By Jules Siegel
Despite its reputation as a posh resort, there are so many affordable food outlets in the Cancun Hotel Zone that it isn't feasible to list all of them. They also vary in quality from season to season, and go in and out of business. Your best sources of information if you don't have local friends will be other tourists. The most fun is to go out on your own and explore.
There are places to eat all along Paseo Kukulkan, so your first step would be to look in front of your own hotel. You'll notice that some places will have a basically local clientele, often hotel staff whom you can recognize by their uniforms. These are your best prospects for a decent inexpensive meal. The most reliable quality guide is how crowded they are during peak hours. Avoid any restaurant -- no matter what price level -- that is consistently empty. Another good test is to take a look around at the beginning of business before the airconditioning is running at full capacity and make sure that it doesn't smell too bad. User reviews in forums such as CancunMX.com and Trip Advisor are useful, too. The main shopping malls all have eating places, some of them full-scale resaturants, others stalls located in food courts. Food courts may seem to be a very modern innovation, but they are actually today's version of the fondas section in traditional Mexican markets. Fondas are stalls with often rudimentary kitchens that frequently serve the best food you will ever eat in Mexico, and shopping malls are the updated version of the Mexican market, yet another example of how Cancun has absorbed and modified traditional Mexican cultural institutions with a facade of modern architecture.
Anita Brown and I were wandering around La Isla Shopping Village trying to decide which eating places to include in this report when we ran into two local Mexican couples who have been our friends for many years. Concerned that our choices of Johnny Rocket and Chili's were American franchises, we asked them for their recommendations. "Johnny Rocket is excellent, very good hamburgers and Mexican dishes," one husband said. "Really," his wife chimed in, "and we also like Chili's, especially the barbecued ribs." I am not making that up. The point is, don't dismiss international restaurants. Mexicans like them, too. They also recommended the Aquarium seafood restaurant which is located next to the Aquarium, which may be a bit too ironic for the literal-minded. La Crepa is a small outdoor restaurant on one of the walkways that serves large portions of a variety of crepes. Several restaurants are grouped in the Marina area, which overlooks Laguna Nichupte.
Los Almendros in Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel has authentic Yucatecan dishes at good prices. El Shrimp Bucket, across the highway from the Omni serves large portions of seafood for $200 pesos. Nice view of the lagoon from the restaurant. In Plaza Kukulcan, Haagen Daz ice cream on the main floor also serves coffee, cake and other treats with a comfortable sit-down dining area.
In the area adjacent to Punta Cancun, look for Cajun Jamba & Pizzare in the Food Court on the second floor Forum by the Sea. There are several taco places in the little street that runs from Forum on the Sea to Dady O's. La Bodeguita del Medio, Cuban restaurant across from the convention center is recommended by friends. Tim Sissel recommends the Breakfast Burritos at Marijuana and Margaritas in the Parian area next to the convention center. There are also a couple of well-regarded Japanes restaurants nearby. Ty-Kos in Plaza Quetzal, across from InterContinental Presidente, has great sandwiches at prices that can only be adequately described as fabulous, beginning at $1.50.
Jules Siegel is an American journalist whose work has appeared in Playboy, Rolling Stone, Best American Short Stories and many other publications. He has lived in Cancun with his family since 1983. He is the author of the Cancun User's Guide.