Seafood is the specialty in Isla Mujeres , even more so than in Cancún . In fact, much of the lobster and fish served on the Riviera Maya is caught near Isla Mujeres, so it stands to reason that it’s freshest here.
On Playa Lancheros, La Casa del Tikinxik (tel. 998/274-0018, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$6–10) is a classic Mexican beach restaurant, with metal tables, cold beer, and finger-licking dishes that make the long wait worth it. Be sure to try the specialty, pescado tikinxik (TEEK-in-cheek), a whole grilled fish prepared using a spicy red sauce that’s derived from pre-Hispanic Maya cuisine.
Run—and stocked—by the fishermen’s co-op, Restaurante Justicia Social (Av. Rueda Medina near Av. Allende, cell. tel. 998/230-4803, 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Sat.–Sun., US$6–10) serves up some of the freshest seafood on the island. Octopus, shrimp, oysters, conch, and all sorts of fish fillets are served on the patio overlooking the Caribbean or in the simple dining room. Tikinxik is offered weekends only; delivery available daily.
A block from the ferry piers, Las Brisas (Av. Rueda Medina at Av. Madero, tel. 998/877-0372, 7:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. daily, US$8–20) has a tasteful open-air dining area with a high palapa roof and fine views of the bay and passing boats. The menu is mostly Mexican standards, and service is friendly and quick, making it a good spot to catch a bite before getting on the ferry.
Located on a dock with a fantastic views of the water, Bally Hoo (Av. Rueda Medina near Av. Abasolo, no phone, 7:30 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, US$3.50–10) is a favorite for lunch. Try the breaded fish tacos or their fish-and-chips for a sure thing; if you’re starved, try one of their larger fish fillet or shrimp dishes. Cold beers (US$1.50) and margaritas (US$3) are a steal, too.
La Lomita (Av. Juárez near Av. Allende, tel. 998/826-6335, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$4.25–6), a brightly painted restaurant frequented by locals, offers tasty Mexican fare. Comida corrida—a two-course lunch special with drink—is offered daily and often includes chiles rellenos, tacos, and stews. Ceviche, grilled whole fish, and other seafood meals also are featured at reasonable prices.
Rolandi’s Pizzeria (Av. Hidalgo btwn Avs. Abasolo and Madero, tel. 998/877-0429, www.rolandi.com/rpi_about.htm , 7:30–11:30 p.m. daily), US$10–20) is a bustling eatery with lots of outdoor tables on the pedestrian walkway. It boasts a full menu of high-quality Italian dishes, but the wood-oven pizza is the true standout here; for a splurge, try the Caribbean lobster pizza.
Aquí Estoy (Av. Matamoros at Av. Hidalgo, tel. 998/877-1777, noon–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) serves slices (US$2–3.50) and whole pizzas (US$11–15) from its hole-in-the-wall slot on busy Avenida Matamoros. Pesto, veggie, and Hawaiian pizzas are favorites; for a taste treat, try a specialty slice like spinach and goat cheese. Other than a few teetering stools, it’s takeout only.
Upscale but homey, Olivia (Av. Matamoros btwn Calle Juárez and Av. Rueda Medina, tel. 998/877-1765, www.olivia-isla  mujeres.com, 5–9:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat., US$8–18) serves up the best Mediterranean cuisine on the island. Owned by an Israeli couple who pooled their families’ recipes and opened shop, the menu is a phenomenal amalgam of specialties from Morocco, Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Seating is either in the palapa-roofed dining room or in the lush garden courtyard. Reservations are recommended. Cash only.
A casual chic eatery, CoMo-No (Av. Hidalgo btwn Avs. Madero and Morelos, no phone, 3–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$8–15) offers a wide range of foods—Spanish tapas, falafel, schnitzel, Greek-style fish fillet, shrimp tempura, Argentinean chorizo…plus, a variety of huge salads and sandwiches. Upstairs, there’s a cool lounge bar where live bands occasionally play and movies are screened. Seating indoors and out.
