Four on Friday: Cozumel Eats

17 Jun

SINCE this seems to be Cozumel Week on this blog (seriously, Mexico travel and tourism ministry, you think I’m going to get my commission anytime soon?) I am continuing the trend with four great places to eat in Cozumel.

1. Casa Denis: This one tops my list coz it stands the test of time. It was, hand’s down, my best meal during a week of delicious meals in Chichén Itzá, Cozumel and Tulum, and it was my best meal this time around, too. It’s the oldest restaurant on the island (or so they claim) and has old black and white photos displayed on the inside wall. The seating is mainly outdoors; sit on the side of the main square rather than the stuffier back. The servers are jovial, the margaritas huge, and the fresh watermelon juice pure heaven. But the reason you should go there is the food. The fish, like everywhere on the island, is fresh as can be; the preparation, divine. I had red snapper (last time it was grouper) rubbed with lime, garlic, and salt. I can’t think of a simpler seasoning but combined, it made magic in my mouth. I asked our server for the recipe, and this is what he said:

Delicious margarita at Casa Denis

Delicious margarita at Casa Denis

To prepare the garlic, cut it into fine pieces and toss it in olive oil with lime, white wine and jugo de Maggi (Maggi sauce, that you can buy in Cozumel). Once the garlic is ready, marinate the fish with lime, salt, pepper and garlic, and then grill or cook in a pan.

We brought a travel-sized bottle of the Maggie jugo back with us, and I can’t wait to try making the dish myself. But I know it won’t touch what we had at Casa Denis, and I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before we’ll be back there to have the real thing!

132 Calle 1. #987-872-0067

2. Tio José: This little place, which is called “Uncle José” is a humble eatery right by the water, close to the lighthouse. You can get a seat outside on the terrace or on the beach itself. I highly recommend the fish tacos (super simple, with tomatoes and lettuce and pickled onions—oh, those onions! I could write odes to those onions) and the pork tacos and the micheladas—beer mixed with lime, hot sauce, and salt. Best eaten with the sea breeze lightly ruffling your hair. And after you’re done, you can pull on your flippers and snorkel mask and wade into the water, as a number of families were doing when we were there.

One half block east of the intersection of Avenida 65 and Calle 11 on the south side of the street.

Fish tacos at Tio Jose

Fish tacos at Tio Jose

3. Chen Rio: This seaside shack on the eastern side of the island was recommended to us by a local for its excellent seafood. Accessible only through the lone paved road that connects the tourist-stuffed western side—bulging with cruise liners, “flea markets” and high-end jewelery stores—to the calmer, deserted eastern side, Chen Rio was still surprisingly crowded, a testament to how far folks are willing to drive for fresh lobster. If you’re in a group of four, you can get the seafood platter, with fish, shrimp, lobster and conch. Being only two of us, we settled for the shrimp and lobster platter, which was more than enough. There were no fancy sauces or delicate arrangements, just fresh white meat on lettuce and tomato, with a side of fries and four slices of avocado. They provide plenty of salt and wedges of lime; sprinkle liberally and dig in!

The Chen Rio seaside shack

The Chen Rio seaside shack

Our partially devoured lobster and shrimp platter at Chen Rio

Our partially devoured lobster and shrimp platter at Chen Rio

After we were done eating, we queried our waiter about the provenance of the lobster. In answer, he pointed at a fishing boat that was just coming to shore. Off the boat and onto the plates! It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

The other awesome thing about Chen Rio is that, like Tio José, the beach it sits on is perfect for snorkeling or swimming. It’s protected by a ring of rocks that take the ferocity of the waves, leaving the enclosed space gentle and welcoming. To the left is a natural kiddie pool, a high bar of sand that creates a shallow pool, only two or three feet deep, where the tots can splash about in safety.

Costera Este Highway 3.5 miles, north Cozumel 77600.
The back garden at Kinta

The back garden at Kinta

4. Kinta: This is where you want to go for date night in Cozumel. Ask to be seated in the back garden. Artfully placed fronds shield you from your fellow diners; lights shine through stenciled out iguana sculptures clinging to the walls; and the red-and-black color scheme is just plain romantic. They have variations on the standard margarita—hibiscus or jasmine, anyone?—and an innovative, oft-changing menu. It seems to change so often, in fact, that I can’t find the appetizer that I devoured a mere week ago on their website! It was so good that I recommend asking for it by name if it’s not on the current rotation. It’s called the cherry bomb, and it’s four perfectly round balls of fried conch and other stuff that set off fireworks in my mouth. You look at the artful presentation, the mélange of flavors, the bringing together of the familiar and the surprising, and you know that there’s a real chef behind every dish. I won’t recommend other specific dishes, but if you want delicious food in a beautiful setting, you must pay a visit to Kinta.

Av. 5 between Calles 2 and 4, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, 77600. #987-869-0544

5 Responses to “Four on Friday: Cozumel Eats”

  1. Shaunak 17 June 2011 at 1:00 PM #

    Island seafood …………hmm…withdrawal symptoms from our trip to Kaua’i. Love fresh fish!!

  2. Emily 17 June 2011 at 1:51 PM #

    Jayati, reading your descriptions of Cozumel and Mexican coastal cuisine is almost as lovely as being there and eating the delicious food– makes me want to go to Cozumel right now! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Meghana 17 June 2011 at 2:25 PM #

    I am so hungry

  4. Jaya Ramchandani 17 June 2011 at 4:36 PM #

    the fish looks oh my god amazing.

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