La Cueva del Chango (Calle 38 near 5 Av., 984/147-0271, www.lacuevadelchango.com , 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun., US$5–15) means The Cave of the Monkey, but there’s nothing dim or primitive about it: The covered dining area has lighthearted decor (and a back patio ensconced in leafy vegetation), while the menu features crepes, empanadas, and innovative items like eggs with polenta and chaya. It’s often packed with Playa’s upper crust, though the prices make it accessible to all.
Carboncitos (Calle 4 btwn Avs. 5 and 10, tel. 984/873-1382, tel. 984/803-3498, US$5–15) is a traveler favorite in Playa, serving terrific Mexican food (and some things you may be missing from home, like fresh salads) in a friendly and welcoming setting. Prices and portions are reasonable by Playa standards, and the restaurant gets the little things right, like tasty guacamole and homemade salsas.
If you like regional tortas (sandwiches), you shouldn’t miss Frutiyogurth (Plaza Pelícanos, Av. 10 near Calle 10, tel. 984/803-2516, www.frutiyogurth.com.mx , 8 a.m.–10:30 p.m. daily, US$3–7). A bustling little eatery, it offers classic Mexican sandwiches piled high with fillings like chipotle chicken and milanesa (chicken fried steak) in half and full orders. A variety of salads are offered, as is a monster selection of fresh juices and smoothies—over 30 types in all! Healthy—and not so healthy—breakfast options are served all day, too. Delivery available.
An old-school Mexican coffee shop, Café Andrade (Calle 8 near 20 Av., tel. 998/846-8257, 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, US$2–5) serves up mean breakfast and dinner plates with tacos, chilaquiles, mole, enchiladas…you name it, they’ll whip it up. It’s so typical, in fact, that you’re likely only to see locals—during the week, businessmen puffing away at cigarettes, or on weekends, families out for a bite.
Unassuming and refreshingly untouristy, La Pesca (30 Av. near Av. Constituyentes, no phone, noon–10 p.m. daily, US$5–15) specializes in super-fresh seafood, including hefty fish and shrimp plates, tasty ceviche, and great fish tacos. It’s a bit of a hike from the center and has a view of a supermarket parking lot, but it is a tasty way to get off Quinta Avenida .
Ula-Gula (5 Av. at Calle 10, 2nd Fl., tel. 984/879-3727, 4:30 p.m.–midnight daily, US$9–25) serves outstanding gourmet meals in an appealing dining area overlooking Quinta Avenida. Though the menu is international in breadth, the seafood is the real standout here, whether appetizers like tuna with wasabi and soy sauce, or the fish of the day prepared with a parsley Gorgonzola sauce. For dessert, the chocolate fondant—a small chocolate cake filled with rich chocolate syrup and accompanied by ice cream—is divine.
For an intimate gourmet dinner, Season Bistro (Calle 8 btwn Av. 5 and the beach, tel. 984/879-4802, www.seasonbistro.com , 4–11 p.m. Wed.–Mon., US$14–35) is an excellent choice, especially considering Playa’s high-end dining options are a bit limited. Here, the menu changes by the season in order to use the freshest products in the market. Whatever time of year it is, though, you’ll be treated to imaginative appetizers and mains, like duck spring rolls, spinach and portobello ravioli, and fois gras, served indoors or on the restaurant’s shady patio.
John Gray’s Place (Calle Corazón near Calle 14, tel. 984/803-3689, www.johngrayrestaurantgroup.com , 1–5 p.m. and 6–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$15–30) is the daughter to the original John Gray’s Kitchen in Puerto Morelos, widely considered one of the best restaurants on the Riviera Maya. The kid lives up to expectations, expertly fusing gourmet American cuisine with flavors from around the world. The menu changes daily, but expect dishes like tuna carpaccio with wasabi cream and sweet soy sauce, or spicy crab cakes with cilantro-leek fondue. Credit cards are accepted, fortunately.
If you want a change of pace, Maktub Caffé (5 Av. btwn Calles 28 and 30, tel. 984/803-3886, noon–1 a.m. daily, US$5–12) serves up mouthwatering Lebanese food—tabbouleh, hummus, falafel. It also has hookahs and flavored tobacco to relax by. Look for it in a string of hip, bustling restaurants and bars on Quinta.
Although occasionally missing the mark, old-timer Babe’s Noodles and Bar (Calle 10 btwn 5 Av. and 10 Av., tel. 984/803-0056, www.babesnoodlesandbar.com , 1–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$6–14) still serves up delicious Thai-fusion meals in a hip bistro setting. Dishes come in half and full orders. Don’t miss a chance at ordering the limonmenta, an awesome lime-mint slushie. It’s not a huge place, so you may have to wait for a table during high season, or if you prefer, head to its sister restaurant down the street (5 Av. btwn Calles 28 and 30, cell. tel. 984/120-2592, 5–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat.).
100% Natural (5 Av. btwn Calles 10 and 12, tel. 984/873-2242, 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, US$6–12) serves mostly vegetarian dishes and a large selection of fresh fruit juices. Service can be hit or miss, but the food is fresh and well prepared. Tables are scattered through a leafy garden area and covered patio—great for taking a break from the sun.
If you’re looking for cheap eats, check out the string of hole-in-the-wall eateries (Av. 10 btwn Calles 8 and 10, US$1.25–4) across the street from Plaza Pelícanos. Here you’ll have your choice of tacos, tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches), crepes, pizza by the slice, and smoothie stands, all at decent prices. Most are open 9 a.m.–10 p.m. daily.
The charming old-world Café Sasta (5 Av. btwn Calles 8 and 10, 7 a.m.–11:30 p.m. daily, US$1.50–5) offers a tempting display of muffins, scones, cupcakes—even cheesecake—to go along with the full coffee menu. Seating is available indoors and outdoors. Takeout-only after 11 p.m.
Chocolate lovers will melt over Ah Cacao (5 Av. at Av. Constituyentes, tel. 984/803-5748, www.ahcacao.com , 7 a.m.–11:30 p.m. daily, US$2–5), a chocolate café where every item on the menu—from coffees to cakes—is homemade from the finest of beans. A sister shop (Calle 30 near 5 Av., tel. 984/879-4179, 7 a.m.–11:30 p.m. daily) is located up the street from Playa Tukán.
You’ll smell Hot (Calle Corazón at Calle 14, www.thehotbakingcompany.com , 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. daily, US$4.50–10) a block away—this café bakes fresh breads and pastries all day. Most people end up staying for more than just a brownie, though—the menu full of sandwiches prepared on whole wheat or sunflower-seed bread is almost impossible to resist. The shady outdoor eating area is a great place to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, too.
Service can be slow, but Café Corazón (5 Av. btwn Calles 28 and 30, no phone, 7:30 a.m.–midnight daily, US$4–10) is a good place to enjoy a wait, with Italian coffee and fresh-squeezed juice, and good people watching from the outdoor tables. Sandwiches figure prominently on the menu, with fillers like smoked salmon, Italian salami, avocado, and egg, served on a baguette, bagel, or toast.
Walmart (Calle 8 btwn Avs. 20 and 25, 7 a.m.–midnight daily) has arrived in Playa, opening a huge superstore right behind city hall—how’s that for a metaphor?—with everything from clothes, shoes, and snorkel gear to groceries, prepared food, and a full pharmacy. Liquor sales end at 11 p.m.