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 Habichuela, a Cancun dining institution, features Yucatecan, Mexican, Caribbean and International food and has been open since 1977.
Hip Marakame is great at anytime of day, visit for breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks. For French or French fusion cuisine, visit Les Cepages or Du Mexique.
So venture out of the Hotel Zone and discover Cancun's amazing downtown restaurants. You won't be disappointed.
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)
La Dolce Vita Centro
This small, romantic Italian restaurant has long been a favorite spot for locals, but it is popular with tourists as well. Located right on the bus route, in downtown Cancun, it is just a few blocks away from the entrance to the Hotel Zone and is very easy to find. It's a great place for a nice lunch (they open at 1pm), a family gathering, a romantic dinner or even a marriage proposal. The restaurant only has seating for 80 people so it is definitely an intimate setting. Soft music plays in the background while you enjoy a superb meal and live "la dolce vita" (the sweet life). (998-884-3393)
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)
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)
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)
French contemporary restaurant Les Cepages is located on Nichupte Avenue. They serve imaginative dishes made with the freshest, high-quality ingredients. This is fine dining at a much lower price than you will find in the Hotel Zone. Don't miss singature dish Roasted Rack of Lamb with Mint demi-glaze. They are open Monday from 6 to 11pm and Tuesday throught Saturday from 3 to 11pm and are closed Sundays. Due to the size of the dining space, reservations are suggested. To get there, take the R1 or R2 bus to the first stop downtown, then take a taxi to Plaza Nichupte. (998 802 1093)
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)
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)
This cozy 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. Both tourists and locals rave about Peter's and visit again and again. If you are celebrating a special occasion be sure to mention it when making a reservation. (998 251 9310)
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)
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 5 year old son, and she enjoys sharing her experiences and discoveries with others through writing and social media.
Read more about Kristin Busse here.