't realize, if you order one of the flambé dinners, it's prepared tableside. A show unto itself. We both get shrimp dishes here. Our meals typically include one appetizer, 2 entrees, 2 soft drinks, 2 margaritas. You won't be disappointed.
2013 update: the marimbas were gone, but mariachis did stroll through. Food and Margaritas still a good value in the hotel zone.
Although this place is kind of upscale, we don't feel compelled to dress quite as formally as I do at Puerto Madero. Probably a good idea to make reservations. We enjoy sitting out on the dock rather than under the palapa structure. Although this place has a live lobster farm, and has some of the hugest sea bugs I've seen, I think they are outrageously priced. Probably what lead us to LJs. Anyway, we do like the seafood dishes here. Scallops in particular. Pasta dishes are also good. Desserts; to. Die. For. Here we usually order two entrees, two desserts, and a couple beers and soft drinks. If you sit at a table inside, but over looking the lagoon there is a little container on your table with bread pieces to throw down to the fishies. Service our last visit was a bit hit or miss. The food was still good, but usually not the first place I think of when people ask for recommendations.
2008 Update: We did not eat here this year.
2013 update: I'm still on the fence about the service here, though the seafood is relish.
Yeah yeah yeah. I know I said we try to avoid US chains, and I know I live in a city that has a Johnny Rockets, but sometimes you just need a good ol greasy cheeseburger and a rich thick shake. This fits the bill. (the burger wasn't THAT greasy). Located at Plaza La Isla.
What can I say? We had to try it. I haven't decided if I like that Starbucks has invaded Cancun or if it spoils it for me. For the most part, we've been there, done that, got the coffee mug, and now turn a blind eye to it. Same menu as stateside. Tastes the same to me too. I like the City Mug for Cancun. Several locations (la isla, plaza caracol to name two).
Sometimes you just have too. That's all I'm saying. I'd be more inclined though to hunt out a local ice cream shop, they tend to have more unusual flavors. Still, I like sitting outside of the one located in the Party Zone, in front of the Hard Rock. It's a good place to people watch at night.
Mr. Papas $25
Here the first place we've been going to year to year that has fallen from grace. We scratched it off of our go to when you want a filling lunch or a cheap dinner. Usually we like the chicken nachos, fajitas or baked potatoes here, but on our last trip the staff was so inattentive and the food beyond old greasy and over cooked that neither of us could even finish. Very disappointing.
A few years back I introduced BubbaQ to crab legs & lobster. Big mistake. Anyway, he wanted lobster, and lots of it. So we came here to try out the all you can eat lobster buffet. While the name and days of the week it is offered have changed over the years, this is a good choice for a hearty eater. The Shrimp or Lobster Lover's specials are the value meal here. It is a 4 course dinner and you have several choices for each course. The lobster is cooked to order, any way you like it. We enjoy sitting outside on the patio that faces the lagoon. The shrimp special has a bit too much fried food in it for me, the lobster special is good. We're over the specials now a days, and prefer to order from the al a cart menu. Two small crocs are usually lounging just on the other side of the wall that divides the lagoon from the dining area. The Cancun Tips booklet usually has a discount coupon good here.
2008 Update: Merged with Crab House. LJs is no more as we know it.
Casa de las Margaritas
Oh, just YUM! This place is within Plaza la Isla. First lets set the atmosphere. There's a few dining areas, so this is where we ate. It feels like you are sitting in the courtyard of a grouping of villas. Looking up is like looking into the evening sky. The artwork upon the walls is worthy of a stroll around while waiting for your meal to arrive. As the name might imply, they make pretty darn good margaritas of all sorts of flavors. Here I like ordering the Chef's Special (what ever it might be that day). BubbaQ likes Tamarind shrimp. BubbaQ does not know what a tamarind is. I do agree with him though, it's spicy and very good. (warning, the tamarind sauce stains? oops!) Love the wild greens salad. They are set up to do cooking classes here, which I am hoping to look into perhaps one rainy day. While we were there, it was a quiet & intimate dinner. I believe they have Mariachi's playing, so your experience may be different.
2008 Update: My new best friend ? Tamarind Margaritas. You can find a Tamarind mix at Wal-Mart.
2009 Update: Closed.
I think this place holds a special place in my heart because it was the first place BubbaQ discovered his genuine love of dining while traveling. Most people I have taken here would be perfectly happy eating here every night of our trips. This place sits across from the Rui Palace Las Americas resort in what is called Plaza Terrmar. We usually get off the bus as Plaza Caracol. You know you have arrived when you come across 4 plastic table and chair sets out on the sidewalk. A very casual place, the food is tasty. Many yucatecan dishes to choose from. Drinks are usually 2x1 at dinner time. And they are pretty liberal with the tequila. In the past we've gotten a dinner special for 2 and have had more food than we know what do to with. (ours was chicken & beef fajitas, rice, beans, tortillas, salad) Our tab usually includes a couple beers and a couple margaritas, as well as soda or iced tea. A bargain. One warning, some years we've set out to dine here and it was not open. One year it looked completely shut down, only to be open the next year. Not sure what's up with that. But until I no longer see any hint of it being open for business, I'll continue to recommend it. I also really like the Tikin-xik here.
2008 Update: Still not open during our trip, but peeking in the windows it did not look like it was permanently closed. Wish we knew what was up with this one
2013 update: I have finally come to grips with the fact that this place really is gone. Siiigh.
Viva la Vaca
This has a dual name, but BubbaQ and I (for reasons I won't go into) have a thing for cowz. It sits next door to Casa Tequila. Although there's a cow on the sign and it's billed as an argentinian style BBQ, they do serve dishes that do not include beef. I've had the paella here (just ok) as well as seafood. The one time we both ordered steaks they reversed the cooking preference with the cut. Meaning mine was cooked as BubbaQ would have liked his, and his cooked as mine should have been. If you can't tell by my reviews, we're not fussy folks. We simply changed plates. The menu items are quite tasty and a good value for what you get. If you order a steak, we recommend also ordering a side dish. All that comes on your plate is your slab o bovine. Our meals typically include 2 entrees, one dinner salad, and two sodas. We never have room for dessert here. This is a good option when you'd like a good steak, at a casual place. Credit Card machine not always working.
2008 update: The reason this is nearly fallen from grace, the food was still pretty good, but my visa debit card was hijacked here to the tune of $3000. It took about a month to have the fraud case closed. So we’ll probably still eat here, just pay in cash.
2013 update: Closed