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.
Maciza & Surtido Tacos
El Tio’ Carnitas Cart
Good Morning Carnitas - 'El Tio' Carnitas Cart
By Siobhán Gallagher | February 2020
I often go for a run before breakfast along Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue and the beach. On my way home, I pass a carnita restaurant, and I have to admit the aromas (mostly of the chicharron - deep fried pork skin) are a bit much for me so early in the morning - to the point that I’ve been subconsciously avoiding carnita restaurants completely.
However, that may have changed after my recent visit to the ‘El Tio’ Xoximilco-style carnitas cart on Calle 38, just beyond Avenida 30. Every day four young men serve patiently waiting customers their four dishes: tacos with maciza (pork meat only); cuerito (pork skin); surtida (a mixture of skin and meat); and sesadillas (fried tacos filled with minced pork meat).
After joining a line of about seven people, I ordered a taco of maciza, surtida, and a sesadilla. Luckily I stopped there: these things are huge. The tacos are served on large double tortillas, and the meat is generously stacked about 3 cms high. I haven’t yet mastered the Mexican art of dexterously eating tacos, standing up, balancing your plate, adding lime and drinking something all at the same time. So I plonked myself on one of the stools close by to enjoy my meal without fear of losing half of it as I ate. And enjoy it I did!
While my plastic stool on the side of the road (with a couple of salivating dogs keeping watch) was anything but luxurious, the same can’t be said for my food. In fact, luxurious was the word I kept coming back to. My meat-only maciza taco was soft, juicy and delicately flavoured - tender, moist, steamed pork, piled high with just the right hint of fat and salt. I actually wanted more of their slightly spicy pico de gallo sauce, but I was enjoying the pork itself so much I couldn’t tear myself away to get more.
A mixture of the maciza meat with pork skin, my surtida taco was a somewhat more intense affair in terms of flavor. The consistency of pork skin can be off-putting if it isn’t cooked well. This just melted in my mouth. Even more tender, juicy and fatty than the last, I’d go as far as to say it was the best version of pork skin I’ve ever had. I exaggerated a bit with their other spicier habanero sauce on this one - but even so, it didn’t ruin the dish. It was strong, but not impossible, and thanks to their generous, tall portions, much of the meat at the bottom was left untouched, and I was able to appreciate it all.
Finally, the sesadilla: less luxurious than the soft tacos, this tasty and easier to eat on-the-go, crispy taco shell blended with its meatball-esque filling. It was a quick and dirty snack - the poor cousin of the others that deserve time and concentration to enjoy them at their fullest.
If you are in any way carnita or pork-inclined, then visit this side-of-the-road cart. Tasting is believing - I wish I’d discovered them sooner.
Tacos de Carnitas ‘El Tio’ serves from 7:00 am - 14:00 pm, and everything on the menu including drinks is $20 pesos. I recommend a sweet apple-flavoured Mundet to wash down these porky treats. I’ll see you there!
Birria & Tacos Dorados
Viva La Birria at Los Únicos
By Siobhán Gallagher | February 2020
Last year, I left Playa del Carmen and spent eight months in the Canary Islands. The islands could compete with Mexico in terms of natural beauty, but in terms of food, less so. In fairness, there are few places whose gastronomy can compete with Mexico’s. While we were able to recreate many of our favorite Mexican dishes ourselves at home, the one that I craved the most but had to do without, was birria. So when I returned to Playa del Carmen, I made a beeline for Birria Los Únicos to satiate my neglected taste buds.
Birria Los Únicos, on Avenida 30 & Calle 38, has been serving Playenses and tourists for six years now. If you pass by on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you’ll likely spy a few weary souls enjoying the typical Mexican hangover cure of a steaming, spicy bowl of broth.
Although birria is often prepared with lamb or goat meat, at Los Únicos they serve the beef variety (birria de res) - Cuernavaca-style, they informed me. The meat, slow-cooked and marinated in a rich, potent mixture of herbs and spices, is shredded and served in a broth of its own juice and the marinade, or in tacos. While you wait for your order, watch the two young artists out front, methodically alternating between chopping meat, loading and grilling tacos, and filling rustic, artisanal soup plates with their trademark dish.
