Cancun and Riviera Maya Emerging as a Culinary Destination

Posted by Jimmy Im on May 04, 2012 at 6:20:24 PM EDT | Post a Comment

It's not uncommon to dine at a buffet on holiday in the Rivera Maya. But those lines are about to get much shorter. Mexico's Caribbean coastline is experiencing a much-needed culinary renaissance, treating guests to buzzing concept restaurants and talented, emerging chefs cooking up more than a taco platter. In fact, the flourishing food scene has had such an overhaul that the inaugural Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival took place this past March luring foodies with legends like Ferran Adria (chef of former world's best restaurant elBulli). Needless to say, the Riviera Maya is back on the map as a dining destination. And here's how.

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Region's First Greenhouse at El Dorado Royale

El Dorado Royale in Riviera Maya, decided to redefine all-inclusive dining by focusing on fresh, local foods. This spa resort by Karisma built the region's first hotel greenhouse two-and-a-half years ago. At a whopping 100,000 square feet, all hydroponic produce now goes directly to the kitchens of not only El Dorado Royale but to all of Karisma's eight properties in the area for their Gourmet Inclusive Collection. Guests have the opportunity to walk through the greenhouse for educational tours and can even pluck fresh vegetables and herbs right off the vines for tastings.

Seeing Michelin Stars at Paradisus Playa Del Carmen

Over-the-top, gourmet dining in the area has largely meant listening to club beats while dining on sub-par Mexican (-inspired) dishes. But Martin Berasategui, the Spanish chef who's racked up several Michelin stars (including three for his eponymous restaurant in Lasarte-Oria, Spain), brings his whimsical Basque flavors to the hip Paradisus Playa Del Carmen resort. Open just a few months ago, the swanked-out restaurant gives a distinctive spin to local seafood (try the slow-cooked sea bass with mushroom butter).

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Molecular Gastronomy on the Beach

The highbrow among us can experience curious-looking plates of molecular gastronomy at several all-inclusive resorts, including Grand Velas and Royal Hideaway Playacar, but other properties are starting to embrace the movement. This wave of experimental food science takes guests on an innovative experience, now a popular option at Le Chique at Azul Sensatori Hotel in Puerto Morelos.

The 27-year-old prodigy in the kitchen, Jonatan Gomez Luna, has worked at top restaurants like Alinea in Chicago and Le Cirque in New York City (he's also a disciple of Ferran Adria), so you can expect fine-dining techniques with an inventive tasting menu (ie: gazpacho sphere with spicy chili oil, fried sushi, and the 'cotton candy tree' are hits).

Over at the new Sandos Resort, Seasons restaurant is making a big splash with French-trained chef Edward Cupul's tasting menus.

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Beyond the Hotel Zone at Cocina de Autor

Take a break from resort dining and head to Cocina de Autor, one of a few gourmet restaurants outside the hotel strip. Famous Argentine chef Cristian Morales opened up shop two years ago in a former mansion that brings to mind popular restaurants in Buenos Aires, like Milion. Open for dinner only, Cocina de Autor is the only Argentine-Mexican fusion in the mostly residential area.

The elegant restaurant sparks romance with lit candles, long-draping curtains, and crystal chandeliers. There's only a handful of tables with the option of dining outdoors, so reservations are a must. Opt for the degustacion menu, which features the oft-sought rack of venison.

Going Organic at Gardenias Inn Tulum

Tulum may be known for its iconic, sandy-white beaches, Mayan ruins, and bohemian flair but at the new Gardenias Inn Tulum, it will be all about the food. Opening in October, the resort will feature visiting chefs from Riviera Maya, the Yucatan, and surrounding states of Mexico who will concoct dishes with what they find in the hotel's organic garden. The resort has plans for a Mayan-style oven pit to slow-roast fish in banana leaves and toast Tandoor bread, and to grow exotic produce like Persian limes, chaya (Mayan spinach), and Thai baby eggplant in the garden.

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Fairmont Mayakoba Lures with Craft Beer

Fairmont Mayakoba always has something up their sleeve when it comes to dining. From sustainability efforts (guests have the chance to get close to the catching and farming of Caribbean spiny lobster) to a Mayan-inspired menu using only local ingredients in honor of the Mayan Calendar (the tasting menu debuts June 1, 2012), the five-star resort in the heart of Mayakoba is a one-upper. Thanks to the craft beer movement, Fairmont has revamped their beer selection by offering an artisanal Mexican beer menu, the only hotel to do so in the region.

Note: It is always well-advised to be cautious at all times when traveling to Mexico in light of ongoing safety concerns for Americans.

Thinking of a trip to Mexico's Caribbean Coast?

For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our Caribbean Coast Travel Guide.

Photo Credits: El Dorado: Courtesy of El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels; Gran Velas: Courtesy of Velas Resorts; Cocina de Autor: Courtesy of Chef Cristian Morales; Fairmont Mayakoba: Courtesy of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

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Member Comments (3)  Post a Comment

  • MicheleinPlaya on Dec 1, 12 at 10:11 AM

    @catbrown is right! There is absolutely some great cuisine being created in the resorts. Riviera Viceroy should have made your list as well as the the new Paradissus resort. But the real foodie fun is happening in the small Chef owns and operated restaurants in Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The best place to get a real taste of the cuisine of the Riviera Maya is at the Taste of Playa, an annual culinary festival that focuses on the innovative work of local Chefs using local ingredients.
    On your next trip to the Riviera Maya, travel beyond the gates of your all inclusive to find out where the real gastronomic news is being made.

  • globavore on Jun 12, 12 at 01:11 AM

    The larger resorts are learning important lessons from smaller properties in the region as well as others around the world. Lets face it - the all inclusive 5,000 room hotel traveler and the off the beaten track traveler are two different travelers and come in many variations of taste and demographics. The gastronomic traveler can be attracted to a certain level of all inclusive such as those mentioned here or may prefer smaller, more private lodging with less than 20 rooms. The point is that the region offers something for everyone & that the level of gastronomy is improving throughout the region. This article is not just about large resorts...Christian Morales' private dining experience in a restored small mansion with 2 tables only (!) in Cancun & not to be missed. Gardenias Inn Tulum, while referred to in the article as a "resort" is a 3 room boutique hotel replete with organic vegetable garden, private chef, beachfront or garden private dining as well as private gastronomic tours. Culinary tourism is offered all over the world at hotels & small inns. The hope of hoteliers in Cancun & The Riviera Maya is that when the thought of culinary tourism comes to a traveler's mind, the Riviera Maya region is one of the ones that comes to mind.

  • catbrown on May 9, 12 at 01:34 PM

    Interesting but this is all about big resorts - the real revolution is happening in the towns. Fascinating small restaurants popping up, the more fresh food is available in this region, and the more discerning the traveller, the better it has been getting. For three years now foodie travellers have been discovering real Mexican food at The Little Mexican Cooking School, so succesful that now the big hotels are offering cooking classes to keep the clients from leaving their hotel!

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