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Stay in town at a budget or boutique hotel to explore authentic restaurants in all price ranges that still won't break the bank. Wander the neighborhoods to mom and pop restaurants with poster board menus or taquerias with pork carved off a spit.
In my opinion, the best meals are off 5th Avenue. Wander the side streets, check out the menus, be brave and have a seat. Practice your Spanish, try out the spicy, homemade salsas and it just might be the meal of your trip!
Here is some of the best info from other traveler's on specific local places to go, all compiled in one place: http://tinyurl.com/mxuhpf
I have eaten from street vendors and red plastic table and chair family joints in several parts of Mexico and never had a problem. Always wash your hands or sanitize before dinner, drink and brush teeth with bottled water and eat foods at proper temperature and chances are you will be fine. Pina coladas in moderation as coconut juice is a natural laxative.
Popular restaurant tucked in the jungle garden between the beach and the street. We sat outside next to a water feature and little stream. We ordered eggs scrambled with chaya, nopales, ham, mushrooms, onions, side of potatoes, pot o'beans and tortillas and chilaquiles with eggs. The red and green salsas, in cute wooden bowls with little wooden spoons, were not very picante but very flavorful. The whole meal with drinks was splendid and under $12 for 2 plus tip. Loved it so much we suggested it our neighbors in the hotel.
They raved about it, so we all went back! Empandas with nopales, chaya, and cheese as appetizers. We split the special of the day, omelette with shrimp. Heavenly
Tour the grounds which is also a "vivero", nursery with plants for sale. Check out the glass bottle roof of one the buildings and be sure to visit the waterfall sink in el bano! ¡Buen provecho!
Mexican seafood restaurant off the beaten path, Avenida 30, near Constituyentes, across from the Mega grocery store. I meant to order the shrimp casserole, but somehow I ordered a fillet of fish Veracruz that was still good. The atmosphere is nicer inside than on the patio. The owner was friendly and service was prompt. Try a "Beso de angel" dessert shot. Reasonable prices and highly recommended for a nice dinner.
Authentic Mayan and Mexican fare located in a hotel on HWY 307 near Juarez. Large dining room, good for big groups or families. We had conchita pibil and pollo mole that were excellent. Not a romantic atmosphere like the other well know Mayan place, but the flavor of the food rivals any other at half the prices.
20 peso cab ride in the rain and we walked back.
Why Thai food in Playa? Because it's tasty, fun atmosphere and the fruit is mashed by hand for the HUGE margaritas! I usually eat Thai food once a week anyway.
This is "Euro-Thai Fusion" with Swedish Meatballs as an offering. I opted for Mango Marg, Shrimp Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls and a 1/2 order of shrimp red curry with mashed potates. Everyone had a delicious meal, as always!
The frijoles are all that people say! This "locals" place now has 3 locations and the one across from the Mega was filled with travelers. Try for a seat away from the grill if you are lucky enough not to wait in line! Getting so popular! The places next to it were empty but I'm sure they are worth a shot.
Located right on the beach at Calle 2 with tables in the sand. Great lunch spot for the fish filet special for 45 pesos. Spicy salsas and great aguas. Try the guanabana juice to drink.
Right off 5th Ave but very reasonable prices for decent Mexican fare. Loved the spicy roasted pumpkin seed salsa. The pork tacos were good, but prefer them it at local joints. Should have gone with the mole. We were a large group so meals took awhile but service was great.
One of the Mayan restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. Romantic garden seating is availabe or relax in the A/C indoors. Their menu is an interesting read, check it out online. The Mayan Sacrifice caught my eye. It was a spectacle of a drink and I knew I just had to have it. The food was a sample of traditional Mayan cuisine all new to us. Can be a budget experience if you go for lunch, order appetizers or one of less expensive offerings.
I have not stayed here but did visit the Garden Bar for a few Sarita b. Careful's. Laidback , swing bar in a cool garden filled with lush plants and banana trees. No restaurant on site but tell the bartender to keep them coming!
Located on Calle 26 Norte between 5th and 10th Avenue.
Love the swings right on 5th Avenue and the friendly bartenders. But what is up with the music? 80's and whatnot does not fit the theme. Still always have fun chats with people from all over.
One of the beach clubs that rents chairs, beds and palapas in Playa Del Carmen can be found at Calle 28 and the beach. Many hotels give out coupons to guests so arrive early. Waiters serve sun worshippers with drinks from the bar and food. Massages also available.
You don't have to spend an arm and a leg to stay at a beach hotel and get waited on at the beach! Chairs are 30 pesos each but beach front beds are more expensive. 200 pesos plus order a bottle or 1,000 pesos worth of food and drinks.
Strolling the beach, from Calle 2 north, offers many options for toes in the sand casual dining:
La Tarraya: I always have the fresh fish lunch fillet special, tikin xic Mayan style and guanabana to drink (fruit that tastes like a cross between pear and apple). Affordable for on the beach.
Mimi del Mar: For non-guests, order drinks and lunch delivered to a lounger.
Zenzi Beach Club: Huge coconut shrimp with mango dipping sauce were a crowd favorite at the 1st Taste of Playa.
Playa Maya Hotel Restaurant: known for fish tacos & coconut shrimp but for some reason we had ceviche and guac. Tasty!
Mamitas offers table lunch service to those not renting a beach lounger for the afternoon. Next door, Kool also offers service to sunbathers. Both have reviews on here and menus online.
Animal lovers who really are taking on the problem of homeless animals in the area. Visitors can participate in a weekly dog wash, bring supplies or donate online. This shelter and the one in Cozumel are looking for volunteers to fly dogs back to the United States to a new home. See their website for more information.