Meals and Dining in Cancun
Expect to pay between $3 and $5 US for an all-you-can-eat breakfast, and a dollar more for an all-you-can-eat lunch. There are enough all-you-can-eat places that most days you can get by on two meals: brunch and dinner.
You can have quite a good dinner for $6-8 US. An all-you-can-eat steak or lobster dinner might run $11-15.
Drinks are quite reasonably priced. Even in a trendy club you are unlikely to pay more than $2 US for a beer, and $1 is typical at most restaurants and bars. Bottled water is about $1, and you are pretty safe to go for free "regular" water; even that is purified so there isn't much difference. If you intend to drink a lot of alcohol, a number of places on the left-hand side as you leave the hotel zone offer all-you-can-drink for a fixed price.
The food in bars is reasonably priced in comparison to restaurants.
I found the hotel meals at the Omni not worth it at all. The usual dinner was a buffet for $13-19 dollars, or $9.90 for a breakfast buffet, and with a limited number of vegetarian selections there was not much point. Even many of the salads were unnecessarily non-veg.
For all-you-can-eat buffets, children under 12 may get a 50% discount.
Because so many hotels along the strip are all-inclusive and I did run into the guests-only policy, there wasn't much incentive to try out the restaurants of different hotels. The only hotel that I saw advertising its restaurant to the general public was the Marriott with its "Mikado".
The restaurants listed in the yellow pages are divided according to
type of cuisine, so you can easily find an Italian or French restaurant.
Most of the specialty restaurants like these are located in the area around
and just north of the Plaza Caracol.
"La Dolce Vita" (Italian) is around the middle of the hotel zone.
"Mikado" (Japanese) is inside the Marriott hotel.
For directions to "Roots" (German?), see the next section.
The best option for vegetarian food is "100% Natural", or "Yo Soy Cien Por Ciento Natural" as it is listed in the phone book. Most (not all) of their dishes are vegetarian, and produce is stated to be all organic. Everything is prepared to order so even a salad takes a while. With the bill comes a 10% discount coupon for your next visit. A good filling dinner with dessert and beer will run about 50 pesos.
There are 3 locations:
The vegetarian dishes include various breakfast items, salads, 3 varieties of very nice giant soyaburgers, Italian dishes, Mexican dishes, chop-suey-style vegetable dishes, side orders of rice/beans/potatoes, and desserts. Many dishes come with side plates of spicy tomato salsa, mild green tomato salsa, and whole pickled jalapenos. (Conservation-minded diners might want to decline one or more when placing their order.) One unique ingredient is the nopal cactus used in one of the salads; give it a try. Unfortunately, 2 of their more interesting dishes are marked "not available" at all 3 locations.
The other establishment that advertises for vegetarians is "Vegetarianos", which has a vegetarian grocery "Miralsol" attached. You will see it on the right side as you go up Avenida Coba coming from the hotel zone. I went there at an unfortunate time (still full from lunch, not used to the heat, and lost from getting on the wrong bus) and didn't enjoy the food very much. It is a buffet place with a patio dining area. A lot of ingredients in the dishes were unfamiliar or unidentifiable, and I had a lot of trouble communicating with the Spanish-only staff. I didn't get any good look at the grocery part as I stumbled through it looking for the cash register to pay for the meal.
In the yellow pages under "Vegetarian", along with "100% Natural" is a place called "Roots". It is located a couple of blocks south of Avenida Uxmal, along one of the one-way alleys that circle around the left-hand side of Avenida Tulum. (The name of the alley is "Tulipanes" but there's no visible road sign.) I didn't try it out because it appears to be the same place that advertises its big German sausages. If you do check it out, please let me know if it really does have legitimate vegetarian dishes!
Another unique Mexican ingredient to try is huitlacoche, a corn fungus that is reputed to have many of the same health benefits as miso (for example, to promote intestinal flora). I didn't have a chance to try any while in Mexico.
A number of dishes, particularly salads, came with feta cheese on top when I wasn't expecting it. If you're vegan, make sure to ask for cheese to be omitted.
A good choice for all-you-can-eat breakfasts is "OK Maguey" in the Plaza Caracol. Like 100% Natural, it gives a 10% discount coupon with each bill.
A number of hotel restaurants and places about town had at least one token veg main dish, usually a veggie burger or sandwich. Not the greatest but at least you're unlikely to starve.
On the Tulum/Xel-Ha tour, the Mexican restaurant in Xel-Ha (near the "Snorkel II" hut) had a buffet lunch with a number of selections. Avoid the french fries. I passed on the beans as I don't like to take chances with lard.
On the Xcaret tour, the Mexican restaurant next to the entrance is the only place even passable. It opens at noon. Make sure to sit well away from the cooking area as there is a strong meat smell. The only veg items on the menu are cheese quesadillas and the nopal cactus salad, neither of which are very good. (Not much to the cheese quesadillas; the nopal salad is too big for one person but it's basically nopal and nothing else.) If you have food you can bring with you, bring it to Xcaret.
On the Chichen Itza tour, all the buses stopped for lunch at a nearby place called "Xaybe'h". This was a pleasant surprise with a good selection of buffet items and a dance performance during the meal. I ate half a habanero pepper and got hiccups. If you go not as part of a tour, come before 2:15 or after 3:15; during that period, the place is blocked with tourists. (To avoid the rush, you may find that tours to Chichen Itza are ruthless about leaving right on time.)
The snorkeling tour to Isla Paraiso through AquaWorld offers a buffet lunch that I thought would be OK when I saw the potato salad. Unfortunately, when they ran out and brought in more, the new stuff had ham. So not much there unless you don't mind picking out pieces of ham. Oh well, at least in that case the drinks were free too.
Because of the lard uncertainty factor, I avoided "greasy spoons" and sidewalk vendors selling Mexican food. One item that is usually safe for breakfast is "chilaquiles" but at least one place put chicken in it, so ask before ordering. I avoided refried beans on the assumption that most places would use lard, but at least once I found beans fried with olive oil (at the Casa Maya hotel).
Food at the Airport
See the section on arrivals and departures.