Playa del Carmen Eats: Where to Find the best of Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen, a pit stop for some, a playground for others, and home for many. One thing can be certain, amidst the souvenir shops on ‘La Quinta Avenida’, AKA 5th Avenue, Playa del Carmen is a breeding ground for many restaurants of assorted quality and cuisines. But if you are an adventurous eater, and want to get off the main drag, you’ll want the inside scoop, the nitty gritty of where to go to eat and what to get.

 

Every month, T.E.M, goes through the streets of Playa del Carmen in search of the best eats, for every type of eater.

Photos by Bernardo Flores
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Not Your Average Tourist Tacos - Silao 

By Jonty Reese 

 

I was going to start this review by telling you about the origin of the cooking styles used at Silao, but who am I kidding? You want to hear how the Pig Uterus Tacos were. Well, apparently they were very good because they had completely sold out of “Nana”  by the time we got there, at around 2pm. Take one step into Silao Carnitas y Barbacoa and you know right away you’re not in one of Playa del Carmen’s 5th Street tourist traps anymore. Big, colorful, and busy, it’s named for the medium-sized city of Silao in Guanajuato state, part of the abundant Bajio region of central Mexico. That’s where Silao’s owners picked up the traditional cooking methods that allow you go full Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, or simply enjoy some perfect slow-cooked pork and lamb.

 

Silao is a true Carnitas specialist, and that means cooking and eating the whole pig, “nose to tail”. If you thought Carnitas was simply a type of braised pork meat, Silao will open your eyes to a whole new world of porcine goodness. Seated outside at long bench tables, it took us a little while to identify exactly what some of the menu items were. Offered by the kilo, or in tacos, you can get eight different varieties of Carnitas - Maciza (lean pork shoulder), Surtida (a mix of the eight), Costilla (rib), Buche (esophagus, sometimes stomach), Cuero (skin), Oreja (ear), Pata (foot), Entresijo (mesentery, the tissue that connects the small intestine to the abdominal lining), and the very popular Nana (uterus). No, I’ve never heard of mesentery either. 

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Moving on from the disappointment of missing out on Nana, we sampled Buche, Oreja and Surtido tacos. All came with a generous serving of Carnitas on a rustic handmade corn tortilla with chopped onion and tomato, and lime wedges. The Surtida was very good, a pork lovers dream of multiple meaty flavors and textures, from the baseline lean Maciza to the cartilage crunch of Costilla, and the smooth saltiness of the Cuero. Buche was probably the least accessible of the types on offer, with a strong, slightly gamey flavor and chewy texture. If you’re a fan of offal, this may be your favorite, but for me, it worked best as a component in the Surtido Taco. Bridging the gap was the Oreja, with the braised pig’s ear sliced Fajita-style and offering a combination of the smoothness and flavor of Cuero with the snap of cartilage of the Costilla. Those with a less adventurous palate will surely be very happy with the Maciza - it’s terrific.

 

So the Guanajuato style Carnitas hits the mark. Totally authentic, expertly prepared, and with varieties to suit lovers of lean meat, fatty meat, organs, and extremities. What then, of the Barbacoa? While this style of slow-cooked lamb is said to originate from Pachuca, 100km North-East of Mexico City, it’s every bit as good as the Carnitas. It’s cooked in wood-burning, sunken brick ovens, the meat in a large Maguey leaf-lined steel basket. The ovens actually heat up for longer than the four hours it takes to cook the lamb, but the end result is well worth the wait. The lean Maciza meat is incredibly tender and flavorful, and while the effect of the Maguey leaves is to keep moisture in and steam the lamb, exposed surfaces are still wonderfully browned. It’s a great way to cook lamb, and offers the bonus of providing the juices to make Consome de Borrego - caught in a pan under the meat, and a vital part of the menu at any Barbacoa joint. The Consome at Silao was rich, ever so slightly gelatinous, and a perfect appetizer for the tacos to come. It’s a simple delicious broth, really just a by-product of the lamb cooking process and is offered with or without meat. Could a bowl be enough for lunch? Sure - but then you’d be missing out on some exceptional tacos, served on corn tortillas with all the salsas and traditional fixings.

