La Destilería (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 12.5, tel. 998/885-1086, www.ladestileria.com.mx/cancun, 1 p.m.–midnight daily, US$12–30) serves inventive Mexican food, including cilantro fish fillet, tenderloin medallions in chipotle sauce, and shrimp cooked with tequila and lime. For drinks, most diners order a tequila-based drink—the restaurant offers 150 varieties. In fact, there’s a guided tequila tour (5 p.m. Mon., Wed., and Fri., US$9)—the restaurant is called La Destilería, after all—with an explanation of tequila brewing, a welcome cocktail, and a three-shot sampler. Dinner, appetizers, and drinks can add up to a hefty outlay here, but it’s worth the expense. There is also live mariachi music 8–9 p.m. daily. Reservations are recommended.
Next to Hotel Avalon Bacara, Habaneros (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 11.5, tel. 998/883-1243, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$5–10) is one of the extremely few places in the Zona Hotelera to get good, genuine Mexican food at reasonable prices. It’s a tiny restaurant and taco joint whose friendly owner often serves guests himself. Come here for the classics: huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs), chiles rellenos (stuffed chiles), and, of course, tacos; lunch specials are a bargain at just 50 pesos (US$4.28). If you can’t decide, they’ll even prepare a sampler plate.
A hidden gem in the Zona Hotelera, El Fish Fritanga (aka Pescadillas, Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 12.7, tel. 998/840-6216, 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, US$3–12) offers tasty fish tacos and full seafood platters at great prices. If you can’t decide what to order, try the classic pescadillas, grilled nurse-shark tacos. There’s also a full bar complete with a palapa roof and a tiny lagoon-side beach.
Classy but unassuming, Laguna Grill (Marina Del Rey, Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 15.7, tel. 998/885-0267, www.lagunagrill.com.mx, 2 p.m.–midnight daily, US$15–39) has an excellent lagoon-side location with tables made of tree trunks, some set along a creek that flows through the dining room. Contemporary gourmet offerings include sesame blackened ahi tuna with asparagus and lobster stuffed with smoked salmon in a coconut crust. The bar has old-school armchairs and sofas set on a breezy deck.
The nautical-themed Lorenzillo’s (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 10.5, tel. 998/883-1254, www.lorenzillos.com.mx, 1 p.m.–12:30 a.m. daily, US$18–45) is known as one of the best lobster houses in town. Live lobster is kept in an adapted rowboat tank at the entrance—select the one you want, weigh it on an old-time scale, and before you know it, dinner’s on. Seating is indoors under a palapa roof or outdoors on the narrow patio overlooking the lagoon.
A private home turned bustling restaurant, Dolcemente Pompeii (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 5.3, tel. 998/849-4006, noon–midnight Tues.–Sun., US$7–24) serves up delicious and hearty Italian dishes like salmon lasagna, fettuccine with grilled jumbo shrimp, pizza, and gelato. Live music—guitarists, a cappella singers, pianists—often is offered on weekends. In the evenings, look for Isla Mujeres twinkling in the distance.
The chic decor and terrific food at La Madonna (La Isla Shopping Village, Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 12.5, tel. 998/883-2222, www.lamadonna.com.mx, noon–midnight daily, US$15–42) will have you wondering, Are we really in a mall? A huge modern replica of the Mona Lisa peers over an ornate dining room; the Swiss and Italian menu includes veal, shrimp fettuccine, and risotto, plus specials such as live lobster and New Zealand lamb. Doubling as a martini bar (with 150 different martinis to choose from), this also is a nice place to stop for a midmall drink or even a night out.
Limoncello (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 10.5, tel. 998/883-1433, www.limoncellocancun.com, 1 p.m.–12:30 a.m. daily, US$17–46) serves exquisite Italian fare in a gorgeous lagoon-side location. Pumpkin ravioli, eggplant Parmesan, grilled octopus, freshly made pasta and sauce—you really can’t go wrong. A bit pricey, especially if you order from the excellent wine list, but a worthwhile splurge. Reservations recommended; plan an early dinner so you’ll catch the sunset.
Puerto Madero (Marina Barracuda, Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 14.1, tel. 998/885-2829, www.puertomaderocancun.com, 1 p.m.–1 a.m. daily, US$15–65) is a cool, classy place serving carefully prepared meats in huge Argentinean-style portions. Guests can either sit indoors—in what looks like a warehouse turned upscale dining room with dark bricks and exposed iron beams (an homage to the Puerto Madero shipyard in Argentina)—or outdoors on the elegant half-moon patio with views of the lagoon. The menu includes salads, pastas, and grilled fish in addition to the many cuts of beef, some of which serve two. If you must wait to be seated, enjoy a martini at the sleek underlit bar.
The name of the place says it all—Cambalanche: Argentinean Big Steak House (Forum by the Sea, Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 9, tel. 998/883-0902, www.cambalacherestaurantes.com, 1 p.m.–1 a.m. daily, US$22–32). Excellent, huge cuts of beef serve two or more; the rib eye and top sirloin likely will leave you panting. The subdued ambience, frosted glass, and tuxedoed waiters help you forget the fact that, yes, you’re in a mall. It’s pricey but worth it.
La Palapa Belga (Hotel Imperial Laguna, Calle Quetzal 13, tel. 998/883-5454, www.palapabelga.com, 2–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$14–28) has been serving fine French-Belgian cuisine for almost two decades, but even some Cancún buffs have never heard of it. That’s due partly to the location, in the back of a small hotel near Pok-ta-Pok golf course. It’s worth searching out, though, for the awesome views (across the lagoon to the Zona Hotelera) and delicious food, with dishes like duck confit, steak tartare, and “Pot of mussels marinière.” Reservations recommended, though there are plenty of days you’ll have the place to yourself.
If you just want to stock up for a picnic on the beach, numerous small markets along Boulevard Kukulcán in the Zona Hotelera have chips, water, sunscreen, and other basics. For a more complete grocery, head to Super Express (Plaza Quetzal, just west of Hotel Presidente-Intercontinental, Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 8, tel. 998/883-3654, 8 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), which has canned food, meats, fruit and veggies, bread, chips, drinks, and more.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition