Cozumel  isn’t known as a culinary hot spot, but there are plenty of options. Like any island, it has terrific seafood (though many people are surprised to learn that much of the catch actually comes from around Isla Mujeres  because the waters around Cozumel are protected areas). And the island’s popularity with Americans, especially hungry Texan divers, means you’ll never want for a steak, pasta, fajitas, or a big breakfast.
The hottest ticket in town, Kinta (Av. 5 btwn Calle 2 and 4 Norte, tel. 987/869-0544, www.kintacozumel.com , 6 p.m.–11 p.m. Tues.–Sun., US$10–17) is a chic restaurant serving gourmet Mexican dishes and out-of-sight cocktails. Seating is indoor in a modern, welcoming space or outdoors in a leafy tropical garden. The menu includes such specialties as the chile relleno, a poblano chile stuffed with ratatouille and Chihuahua cheese, and Kamaron Adobado, grilled shrimp marinated in achiote with caramelized pineapple salsa. Be sure to try the tamarindo martini—unforgettable! Reservations recommended.
Parrilla Mission (Av. 30 btwn Calles 2 and 4, tel. 987/872-3581, www.parrillamission.com , 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, US$3–14) specializes in tacos, served on delicious handmade corn tortillas and heaped with fresh grilled steak, chicken, or everyone’s favorite, al pastor (spicy grilled pork). A self-serve “sides bar” includes not just salsa, cilantro, and lime, but Spanish rice, beans, and grilled onions as well. The rest of the menu is pretty outstanding, too, including mole, chiles rellenos, and fajitas, all very reasonably priced. No wonder Parrilla Mission is a favorite among locals and a highlight for tourists willing to venture beyond the main downtown area.
The breezy palapa-roofed La Candela (Av. 5 at Calle 6 Norte, tel. 987/878-4471, 8 a.m.–11:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$3–14) offers a huge lineup of Mexican and traditional Yucatecan dishes in a cafeteria-style setting. Check out what’s steaming behind the glass window cases, find a seat, then place your order with your waiter. Lunch specials typically include soup or pasta, a main dish, and a drink (US$5–6).
Sabores (Av. 5 btwn Calles 3 and 5, no phone, noon–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$5–13) is a family-run restaurant operated out of a bright yellow house. A wide variety of traditional Mexican dishes are served as comidas corridas with soup, main dish, and fruit drink running US$4–8. Clients can choose between eating in the converted living room or under the shade trees in the backyard. Check out the dry-erase board for the daily offerings. Wi-Fi available, too.
Pancho’s Backyard (Av. Rafael Melgar 27 btwn Avs. 8 and 10 Norte, tel. 987/872-2141, www.panchosbackyard.com , 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m. Sun., US$11–24) is Mexico epitomized—gurgling fountains, colonial-style decor, and live marimba music (11 a.m.–3 p.m. Mon.–Sat.). Add Mexican haute cuisine such as camarones a la naranja (orange shrimp flambéed in tequila) and chiles rellenos (peppers stuffed with bananas and walnut), and you’ll leave wanting to return. Though popular with cruise ship travelers, the restaurant is big enough that it never feels crowded.
Restaurante del Museo (Av. Rafael Melgar and Calle 6, tel. 987/872-0838, 7:30 a.m.–1 p.m. daily, US$4–7) is a little outdoor café on the roof of the Museo Cozumel, great for breakfast before a morning at the museum or a drink afterward to watch the boats cruise past. Get there early on Sunday, when locals line up for the restaurant’s famous sopa de pancita (cow’s stomach soup)—an acquired, kind of furry dish.
Otates Tacos (Av. 15 btwn Calles Rosado Salas and 3, no phone, noon–11 p.m. daily, US$2–6) is a hole-in-the-wall taco joint serving up authentic Mexican grub at street-cart prices (or nearly so). Tacos are just the beginning, served piping hot on tiny corn tortillas; the quesadillas, tortas, and pozole (pork and hominy soup) are all terrific, and everyone raves about the guacamole. Service is fast and friendly, with menus in Spanish and English.
El Viejo y La Mar (Av. 5 Sur btwn Calles 9 and 9 Bis, no phone, noon–8 p.m. daily, US$5–15) is a low-key eatery run by a local fishermen’s cooperative, so the fish is especially fresh and well priced. Whole fried fish is US$9 per kilo (2.2 pounds), and even a half kilo makes for a hefty meal; there are also a dozen different ceviche and cocktail options, and just as many fillets. Eat in the large yet simple semioutdoor dining area, or order to go if it’s near closing time.
Camilo’s (Av. 5 btwn Calles 2 and 4, tel. 987/872-6161, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, US$8–16) is a small place offering an abundance of fresh seafood: ceviche, shrimp cocktail, lobster tail, fried fish, grilled fish, conch dishes…you name it, they’ve probably got it. It’s popular with locals, and travelers are beginning to trickle in now, too.
