Having traveled to Cozumel three times in the last ten years, I’ve had the lucky chance to delve a bit off the cruise passenger path of touristy trinkets and cheap taco stands. If you make the effort to explore a bit, this small isle has a lot to offer even the most discriminating diner.
#5 El Moro—75 Bis Norte
This family run eatery serves up exceptional, albeit no-frills Mexican cuisine. They roast their pork, beef and chicken onsite and you’ll be able to smell the quality before you are even in the door. Locals flock here for the fresh grilled fish with garlic and lime (catch of the day), chicken mole and cheese enchiladas. Three generations of the owner’s family greet, cook and serve and they’ll make you feel right at home.
#4 Del Sur—5 Avenue Norte
If you have never tried a traditional Argentinean empanada, look no further than Del Sur. Every combination of meat, cheese and veggie stuffing is offered up at this family friendly café. Half-moon fried pastry crusts house popular fillings like beef with spices, cheese with tomato and basil; and bacon with plum. They mix their own tangy salsas to accompany the savory pockets and there are even dessert options (apples and Manchego cheese is a local favorite). The dining hall feel and high ceilings make for an atmosphere the whole family will enjoy.
#3 La Cocay—8 Avenue Norte
If you are in Cozumel for a special occasion, check out this upscale spot. Twinkling ambiance and a sophisticated Mediterranean focused menu are an ideal respite from the boisterous taco joints of downtown. Try the polenta tapas with goat cheese mousse and caramelized onion and follow up with the signature Caprese Cocay, a salad of layered mozzarella cheese, avocados and tomato pesto. There are many fresh pasta dishes on the menu, but in local fashion you’ll also have many succulent roasted meats to choose from, all dressed to the nines in homemade side dishes.
#2 Pescaderia San Carlos—50 Bis Avenue Sur
You’ll have to hunt for this take away stand, but the search will be worth it! There is no fresher seafood to be found in the city. The ceviche bursts with fresh cilantro, citrus and shrimp and the fish tacos are sought after by locals and visitors alike. Opt for the whole fried grouper if you want to impress the crowd- its flaky white meat will melt in your mouth. At least a small command of the Spanish language will be very helpful at Carlos’, as most of the staff practice limited English. This is a true best kept secret in a town full of casual dining opportunities.
#1 Kinta—5 Avenue Norte
The touted best of the best in Cozumel, Kinta is a modern and refined establishment. The garden seating is the highlight here, with contemporary furnishings and charming strung lantern lights. Definitely opt for reservations, as Kinta is popular on the weekends for events, business meetings and special occasions. Serving upscale Mexican cuisine, it’s known for the savory black bean soup with avocado, vegetable ratatouille stuffed chile rellenos and smoked meats. You won’t find a more artfully crafted cocktail in town (freshly squeezed lime juice flows freely), and the wine list is impressive.
Whether you are looking for fine dining or down home, authentic Mexican cooking, you’ll find it in Cozumel. The surprisingly diverse restaurant scene will tickle even the most discerning traveler’s palate.
Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Maine, but she loves to soak up the rays of Mexico and the Caribbean. She recommends you check out Excellent Hotels for your hotel in Miami as you travel south to your sun soaked destinations.