If you looked in a typical North American pantry, your eyes wouldn’t likely stumble on achiote, epazote and squash blossoms. But here in the Yucatan, these ingredients, along with chiles, cilantro and limes, are revered staples.
Chain eateries like Señor Frogs, Carlos and Charlie and Margaritaville may attract those seeking the familiar, but travellers looking to stray from the ordinary shouldn’t fret. Local restaurants are serving up their own interpretation of local ingredients, whether traditionally or with a flair for fusion.
Take a chance, make a change and try out these Cozumel eateries for a true taste of the area:
Located in a hacienda, Casa Mission’s setting exudes as much charm as its owner, Fabiola. Specializing in regional food, Casa Mission’s menu includes a traditional lime soup that’s complimentary with every meal. Don’t be put off by the name—it’s a chicken soup with crisp tortillas and just the right balance of lime. Comfort food at its best.
The Mexican Sampler is a great way to try a variety of regional foods. A bonus diners with dietary issues, this restaurant can accommodate celiac diets. Best of all, if you don’t like the food, you don’t pay for it—the policy was instituted to specifically encourage diners to try unfamiliar dishes without risk. Fabiola has two other restaurants in town, La Mission and Parrilla Mission.
Set in a traditional colonial-style building that opens onto a courtyard, La Kinta features dishes with Yucatecan and Mexican flair. Typical Yucatecan ingredients combine to create distinctive flavors without overwhelming any particular dish. Sauces are king here, and portions are quite generous. The chile relleno with chipotle cream and kinta red sauce (pictured) melts in your mouth.
For fresh eats, you can’t beat the catch of the day that’s served with cilantro rice and tomatillo sauce.
With an ever-changing menu, this dinner-only eatery attracts those craving Mediterranean flavours. Dishes include linguine, tapas, and fish with fennel and white sauce to name a few.
The restaurant boasts indoor dining within the wooden building, canopied dining and an outdoor courtyard. No matter where you choose to sit, you’re guaranteed a relaxing evening of good wine, pasta or risotto and other artfully presented offerings.
Bustling with activity, La Choza serves up a menu full of local style foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I saw the owner of La Kinta dining here, that was enough of a stamp of approval for me.
I enjoyed a menu del dia (the menu of the day), which included chicken soup, relleno negro chicken and jamaica (the hibiscus flower drink). Whatever you do, stop at La Choza for the avocado pie. As odd as it may sound in name, this specialty dessert is simply delicious.
To truly eat like a local in a venue with more locals than expats or tourists, head to the mercado. Several nameless counter style restaurants serve up their specialties, including cochinita pibil (pork marinated in sour orange juice).
Think of this as Cozumel’s version of food-court dining. It’s not fancy, but it’s a great value. Tacos go for about 10 pesos and a three-course fixed meal will set you back about 50 pesos (or $5). Open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Eating your way through Cozumel will be a delicious adventure, but what do you do when your trip is over? You’d best get in touch with Josefina Gonzales Luigi for a primer on local dishes through her cooking school.
For $79, you’ll learn how to make several appetizers, your choice of a main dish such as pollo pibil, sopa de lima or tamales, as well as a dessert. Book cooking classes through Josefina’s website. Once you’ve scheduled a class, you’ll be given the address for Josefina’s home.