10 Tips for Eating at Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen

Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen

10 Tips for Eating at Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen

Many of you will come to experience local flavors in the restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. How can you tell what are the best restaurants and what are some tips for eating out? Well here are 10 of our best tips for you.

1. Many of the best restaurants in Playa Del Carmen are not on 5th Avenue

The main pedestrian street in Playa Del Carmen is 5th Avenue. It runs for about 22 blocks and contains hundreds of shops and restaurants. Since this street gets thousands of tourist passing by each day, rents are expensive because business want a piece of the tourist pie.

Because 5th Avenue is such a desirable location and rents are high, owners have to focus on two things. Getting tourist to stop in their business and making money. Most of the restaurants on 5th are geared for tourist, there are very few restaurants that locals actually go to on 5th Avenue.

The mentality of most managers and waiters is to get people in, get the money, and then probably will not see the customers again. With this type of attitude you are not going to get the care and passion going into every mass produced dish nor will you get the service that people give in order to get you to come back.

This is why most of the good restaurants in Playa Del Carmen are not on 5th Avenue. The chefs that have passion and want to create a great experience for the customer are usually off 5th Avenue. Which brings us to our next topic.

2. Explore more off 5th Avenue

Since 5th Avenue has the tourist restaurant mostly, it is good to explore off 5th. But where to go? Some of the side streets are good places to start. Beyond that there are many people that come to Playa Del Carmen to open a restaurant. There are pockets of the downtown where the rent is more affordable and with a few more steps you can discover some of the best restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. For a complete guide of all the restaurants that we have been to and review, see our article here.

Don’t be afraid to go off 5th Avenue. Playa Del Carmen is very safe and has great restaurants to offer for those that search.

2. Check your bill before paying

In every tourist destination around the world there are problems and some tricks with the bill to gain a little more money. Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen are no exception. So it is good to look at your bill before paying. So what should you look for?

  • Does the bill have just the items you ordered and the correct prices?
  • Check the addition. Sometimes the bill has the items and the prices but the total is not added correctly. Most people do not check this and you might just be paying extra. This is a nice slight of hand trick because if you catch it and bring it to the waiters attention, they just shrug and chalk it up to  a mistake. Example 100+120 equals 130.
  • Did they add a tip? or were taxes added on? This is a trick they can get tourist on because most people do not know that it is illegal to add a tip or tax to the menu prices. All prices on a menu or specials boards are with taxes. Some will suggest a tip, and that is fine, but adding it in is not ok. If a restaurant did add tax or tip into your bill, you can report them to Profeco, the Mexican consumer agency.

5. Paying in Pesos or other currency at restaurants in Playa Del Carmen

Should you pay in US dollars or Mexican pesos at restaurants? Most restaurants on 5th Avenue will accept both but a little off 5th Avenue they may not. It is our advice to not pay in any currency other then Mexican pesos. One reason is, it is left up to the business at what rate they wish to accept your money. They are not a bank and do not have to accept money at market rates. If the rate is 1 to 20 they might accept US dollars at 1 to 15. That is a 25% loss in your spending power. In addition, it is easier to figure out the bill and more polite to use the local currency.

You can use your credit cards at many restaurants. We do however advise people to limit use because the more you use them abroad the more chances there are of getting them skimmed. This does happen here in Playa Del Carmen as well as other touristy places in the world.

restaurants in Playa Del Carmen

6. Don’t judge a restaurant by how many people are there

There is a semi popular restaurant on 5th Avenue that always has a big crowd in the morning. Many people might think that the restaurant must be good. The fact is, the restaurant is only a place for breakfast for some local hotels that give out meal vouchers. We have eaten at the restaurant an have not been impressed at all.

The same goes with some local restaurants. Some very local restaurants are not popular restaurants are not gourmet or popular because the food is great. It is because they are more of a tradition to go to them. This is very true of many seafood taco restaurants where they serve beer. Some restaurants are good to get a taste of local life but may not be what you are looking for as far as a good meal. That is why we try to comment on all the restaurants and recommend what they are good for in our restaurant guide.

7. Should you let your concierge pick your restaurant in Playa Del Carmen for you?

Perhaps you are staying at a nice hotel in Playa Del Carmen or an all inclusive resort just outside of town. You might want some recommendations on where to go, after all you are new in town. How nice it is that a local person,  “the concierge” is willing to talk to you about restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. But here are two big reasons why you should take the recommendations with a grain of salt.

