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Best Cancun Restaurants

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The best Cancun restaurants offer local Yucatecan cuisine and much, much more. The steakhouse, Harry’s, couldn’t be more North American, and one of the best local restaurant chains grew out of an Italian restaurant, Casa Rolandi, which now includes pizza spots and a hotel on Isla Mujeres. Another family-run Cancun institution is La Habichuela, and the more casual Labna next door, operated by the Pezzotti family since the late-1970s. Yucatecan cuisine combines Mayan traditional spices like achiote with Spanish influences, like sour orange juice. Cancun’s specialty, of course, is fresh fish, often prepared parrillada, on wood-fired grills, and fresh salsas. This is a tourist area, so restaurants aren’t exactly cheap, but compared to home, they’re still a steal.

Labna

Neighborhood: El Centro Price: Expensive
Next door to La Habichuela, this restaurant serves what it calls “Mexican Haute Cuisine,” which is just really good traditional Mexican food prepared with a lighter modern touch. Come here for some traditional Yucatecan dishes like cochinita pibil, pork rubbed in achiote and served in a sour orange marinade. They also have queso relleno, one of the weirder Yucatecan dishes--Edam cheese stuffed with ground pork, raisins and almonds. Their sopa de lima (chicken soup with lime and tortilla chips) is wonderful, as are the papadzules, tortillas stuffed with eggs in pumpkin seed sauce.

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Harry's Prime Steakhouse and Raw Bar

Neighborhood: Hotel Zone Price: Expensive
One of Cancun’s more formal and most expensive restaurants, lagoon-side Harry’s dry-ages its USDA prime beef in-house. It also grills its fish on a prarilla, and offers an impressive raw bar. But be warned, this is no locavore menu—lobster comes from Maine, the King Crab from Alaska, the sea bass Chilean. It’s where the big shots come to eat to get a taste of things back home. The best tables are on the terrace, where a delicious start is Kobe beef carpaccio, followed by—why not?—surf n’ turf.

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La Habichuela

Neighborhood: El Centro Price: Expensive
This restaurant opened in 1977 in the former residence of the owner, Armando Pezzotti. The menu tends toward the International--lobster thermidor, fettuccine—with a short list of Mexican specialties, including seafood Veracruzano, characterized by the addition of tomatoes. Our favorite dish here is the famous Cocobichuela, a lobster and shrimp curry served in a coconut and topped by fruit. The best seats are in the romantic garden.

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Thai Lounge

Neighborhood: La Isla, Hotel Zone Price: Moderate
This is an uber-romantic spot for dining lagoon-side, with private palapas on stilts over the water. The atmosphere alone is almost worth it. The fare is very good, too, from tom yum soup to spicy Thai salads, curries and satays. As the evening progresses, it becomes a popular bar, and on weekends there are DJs. One of the best spots in the house is beside the backlit giant aquarium. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to dress up (but doesn’t require it).

El Shrimp Bucket

Neighborhood: Hotel Zone Price: Moderate
This is a completely unpretentious restaurant (with a play area where you can ditch the kids while still keeping an eye on them) that serves super-fresh grilled seafood. The grilled octopus is really, really good, as are (of course) the shrimp. There’s also a good ceviche and fish carpaccio.

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La Destileria

Neighborhood: Hotel Zone Price: Moderate
There are over 150 varieties of tequila available here, and some of them show up in sauces on tasty Mexican dishes. There’s no particular nod to the local (Yucatecan) cuisine, but a kind of general Mexican menu, including moles, chile relleno, enchiladas and quesadillas. The interior decor is meant to resemble a tequila distillery, but the prime tables are outside looking over the lagoon, where a mascot crocodile sometimes puts in an appearance. At night, mariachis stroll through the restaurant.

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La Destileria  

Tacolote

Neighborhood: El Centro Price: Budget
This family-owned taqueria is like the little train that could. The tacos are wonderful, served with homemade salsa and tortillas, plus you can get a steak, or chile rellenos—not just tacos—along with mariachi music. And the price is right.

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100% Natural

Neighborhood: El Centro Price: Budget
Vegetarians and health-food-lovers are often at sea in Mexico, but this chain presents veggie burgers, tacos and sandwiches on whole-grain bread, along with an extensive menu of juices and smoothies. There are also fish and meat tacos, enchiladas and sandwiches, and delicious chilaquiles for breakfast.

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Rolandi's Pizzeria

Neighborhood: El Centro Price: Budget
This is the less-expensive pizza spot from the same family who own the 30-year-old Italian restaurant Casa Rolandi. There comes a time in everyone’s life when nothing but pizza will do, and the pizza here is delicious. It comes in some 20 varieties, including some offerings with huitlacoche, the mushroom-like fungus that grows on corn. Salads are good, and pastas are home-made. You can also order fish and meat prepared in the wood-burning oven.

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Rolandi's Pizzeria  

John Gray's Downtown

Neighborhood: El Centro Price: Budget
The chef-owner, John Gray, has several restaurants on the Riviera Maya, but this is his first in Cancun. Formerly chef at the Ritz-Carlton, Gray’s aim here is to serve fresh local produce (a more radical idea here than you might think) at reasonable prices. He’s known for “the duck,” which is perfectly prepared (pink) duck served with a chile-tequila sauce. Try the crostini with pureed garbanzo beans, chorizo and spinach. The decor is modern, simple, with wood floors.

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