Silao Carnitas y Barbacoa is a little off the beaten track for tourists, several blocks west of the main Highway 307, at Calle Av Petempich and Calle Benito Juarez in Playa del Carmen’s “28 de Julio” district, and well worth the taxi ride to get a true taste of Mexican food. Wash your meal down with a Pulque while you’re there for the full Mexican culinary experience. They’re open every day from 7 am to 6 pm, and even rent out the whole restaurant for parties or events in the evening. Individual Tacos run 18 to 26 pesos, depending on what meat you specify, and to-go pricing, para llevar, is a bargain. Sold in increments of ¼ kg, a pack of perfect, hot, taco meat works out at around $7/lb US for Carnitas, or $12/lb US  for Barbacoa. Take some back to your Airbnb and be the hero!

 

Silao Carnitas y Barbacoa, Avenida 115 y Calle 30, Colonia 28 de Julio, PDC

Contact: Tel 984 109 0077   email carnitassilao@gmail.com

Hours: Open 7am to 6pm every day

Photos by Bernardo Flores

Pozole Castillo, a Bit of Old School in Playa 

By Jonty Reese

 

In case you missed it, Playa has been growing at an astonishing pace over the last decade. Opportunity is attracting people from all over Mexico, and they’re bringing their favorite food with them. 

 

Pozoleria Castillo is a perfect example of this trend, serving up steaming bowls of Pozole just like they make ‘em back in the owner’s home state of Guerrero. While many central Mexican states have their own excellent versions of Mexico’s #1 comfort food, the dish is most closely associated with Guerrero, the state west of Mexico City that is also home to the famous coastal resorts of Zihuatanejo and Acapulco. Legend has it that the three classic styles of pozole, green, white and red, represent the colors of the Mexican flag, and while that may or may not be true, there is no doubt that they are all complex, spicy and satisfying. 

Pozoleria Castilla offers the classic items found on pozoleria menus, and we had to order a plate of Manitas de Puerco, pigs’ feet pickled Escabeche-style, as an appetizer. There’s not a whole lot of meat on a pig’s foot, but the acidic Escabeche marinade nicely offset the otherwise bland and gelatinous skin and cartilage, setting us up perfectly for the more substantial dishes to come. If those little trotters don’t tickle your fancy, you are sure to enjoy a side of Tacos Doradas - deep fried rolled tacos filled with chicken, queso fresco or fluffy potatoes. We opted for the papas, and they made for perfect sticks to dip into the selection of salsas, crunchy on the outside, smooth and creamy on the inside. A plate of four Tacos Dorados was a very reasonable 50 pesos, while the Manitas were priced at 20 pesos individually, or as a 3 for 50 peso selection along with Tamales, Chiles Rellenos, Quesadillas or Sesadillas. 

Pozoleria Castillo is a little bit of Guerrero brought to the 28 de Julio district of Playa in a neat, comfortable restaurant at Av. 28 de Julio and Av. Chemuyil. Its hearty food is popular with local workers, and it’s well worth a short taxi ride from the beach for tourists to get a true taste of Mexico. They’ll even pop the top off a bottle of Guerrero’s favorite Yoli soda for you, although if you can tell it apart from 7-Up, you’re a better man than I. 

 

Pozoleria Castilla  Av 28 de Julio S/N, 28 de Julio, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R.

Phone  984 109 3680

Hours 11:30 am to 9:00 pm M-F, 9:30 am to 9 pm Weekends

Photos by Bernardo Flores

Seafood, Seafood, We All See Seafood 

 

By Jonty Reese 

 

you visit Playa del Carmen’s Marisqueria La Marina, make sure to bring a healthy appetite. This big, colorful restaurant, just a block west of the main Cancun to Tulum highway, serves big, colorful plates of fresh seafood and frosty beverages from their spacious dining room and palapa-covered patio. Colorful flags hang from the underside of the palapa, and the chairs are painted in vibrant red, yellow, blue and green. It all lends a fiesta feeling to a meal at La Marina, and the theme continues to the big, colorful menu, full of bright, enticing pictures of plates piled high with fish, shrimp and octopus.

