Downtown Cancun Restaurants: Taste What Lies beyond the Hotel Zone
By Kristin Busse
Cancún Local Expert
Cancun's Hotel Zone is famous for its beautiful beaches, resorts, nightclubs and restaurants. However, at the northern end of the “HoZo” you'll find downtown Cancun, a city of more than 700,000 residents. Escape the Hotel Zone for an evening or two and make the trip downtown or you will miss some of the best and most charming restaurants that Cancun has to offer.
Both Du Mexique and Peter's on Bonampak Avenue are very close to the Hotel Zone entrance and are local favorites. Locando Paolo, an Italian restaurant also located on Bonampak, serves modern Italian cuisine with Mexican and Asian influences. Julia Mia, which sits across the street from Costco, serves up gourmet Mexican cuisine and lovely ambiance.
L'escargot is a small French restaurant hidden on a side street that some call one of the best restaurants they've ever visited. La Troje is an economical favorite of locals which serves fresh, nutritious eats. La Habichuela, a Cancun dining institution, features Yucatecan food and has been open since 1977.
If you're in the mood for something international, Yamamoto is the oldest (and some say the best) Japanese restaurant in Cancun. Hip Marakame is great at anytime of day, visit for breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks.
So venture out of the Hotel Zone and discover Cancun's amazing downtown restaurants. You won't be disappointed.
Hidden in an upscale neighborhood in downtown Cancun, Marakame is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even deliver. This indoor/outdoor restaurant is great for an event, like a baby shower or birthday, a family breakfast or a romantic dinner. Thursday-Saturday nights they feature live music outside under the twinkling lights in the trees. Marakame features an extensive menu of pasta, seafood, salads, pizza and a fully stocked bar. The ambiance is welcoming and relaxing. Leave your board shorts and flip flops at the hotel, this crowd is casual but fashionable. To arrive, take the bus, get off at the first stop downtown and then take a 25 peso taxi to the restaurant. (887-1010, 887-0187)
While patrons can order Asian staples like fried rice and stir-fried chicken or beef at Yamamoto, the real draw is the sushi. With so many seafood restaurants in the city, it's surprising that there are not more sushi bars in town, but even if there were, this one would still be a crowd pleaser. You can sit down right at the sushi bar and watch as expert chefs prepare your fresh feast right before your eyes. Take it easy on the food and sake so you can save room for the tempura ice cream. (998-887-3366)
8 La Troje
La Troje (The Shed) is tucked in a upscale neighborhood near Plaza Las Americas in downtown Cancun. The restaurant has a sidewalk cafe feeling and they serve delicious salads, pasta, crepes, baguettes, pizza, fondues, beer and wine...so it's a wonderful place for lunch or a light dinner. Try the extremely popular Ensalada Margarita (Margarita Salad) which features shrimp and asparagus. From the hotel zone take the R-27 Bus and get off downtown on Tulum avenue just in front of Sports City then walk through Sport's City front entrance and parking lot. When you reach the next street La Troje is to the left. (998 887 9556)
7 Cocina de Autor
Cocina de Autor is hidden away in a residential neighborhood in downtown Cancun. A hotel concierge may not typically recommend this restaurant to guests, but this is one of the best dining establishments in all of Cancun. Chef Cristian Morales personally attends to guests and also acts as Sommelier. Entrees range from 20 to 50 USD. If you'd like to try a bit of everything, a degustation menu is available for about 65 USD/person. Morales' enticing Argentinean - Pre-hispanic Mexican dishes will please even the most discriminating foodie. A visit to elegant Cocina de Autor will be a highlight of your vacation. (998 251 9145)
6 Locanda Paolo
This Italian fusion restaurant has been open since 1989, an eternity in Cancun. The fare can be described as Italian with a Mexican Caribbean influence. The service is impeccable, attentive yet unobtrusive, and the chef always comes out of the kitchen to greet customers and ask if they are enjoying their meal. If you have a taste for something, just ask, the kitchen is very accommodating. This is a great setting to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. If you arrive at 8 pm, you'll wonder where all of the customers are, but by 10 pm Locanda Paolo will be full. (998 887 2627)