  1. The truth is most of the restaurants that are recommended by concierges are the ones that pay the most commission. If you had the opportunity to send guest to a restaurant that offers 10% or 15% of the bill to you over a restaurant that offers nothing, what would you recommend? The answer is simple. Many of the “popular” restaurants in Playa Del Carmen are paying a lot to concierges to recommend them to guest. This means that good  restaurants that done pay out commissions because they cannot, get overlooked and you just might not get that great meal out in Playa Del Carmen.
  2. Most concierges do not make the salary to go out eating at many of the restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. They also do not have the time to go out and explore the restaurant scene. This means that most have a very limited knowledge of restaurants in Playa Del Carmen.

Note: We love writing about all restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. We don’t tell you just about the high-end popular places. We want to have the broadest range of choices for you on our website.

restaurants in playa del carmen
Tourists walking on 5th Avenue at night where you can find many restaurants in Playa Del Carmen.

8. What about website with rankings of the restaurants in Playa Del Carmen?

There are advisor websites and others that rank restaurants (we all know what ones they are). Many people come with a list that was on the “Top 10 Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen”. We look from time to time at the list and see what is said to be some of the best restaurants. It is laughable many times. Restaurants that are up at the top of the list are ones that people living here know as ones that should not be there.

Some of the top restaurants are #50 the next week. It just depends on the algorithms used. This shows that it is not an exact science.

So what’s wrong with these sites? First, anyone can write a review. These means an expert chef can write a review and an average Joe who has never been to Mexico can write about what they think is the best restaurant or Mexican food. Each is equal in value even though people have different expertise. Second, there are many fake reviews. There was just one highly ranked restaurant on the list for Playa Del Carmen that was in no way that great. The reviews were very lopsided toward one country, which just happed to be where the owners were from. Third, just because many people go to one restaurant, that does not mean it is the best. There are some great small restaurants that do not pay concierges or pay to be on 5th Avenue. We try to champion these restaurants so you can discover them.

9. Don’t fall for fake Mexican food

This is a big pet peeve we have for restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. The biggest culprit is the restaurants that serve a piece of chicken pan roasted with some black beans and maybe a little guacamole with a chip in it and call it Mexican. This is an insult not only to the great food culture of Mexico but also to tourist.

Just because a restaurant has a Mexican sounding name, this does not mean the food is real Mexican. We know many of you want to take in a taste of Mexican food. This is why we wrote the guide to Mexican restaurants in Playa Del Carmen. We want you to find the good places where you can find authentic Mexican food.

Restaurants in Playa Del Carmen
Real Mexican Seafood tacos in Playa Del Carmen.

10. Expect weak drinks on or near 5th Avenue restaurants

This is another pet peeve of us. You order a drink for 80-150 pesos and it is weak because it does not have much alcohol. At hotels and all inclusive resorts as well as 5th Avenue there are a lot of weak drinks. We can understand at all inclusive hotels them not wanting people passed out all over the place but you should get what you pay for on 5th. So you have been warned. Here is what you can do:

  • If you mix your drink well and take a sip and it is weak, say something to the waiter.
  • Watch the bar tender and actually see the pour.
  • Skip drinks at the restaurant and hit up the good bars in Playa Del Carmen.
  • Order beer. That is always a safe things that they cannot mess up. There are some great Mexican beers to choose from.


We hope you get to explore restaurants in Playa Del Carmen and have some great experiences. If you have any tips you would like to add below, let us know in the comment section.

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  1. Good to know. This article has been very helpful to my husband and I. A few months after our last visit to Playa del Carmen our bank card was compromised by a very popular restaurant (which has since closed) that drained our bank acct. Thank God the amount wasn’t very much but enough to alert us for our next visit. This will not stop us from coming back, which will be in Feb. 2017, to the beautiful and exciting Playa Del Carmen!!

    • Hello Joyce

      Sorry to hear that happened to you. It does happen here as well as other places and we like to warn people about it. Just like the ATM’s on 5th Avenue. We work hard to keep Playa as enjoyable for visitors as possible, like not buying cheap tours, avoiding the scams at the gas stations, and scams on the street in Playa Del Carmen. All of these things are not a deterrent to come to see this beautiful part of the world. For the most part people are exceptionally kind and honest and there is so much to discover here like the great restaurants.

  2. It’s like you looked into my brain and read my mind! So much good info here I was looking for. This will be my 3rd trip to Riviera Maya…but I have always stayed on my resort or stayed close to 5th Ave. And I never ate anywhere other than my resort. This time we are not staying all-inclusive and really needed a good way to eat local and on a budget. THANK YOU! Having this info makes me think we’re going to have the best vacation ever!

  3. An outstanding share! I agree 100% with your tips for eating out in Playa. I see tourist all the time choosing bad restaurants and I wonder what they think of their trip afterward. Thanks for your work in promoting the good restaurants.

  4. Hi there- thank you so much for the info! Are there any good vegetarian spots that are popular in Playa?
    Thank you in advance!

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