Just got back from two weeks in Cozumel. Although we enjoyed a few nights out at some of the more foodie spots on the island, the highlights being Le Chef and Kinta, my preference is for casual places serving local comfort food. Here are my picks:
Breakfast (also open for lunch)
A.R.Salas halfway between Ave. 10 and Ave. 15. It will be on the left hand side of the street if you are walking away from the ocean.
Friendly little restaurant that never seems to get crowded. You will probably be the only tourist. The menu is primarily traditional Mexican, but sometimes the daily specials are Mayan. Some people say that Tonita makes the best guacamole in town. I also enjoy the aguas frescas which are made from fresh fruit. Limited English.
Ave. 5 between Calle 3 and Calle 5
This is a private home that has been converted into a restaurant. There is indoor seating but we preferred to eat at one of the shaded tables set up in the backyard. We sat under a canopy which provided welcome shade on a hot day, and also saved us from a sudden rainstorm.
We ate here twice and both times the food was very good and reasonably priced. Like the other restaurants on my list, the food at Sabores is traditional Mexican with a few regional specialties. Nothing innovative, just fresh food that's well prepared. English spoken.
(I don't know where it is, but all the cab drivers do)
I'm so curious about the origins of this Cozumel institution. How did it get so well known? It's a $4.00 cab ride from the Centro, but all the customers are tourists. The atmosphere is a little hokey, as are some of the patrons, but we enjoyed it. The menu is extensive and lists some dishes I'd never heard of which I suspect may be El Moro creations. I ordered one of the unfamiliar dishes (can't remember the name, unfortunately) which the server described as chicken cooked with chorizo and vegetables in a Mexican sauce. Sadly, "chorizo" turned out to be pieces of hotdog. My meal reminded me of something concocted from leftovers. Not good.
Luckily, my less adventurous companions had chosen to order familiar dishes and their food was excellent. My husband ordered Beef Tampico which is what I'd had for lunch earlier in the day at La Choza, another restaurant that's very popular with tourists. Although I teased him lightly for copying me, it turned out to be a great choice. I'm glad we had both meals in the same day because it really highlighted how much better the food was at El Moro. La Choza's version was flavorful but tough. In contrast, El Moro's meat was tender and perfectly cooked.
I also had a few bites of the Chicken Mole our friend ordered. I'm not a huge mole fan, but this one was amazing. It was very rich, and thicker than the moles I've had before. Truly chocolate-like, but without the undertone of sweetness that usually keeps me away from mole.
Light Dinner or Nighttime Snack:
Calle 7, just up from Avenue 10 (hard to miss, just look for the big sign with three kittens on it)
This place is awesome. As far as we can tell, it's run by two grandmas and their elderly brother, along with various family members, some of whom don't look that happy to be working. Family squabbles occasionally break out, and the service can be quite slow. Like Sabores, Tres Gatitos doubles as the owner's home. But here, the kitchen is located in the carport and the seating is where the front yard should be. The menu is small, and features homemade soup, tortas and some finger foods.
The soup has a chicken base and is obviously made with love. The "Especiale" version includes a little meat. One night the meat was liver. Not being a liver fan, I snuck all the pieces into the bowl of my obliging husband.
The Panuchos are a yummy little snack, sort of a mini chicken tostada on a chewy fried tortilla. There are also Sabores which we liked even better. Same thing as the Panuchos, but served on fried bread, they're greasy and delicious.
For desert there are little dixie cups filled with flan. Tres Gatito's version is more liquid and custard-y than what I'm accustomed to. I'm a fan : )
To those with delicate stomachs: Although I'm prone to stomach ailments, I have never had a problem with any of these restaurants. Even Tres Gatitos with it's rustic kitchen set-up seems quite clean.
Happy Eating : )