At the most intriguing place to dine in Playa del Carmen, chef Ramón Lizaola has tapped a time-tested resource—his mother, who handed down methods for preparing impossible-to-pronounce Mayan dishes redolent with achiote, pumpkin seeds, sour orange, and xcatic peppers. Lizaola also spent years researching recipes; a concession to American palates is the lean meat. Waiters in crisp guayaberas serve dishes made with local ingredients, often baked or steamed, such as chile relleno with banana, rather than poblano, peppers. The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom–style surroundings could be distracting, but your cream of xcatic pepper soup should be delicious enough to keep your attention.
Insider Tip: Go on holidays—on Valentine’s Day for a special dinner; on New Year’s for the ritual Fuego Nuevo, or New Fire, dinner; or during Hanal Pixan, the Mayan version of the Day of the Dead, when a shaman comes to bestow blessings.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.