 

On a recent visit, I wondered if the food would match up to the glossy pictures, or whether we would be disappointed with a generic offering. Happily, my fears were completely unfounded, and both of our orders were excellent. Sitting outside under the palapa, we maybe wished that the restaurant was actually located at a marina, or at least within sight of the sea, because our heaping plate of ceviche would have graced the best views in the Riviera Maya. We opted for the signature Ceviche “La Marina” and were rewarded with masses of meaty white fish, succulent shrimp, and tasty octopus, beautifully presented with plentiful slices of fresh avocado and cucumber lightly dusted with red chili powder. It was exactly what you hope for in a good ceviche - fresh, chilled ingredients, the bright burst of lime juice, tomatoes and mild white onions, crunchy corn chips to scoop it up, and plenty of it. At 220 pesos, the Grande ceviche was easily enough for three full-grown people, and the Jumbo at 350 pesos has to feed a small crowd.

We got to La Marina in the late afternoon, so with a nod to the social hour, we stayed with dishes suitable for sharing and ordered a large Molcajete, listed as “for 2”. Technically, a “molcajete” is a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle bowl usually with small legs and made from volcanic stone. They’ve been used in the region since long before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century, and are an indispensable tool in most Mexican kitchens. Ours arrived overflowing with big juicy shell-on shrimp, and freshly-fried breaded fish fillets, on a deep bed of guacamole and melted queso sauce. The fish fillets were snow-white in golden breadcrumbs and tasted of the sea, and the shrimp were big and juicy. There were 8 large shrimp and around the same number of fish filets in the molcajete. With the rich guacamole and queso, the dish would be very suitable for a small happy hour group looking for ideal snacks, or for two hungry diners. A spicy, ice-cold Michelada was the perfect partner to the fish dishes, the rim of the glass coated in tart Tajín salt.

They offer frequent drink specials, especially to coincide with the big soccer games they show on screens inside the restaurant, so check their Facebook page for upcoming attractions.

 

Marisqueria La Marina   Tuscia, Av. 28 de Julio Mz 23 Lt 3, 77714 Playa del Carmen, Q.R.

Phone 984 688 3496

Hours  11 am to 8 pm every day

Sometimes It's Okay to be a Jerk, Especially if you are Jerk Chicken From Ferron's

By Jonty Reese

 

Jamaica is only 600 miles from Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the Caribbean island nestling close to the south shores of Cuba. But return flights from Cancun are pricey at over $500, so what do you do when you have a craving for authentic Jamaican jerk chicken and ribs? If you’re in Playa del Carmen, Ferron’s Jerk Chicken has you covered at their cozy restaurant, 12 blocks west of the main Cancun-Tulum highway, just off Avenida Constituyentes.

 

To the tune of a reggae soundtrack, we ordered a half jerk chicken with bread rolls, a large side of mac’n’cheese, chargrilled corn on the cob, and sauce at a very reasonable 169 pesos. You can opt for the chicken with just bread and sauce for 98 pesos, but you really should get the sides. Our chicken was cooked authentic jerk-style, marinated in jerk spices overnight and grilled over a fire. The result is sensational, spicy without being life-threatening, juicy and fall off the bone tender. The meat is smoky, and you can pick out the flavors of Jamaican Allspice and Scotch Bonnet peppers in the marinade. 

While jerk cooking is most closely associated with chicken, Ferron’s applies the same techniques to their excellent pork ribs. Ours were tender and meaty, coated in the spicy and sweet jerk sauce. Reach for the napkins, these are messy but well worth it. They’re sold by weight, and with a half kilo priced at only 165 pesos, a terrific bargain, but they frequently sell out, so get your order in early. To go with the ribs, we ordered a medium side of mashed potatoes for only 45 pesos, and the two were a fabulous partnership. Like the mac’n’cheese, the mash was a smooth and creamy base for the highlights of the spicy pork - very satisfying indeed. Other sides offered include traditional Jamaican rice and beans, plain steamed rice and finely chopped coleslaw. 



 

Ferron’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Ribs  Av. 105 Casi Esquina Con Constituyentes Frente a Plaza Esmeralda, En Contra Esquina Del Cecyte, Playa del Carmen

Phone  984 206 1941

Hours  Noon to 6:00 pm Tues to Sun, closed Mondays

Tulum Eats Magazine is published 12 times a year, unless we decide to go on prolonged vacations. You can find the print magazine at select locations throughout the Riviera Maya, and in some East Coast establishments, where we will randomly place, during selective times. The website will be updated monthly, with selected materials that may or may not be the same as the print version. Look for us soon, in other states of Mexico.

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