Qubano (Av. Abasolo near Av. Hidalgo, cell. tel. 998/214-2118, noon–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., US$3–6) is a colorful little place offering up a tasty selection of Cuban sandwiches, burgers, and salads, too. Favorites include the Tostón (plantain slices stuffed with chicken, pork, or picadillo), the Cuban (grilled ham, pork, and cheese), and the goat-cheese-stuffed burger. Snag one of the four tables, enjoy a Cuban coffee while you wait, or take your eats to go.
In a clapboard house facing the lagoon, with fishing boats crowded up next to it, El Varadero (noon–10 p.m. Tues.–Sun., US$7–14) doesn’t really evoke the famous white-sand beach east of Havana that it’s named for, but good food—and even better mojitos—have a way of trumping geography. Dig into classic Cuban fare while sitting at aluminum tables on an outdoor patio decorated with shipping buoys. Find it at the mouth of Laguna Makax, near Puerto Isla Mujeres.
On Playa Norte , Sunset Grill (Av. Rueda Medina, tel. 998/877-0785, 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, US$9–21) offers a great view with mellow beats on one of the best beaches on the island. Beachside chairs and umbrellas are also available for the day if you order from the menu. Food is standard but good, including grilled fish, ceviche, hamburgers, and specials like rib eye and barbecue ribs.
Day and night, Café Hidalgo (Av. Hidalgo near Av. Abasolo, no phone, 8 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun., US$2.50–5) serves up first-rate crepes stuffed with everything from Nutella to huitlacoche. Egg dishes and baguettes also figure prominently for those looking for a bit more heft. Sit at one of the handful of tables on the pedestrian walkway—a great place to linger while watching the beachgoers (and window shoppers) walk by.
Café Mogagua (Av. Madero at Av. Juárez, tel. 998/877-1799, 7 a.m.–midnight daily, US$7–12) is a chic but laid-back café with lots of tables, couches, and Adirondack chairs to relax in. The menu offers a wide range of eats: from a simple sandwich to a full-on seafood meal. No one would bat an eye, though, if you just hunkered down with a paperback novel and an espresso. Free Wi-Fi available, too.
Mañana (Av. Matamoros at Av. Guerrero, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$4–8) offers an eclectic menu with everything from kabobs and falafel to cheeseburgers and schnitzel. Great breakfast options include bagels, omelets, fruit, and granola. Half the dining area houses a bookstore, which, along with the good food and cheerful decor, makes for a natural travelers’ hub.
Specializing in organic products, Elements of the Island Café (Av. Juárez btwn López Mateos and Matamoros, tel. 998/877-1715, www.elementsoftheisland.com , 7:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Thurs.–Tues., US$4–8) serves up hearty and healthy meals. Breakfasts are especially popular, with homemade bread and marmalade, and cappuccinos to die for. Arrive early to get a seat at one of its coveted outdoor tables.
La Michoacana (Av. Bravo at Av. Hidalgo, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, US$0.80–2) offers homemade aguas, paletas, and helados (juices, popsicles, and ice cream). Choose from seasonal fruits including passion fruit, watermelon, pineapple, and mamey. Of course, chocolate- and vanilla-flavored treats are available, too.
If you don’t mind spending a bit extra on your frozen treats, try Gelateria Monte Bianco (Av. Matamoros at Av. Hidalgo, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, US$2.50–6.50) for terrific handmade Italian gelato, or Cool (Av. Hidalgo near Av. Matamoros, noon–10 p.m. daily, US$2–4), an ice cream parlor selling handcrafted ice cream at Häagen-Dazs prices.
If you want to take snacks to the beach or prefer to cook your own meals, you can find a good selection of foodstuffs at several markets: the mom-and-pop Mirtita (Av. Juárez 14, 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Sun.), the chain Xpress Super (central plaza, Av. Morelos, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun.), and the Mercado Municipal (Av. Guerrero at Av. Matamoros, 6 a.m.–4 p.m. daily). The Mercado Municipal has the best selection of fresh fruits and vegetables; it also has a handful of restaurants that serve cheap eats.