Several other VT tips recommend this as a good local place off the beaten path - which is how we found it (thanks Dabs). What none of them mention is that this place has the best damn Guacamole in the universe. I am a huge Guac fan, must have tried it in a dozen places in Playa, and this was the best.
Also not to be missed for great local ambience where you can see the food cooked on a grill right in the restaurant. While we were there, a two-piece turned up and started singing Mexican rock tunes, a very welcome change from the Mariachis on 5th Ave.
Great value in a place like this goes without saying. For US$10 you can get more than you can eat, and then wash it down with cold beer at 17 pesos a pop.
I had seen El Fogon recommended several times on Playa del Carmen websites, missed it on our first visit so I made sure we tried it on our 2nd visit (Dec 2004). It's a little off the beaten path and frequented mostly by locals but since the Avenidas (avenues) go in increments of 5, it's only 5 blocks from 5th Avenue where most of the tourists eat.
Favorite Dish: We tried their speciality dish of tacos al pastor, chorizo tacos and queso fundido con chorizo
I found this restaurant thanks to Virtual Tourist (from someone who in turn found it on Virtual Tourist) so clearly I encourage you to spread the word but only to deserving travelers: it's a non touristy authentic restaurant a little off the beaten path (i.e. off 5th Ave but not out in the boonies either). When I went with 3 other New Yorkers, I'm pretty sure we were the only tourists there. The place was crowded, loud and bustling but our waiter was really nice and attentive- and patient while we spoke our broken Spanish. The dining area is one big open room from where you can see both the bar and the flaming, sizzling grill; there was also a delicious smokey smell that made the place feel all the more authentic and mouth-watering.
Favorite Dish: The original review I read touted the guacamole as being the best in the world. As he noted and I'll reiterate, you'll find a lot of DELICIOUS guacamole in and around Playa Del Carmen- no doubt about it. But this place ... mmm. I don't know what makes it different or so good but we ordered seconds. However, what I really want to recommend is the ESPECIAL platter (we got the meat version, there's fish too I think) (beef, chicken, porc, chorizo, melted white cheese, cactus). It was SO good- so juicy- and really plentiful (we got 1 order for 5 people and walked away with pounds of leftovers). The finely diced chorizo must have been sauteed in butter: oh-my-god it was heavenly.
When you are looking for local, go where the locals go. We came here a year ago and could not wait to get back. This is the place to do it cheap.
I HIGHLY recommend the Tacos Al Pastor, at 35 cents each, 50 with cheese, you can eat a ton of them with one of the three great salsas on the table and fill your self up. We also had carne asada which was good and cheap, but it's the al pastor that keeps us coming back. We went twice this year when we needed t get away from the growing crowds on 5th and when our cash was running low for the day. They speak very little english here.
One night we had two orders of guacamole, 8 tacos al pastor, two tacos carne asada, and order of nopales and three margaritas. Our bill was 21 dollars.
For lunch with tacos, a beer, a soda, guacamole it was about 7.50, total.
By the way there is plenty of street parking and the cheapest high speed internet we could find right across the street. One hour, one dollar.
Updated 2007..still as good! Still as cheap!
Favorite Dish: Al Pastor. You can see the guy putting your tacos together. The come with the tiniest slice of grilled pineapple on them, something i've never seen anywhere else. They also serve cactus. Although one night their "nopales" was just a lot of green peppers with some cactus thrown in there.
My favorite "non-touristy" restaurant in playa..away from 5ta ave. but still accessible. Always friendly, vibrant, and very polite staff at your service. Around August this restaurant can be quite hot, but if you can get past that the food is great. Any other time of the year this restaurant is comfortable in temperature and always clean. I'll go back to El Fogon every time I visit Playa del Carmen.
Favorite Dish: Great quesadillas.