A family-run restaurant, La Conchita del Caribe (Av. 65 btwn Calles 13 and 15, tel. 987/872-5888, 11:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily, US$9–16) is another local favorite, in a spacious location. When ordering whole fish—the house specialty, served grilled or fried—you’ll be asked to pick the fish you want out of a cooler by the counter and will be charged according to size. And whether you order fish, shrimp, or other seafood, it was almost certainly swimming earlier in the day. A great off-the-tourist-path option; takeout also available.
La Cocay (Calle 8 btwn Avs. 10 and 15, tel. 987/872-5533, www.lacocay.com , 5:30–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$10–29) offers Mediterranean cuisine with flair. The menu changes seasonally, but expect to see dishes like fish of the day with vanilla sauce and chipotle couscous, and blue-cheese-filled phyllo dough rolls with black cherry sauce. Seating is in a candlelit dining room or on the breezy garden patio. Perfect for a special night out.
Al Pie del Carbon (Calle 6 at Av. 5, cell. tel. 987/101-2599, 3–11 p.m. Tues.–Sun., US$8–16) is a popular Argentinean steak house serving up excellent cuts of beef, plus tasty salads and sides, and a decent wine list. Steaks are grilled over an open flame and can be enjoyed in the restaurant’s air-conditioned dining room or charming open-air patio. The empanadas, another Argentinean classic, make great appetizers.
Though a bit pricey, Guido’s (Av. Rafael Melgar btwn Calles 6 and 8, tel. 987/872-0946, www.guidoscozumel.com , 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 2:30–9:30 p.m. Sun., US$13–17) is perfect if you’re in the mood for a special pasta dish or brick-oven pizza. Add a glass of sangria and a table in the leafy courtyard, and you’ve got the makings for a classic cozumeleño night out.
With amazing waterfront views, Chi (above Pizza Hut, Calle 3 at Av. Rafael Melgar, tel. 987/869-8156, www.chicozumel.com , 9:30 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Wed., 9:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.–Sat., noon–midnight Sun., US$8–15) offers an extensive Asian menu in a pleasant setting. Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Filipino dishes figure prominently, but the chefs prepare food to order—just let them know what you’re craving.
Vegetarians flock to El Perro Verde (Av. 5 btwn Calles 3 and 5, cell. tel. 987/117-7428, 1–10 p.m. Tues.–Sat., US$3.50–7), an art-house café serving up a wide range of meat-free sandwiches, salads, and warm dishes like veggie burgers, vegetarian chilaquiles, and green mole. There also is an extensive “juice therapy” menu with vegetable and fruit combos to treat a variety of ailments. Indoors, most of the seating is on floor cushions; outdoors there are a handful of tables set up in a leafy garden. The café also has an art gallery and studio featuring works by locals and expats. Artsy movies also are screened here every Friday at 8 p.m.
Especias (Calle 3 btwn Avs. 5 and 10, tel. 987/872-4483, 6–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., US$6–12) is a small restaurant serving a large variety of cuisines—Argentinean, Jamaican, Thai, Indian, and more. The bacon-wrapped shrimp and zucchini boats are especially popular. Live guitar featured most nights, too.
Pepe’s Grill (Av. Rafael Melgar btwn Calles Rosado Salas and 3, tel. 987/872-0213, www.pepesgrillcozumel.com , 5–11 p.m. daily, US$12–24) has long been popular for its reliable food and sunset views over the Caribbean. It’s definitely old-school, harkening back to the mid-1980s in its nautical style and synthesizer jam sessions, but if you’re in the mood for prime rib or a big salad, this is the place to come.
Hands down, the best place to go for traditional Mexican baked goods is Zermatt (Av. 5 Norte at Calle 4, tel. 987/872-1384, 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–noon Sun., US$1–2.50).
If the bread is still baking at Zermatt, try Panadería Cozumeleña (Av. 10 Sur at Calle 3, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun.) for a good sampling of Mexican breads and pastries. Part of the bakery also serves as a café (7 a.m.–2 p.m. daily, US$3–6), where breakfast specials—and fresh baked goods—rule the menu.
For a cool treat, head to La Flor de Michoacán (Calle 1 near Av. 10, 9 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, US$1–2), where there’s always a variety of homemade aguas (fruit drinks), nieves (ice cream), and paletas (popsicles).
For a traditional market experience—fresh produce and sides of beef hanging from hooks—head to the Mercado Municipal (Av. 25 btwn Calles 1 and Rosado Salas, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. daily).
If you are cooking for yourself, stock up at MEGA (Av. Rafael Melgar at Calle 11, tel. 987/872-3658, 7:30 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), the newest and largest supermarket on the island.
For quick buys—fruit, sandwich stuff, and drinks—El Majaraja (Av. 15 btwn Calles Rosado Salas and 1, tel. 987/872-6222, 6 a.m.–11 p.m. daily) is an easy stop.