This small French restaurant is tucked away on a quiet side street in downtown Cancun and is operated by a Parisian who arrived in Cancun some 30 years ago. Don't be surprised if she's sitting at the door waiting for you when you arrive. The menu is small but the fare is fresh and perfectly prepared. At night the garden area is filled with twinkling lights. The intimate setting is lush with tropical vegetation and is perfect for a romantic date or a quiet dinner with a friend. With an impeccably trained wait staff and french music, L'escargot makes for a delightful evening in Cancun. (998 887 6337)
4 La Habichuela
La Habichuela has been a fixture in Cancun for many years with restaurants in both downtown Cancun and the Hotel Zone (La Habichuela Sunset). You'll find high quality food and great service at both establishments. The restaurant's signature dish is Cocobichuela, a mixture of lobster, shrimp, rice, curry sauce, and tropical fruits served in a coconut shell. You simply must try it. You won't regret it. The original La Habichuela has been open downtown in Parque las Palapas since 1977 when Armando Pezzoti opened the restaurant in what was once his home. People return year after year due to the delicious food, impeccable service and unparalleled ambiance. (998-884-3158)
3 Peter's Restaurante
This cozy restaurant in downtown Cancun has only been open for 2 years, and it's ranked number three on TripAdvisor's list of Cancun restaurants. The restaurant is staffed by the owner Peter, his wife Claudia and their son Eder. Dishes include shrimp, fish, veal, beef, vegetarian and pasta and a small but good wine list. Prices are considerably lower than they would be for a restaurant of this caliber in the Hotel Zone. You can easily take the bus to Peter's by getting off at the first stop downtown and walking just a few blocks to their location on Bonampak. (998 251 9310)
2 Julia Mia
Julia Mia is Cancun's newest Mexican restaurant and is quickly becoming a local favorite. Owners Lupita and Irma Chavez, sisters from Guadalara, opened Julia Mia in June. The restaurant features contemporary Mexican food, but never forgets to incorporate traditional flavors and ingredients. The inspiration behind Julia Mia (My Julia) is a woman "that's not afraid of anything or anyone, she enjoys ilfe and her traditional Mexican drink, tequila, as well as the best selection of recipes from Mexico which integrate tastes and smells, always respecting and honoring each ingredient." Expect to be wowed by the tostadas, flautas, sopes, quesadillas, enchiladas, sea bass tacos, blue crab taquitos, roast corn soup, red pozole, chicken with mole, salmon al pastor, corn smut and goat cheese ravioli, garlic octopus fettuccini, and scrumptious desserts like flan, chocolate volcano, and chocolate truffles with mole and churros. Julia Mia is open daily from 1 pm to 12 am. (01 800 849 1343)
1 Du Mexique
Du Mexique is another one of the amazing restaurants on Bonampak avenue in downtown Cancun. This is a lovely place to celebrate a special occasion like an anniversary or birthday. Located in what used to be a house, the divine ambiance, service and food make this restaurant stand out on the endless list of Cancun restaurants. Chef Alain Grimond and his wife Sonya prepare and serve the food themselves. The cuisine is an interesting combination of Mayan and French. Have an appetizer in the lounge or "sala", move to the 20 seat dining room for dinner, and have dessert on the patio. If you would like something special that you don't see on the menu, ask and if it's possible, they will prepare it for you. (998 884 5919)
About Kristin Busse
After vacationing in Mexico many times, Kristin decided to move to Cancun "for a year". That was in 2001. Kristin grew-up in Michigan and studied Communications at Michigan State University. Chicago was her home for the next 9 years. Mexico has been good to Kristin, she became a mother and achieved her lifelong dream to become a professional singer. She loves to explore the area on the weekends with her 3 year old son, and she enjoys sharing her experiences and discoveries with others through writing and social media.
Read more about Kristin Busse here.