On my last visit, I had the broth (impossible to resist) and the tacos dorados. Upon serving, they add garbanzos to the broth and top it with fresh chopped onion and cilantro. The sweet, crunchy onion and the bland garbanzos complement the meaty, rich liquid, so full of strong, spiced flavours that it catches in your throat at first, making you sit up and concentrate on what you’re tasting. The birria alone is enough of an excuse to visit this place, but the sides just make my day: tortillas dipped in birria; nopales (prickly pear); red onions pickled in lime and habanero; salsa macha - an arbol chile oil; a creamy peanut, green tomato and habanero sauce; mashed beans and chipotle sauce; and a green tomato, serrano and habanero chile sauce. Tip: take a tortilla, load it with a few nopal pieces, add one of the sauces, a squirt of fresh lime, dip it into your birria broth, taste, die and go to heaven briefly, then repeat with a different sauce. And prepare to sweat; most of them are spicy (and worth the sweat).
Leave some room for a taco dorado or two. Double birria-soaked tortillas, filled with cheese, chopped meat, onion and cilantro, and cooked on the griddle, making them deliciously crispy outside and soft and mealy inside. Gentler than the spicy broth, these are generous parcels of comfort food that’ll line your tummy with pleasure.
I always leave Los Únicos happy. The staff is pleasant and hardworking, and the wild west, ranch-style decor is fun, creative, and an unapologetic nod to their beef speciality.
Birria broth starts at $55 pesos, taco dorados $18 pesos, and tacos suaves $16 pesos. They’re open from 8:30 am - 10:00 pm every day. There’s no excuse not to visit, and I bet you’ll return.
Seafood Abound, La Bamba Jarocha the Veracruz Style Restaurant in Playa del Carmen
La Bamba Jarocha
La Bamba Jarocha, a Little Bit of Veracruz in Playa del Carmen.
By Diane DiMeo | February 2020
Veracruz, a tropical coastline that meets snow-capped mountains. Hard to imagine when seafood is what comes to mind when you talk about this region of Mexico. Most restaurant goers and cooks alike know Veracruz for ‘Pescado a la Veracruzana’, (normally) fish covered in a sauce with tomato sauce, garlic, olives and capers. The truth is, when it comes to Veracruz style food, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, just the tip, just for a second. Veracruz style food, a cross between tropical Mexican flavors and influences from West Africa, is abound with fish, seafood, soups, and anything that comes from the sea. Everything either gets grilled, cooked in a stew or made into a hash.
La Bamba Jarocha, located on Avenida 30 Norte & Calle 34 Nte, serves up a whole lotta delicious Veracruz style dishes, with huge portions. It’s been a mission to try everything on the menu, which by the way contains at least 50+ items. On our recent visit to La Bamba Jarocha, we ordered garlic crabs, and shrimp chipachole. With just those two dishes, we had enough food to feed a small village, but I digress. The crabs were Mexican jumbo blue crabs, the size of my hand, about 12 per order, and were covered in a garlic butter sauce. Bonus? A side of rice and veggies came with the crabs. The crabs were piping hot when the came to the table, and absolutely delicious. Avid crab eaters, we did not care about the watching eyes of others, as we sucked on the bodies and legs of the crabs, in between sopping them up in the excess garlic butter. Note to others: If you order these crabs, you are in it for the long run. There is nothing refined about this dish, it requires you to get all up in it and get messy. There are different types of sauces you can ask for when you order the crabs, Chipotle, butter, Diablo, and straightforward ‘fried’ crabs. All worthy of the try.
Our soup, or rather stew, Chipachole, was thick and delicious made with tomatoes, epazote, corn masa, chipotle chiles, shrimp. Chipochole is a traditional soup from Veracruz, and not very easy to find outside of the state, especially in the Riviera Maya or the Yucatan. La Bamba Jarocha serves it up with either shrimp or crab, and I am sure if you ask nicely, they will make you one with both. If you have never tried this seafood and chile based stew, I suggest that you do. This rich stew is velvety smooth, with a smoky spicy punch to it, and the shrimp, lends a complementing texture to it. Pile on the cilantro and onions, give a good douse of lime juice to it, and you have a perfectly balanced, well textured delicious seafood stew. My only wish is that I would be served a loaf of good french bread to eat it with.
La Bamba Jarocha, open Sunday thru Monday, from 10am to 10pm.
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.