The Best Restaurants In Cancun
photo credit: Gavin Higgins
Cancun gets millions of visitors each year. Sure, many go for spring break (and straight to an all-inclusive resort), but this popular party destination on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula has more to discover than your Señor Frog’s hangover threshold. There’s top-notch scuba diving, plenty of guided tours, and day trips to cenotes, nearby islands, and Mayan ruins.
But if all you came to Cancun to do is sit on the beach with a frozen drink in one hand and a taco in the other, we totally feel (and slightly envy) you. Even so, you’re not going to want to eat every single meal at your hotel, no matter how accustomed you’ve become to rubbery scrambled eggs. Here’s where to go for crackly vanilla conchas, ice-cold horchata, fantastic ceviche, and the requisite sceney dinner with a view of the lagoon. And of course, a few restaurants where the waiters balance margaritas on their heads—this is Cancun, after all.
SIT-DOWN RESTAURANTS IN THE HOTEL ZONE
You’ll definitely see at least one person drinking a martini while smoking a cigar at this steakhouse. It’s one of the best special occasion spots in Cancun, so expect to spend around $45 for things like a plate of beets covered in 24k gold, crab ravioli, or tacos with hunks of lobster, mango, chipotle, and tomato sauce. Save space for the pink cotton candy they give you with the check.
Rosa Negra is one of those Cancun restaurants that’s completely, wildly over the top—the menu has A5 kobe beef, turbot from Normandy, and giant plates of crab. Once you cut through the excess, there are solid dishes like the lobster tacos with fresh avocado, habañero-cucumber dressing, and pico de gallo, and any of the ceviches and tiraditos. Since this isn’t going to be a quiet meal, you might as well stick around for the 10pm show with a fireworks grand finale that lights up the lagoon.
Mextreme is a great spot for a fun, lively dinner, but it’s much less swanky than the other restaurants in the Hotel Zone. They’re famous for their green chilaquiles—which we swear can cure a hangover—but you shouldn’t stop there: order the chicken enmoladas with a side of beans, or a fried chimichanga stuffed with carrot, zucchini, and cauliflower. Add a margarita, which will likely come delivered by a waiter who’s balancing the pitcher on their head.
Puerto Madero is the perfect spot for a memorable sit-down dinner. Start with the fresh-baked bread with chimichurri, but don’t take down the whole loaf—you’ll want to save room for the melty eggplant lasagna, caesar salad, and a big plate of skirt steak or grilled octopus. Order a frozen mango margarita and keep an eye out for Pancho, the lagoon’s crocodile who often makes an appearance on their downstairs deck.
Marinero’s has a little something we like to call Big Pirate Boat Energy—there are anchor logos everywhere, and an alarming amount of rope in the rowdy dining room. We’re confident Blackbeard would have enjoyed the seafood-heavy menu and strawberry frozen margaritas (which, as you can probably guess, will also be brought to you on your waiter’s head). Marinero’s is known for its marlin, and we like it in the burrito with fries, or on toast with green salsa.
You’re in Cancun, and you need to have a mariachi experience. Porfirio’s is the best place to do that. Go with a big group and order a spread of enchiladas verdes that come with cheese or chicken, flambé jumbo shrimp, grilled ribeye with mushrooms, and some shrimp tacos. Drink your way around Mexico with the “mexology” cocktail menu, with drinks named after different regions, like the Oaxaca with mezcal, mole, and grasshoppers.
Even if you tell yourself it’ll never happen to you, a sudden and intense craving for pasta just might hit while you’re in Mexico. When it does, get yourself to Nicoletta. Of the handful of Italian restaurants in Cancun, this one’s the best—go for a margherita pizza, the spicy rigatoni, or short rib served with zucchini spaghetti. Try to snag a spot on the second floor to watch the sunset, and pray you put on enough bug spray.
CASUAL HOTEL ZONE SPOTS
Los Chacalacos should be your go-to spot for a quick taco lunch—they offer a ton of options that are all delicious. Get the bistec, chorizo, or vegetarian gringas, and pair them with an ice-cold Corona. They have different locations around Cancun, but if you’re looking for lunch with a view, come to this one in the Hotel Zone. It’s not a bad place to hang out for a bit, but you can also take them back to your hotel room to eat in bed while you watch a few hours of House Hunters.
Cancun Lighthouse is lying to us. Much to our disappointment, it looks nothing like an actual lighthouse. You’ll still get a little maritime vibe given that it’s right on the lagoon, where you can get juicy shrimp and colorful, frosty cocktails with an awesome view. It’s also right next to La Isla mall, so if you’re shopping for souvenirs, recharge with a frozen strawberry daiquiri and a shrimp burger, or a vegetarian burrito and fries. Whatever you order, grab a side of their excellent chipotle dressing—a luxury that you surely can’t get at most real lighthouses.
DOWNTOWN RESTAURANTS & BARS
You won’t find better horchata in Cancun than the stuff at Flor de Lis. This place is ideal for a quiet breakfast or lunch—the service is consistently excellent, and the tacos de rajas poblanas, creamy swiss enchiladas, and green chilaquiles are always satisfying. Make sure to grab some cornbread or a vanilla concha on your way out.
La Casa de Los Abuelos means “the grandparents’ house,” but this spot sort of feels a bit more like a Mexican diner with vintage photos and art on the walls. Head here for a breakfast or lunch of flautas, sopes, and quesadillas before you hit the beach. Get a gordita (or three), and explore the bakery menu of churros, cornbread, and tartlets.
The first thing you’ll see when you walk into Icaza is the big, beautiful patio with a pool, and that’s exactly where you want to be. Swing by for a quick breakfast and order a mimosa and the green pozole or the enfrijoladas. If you want to linger a while, tackle the hotcake tower that’s stacked ten-high and topped with bacon, chocolate chips, and bananas.
At some point in your trip, you’re desperately going to need something green. When that happens, grab a juice or smoothie from La Organica. They also do a great vegan chickpea and carrot burger and have plenty of other vegetable-heavy dishes for your eight-year-old who’s dabbling in veganism. The airy dining room makes it a nice spot for an easy breakfast or a light lunch.
Some days, you wake up and say, “I want a steak.” Others, it’s “I need a calzone.” And for the days when it's both, go to Marakame. Their ribeye calzone has a light, crispy puff pastry that’s the perfect vehicle for the medium-rare cuts of beef, and they also have solid margaritas, guacamole, and pizza. We recommend reserving a table for dinner after 7pm when they usually have live music, but they also do an excellent buffet brunch with omelets and breakfast tacos.
Give yourself a moment of peace before the rest of your family flies in by having a lazy breakfast on the plant-filled patio at El Huerto del Edén. They even have their own waterfall that just might distract you from the fact that in a few hours, you'll have to see your cousin April, who doesn't vote. We like it best earlier in the day, when you can order greek eggs or an almond muffin, but they do a solid lunch of wraps, soups, salads, and pastas, too.