From street stalls serving spicy tacos to beachfront digs dishing out platters of fresh fish, Mexico is world-renowned for its culinary tradition. Mexican cuisine is endlessly creative and the colorful country is brimming with fresh flavors and unique dining experiences.

Three raised structures spaced out on a large table are covered with a blue and white light from an overhead projection.
Food and history combine for a truly special dining experience at La Joya in Cancun © Courtesy of La Joya

La Joya 

Take a seat at The Table inside the La Joya restaurant located in the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun hotel. 

The multi-sensory culinary adventure combines music and narration for a truly unique dining experience. A 16-person table comes alive with images of fiery volcanoes and churning lava, depicting the beginning of civilization on the Yucatán Peninsula.

A narrated, time-lapse video transports diners from the dawn of Mayan civilization to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, then on to a modern and fiercely independent Mexico. 

The menu changes daily, but expect to try items like blue crab stew with guajillo chili, cacao braised short ribs and venison salad with citrus jelly. Each dish throughout the eight courses complements the time period projected on the table. There are vegan and vegetarian options, too.

The Table experience is offered Friday and Saturday evenings. Reservations are required at least 24 hours in advance. Non-hotel guests are welcome to dine at the restaurant.

Related article: Alternative Yucatán adventures away from the crowd 

A large chunk of meat is being roasted on a large spit as a man prepares taco shells on a large grill as another man looks on. There are a group of people eating in the background.
Nothing like munching on tacos in an auto garage © Cassandra Brooklyn / Lonely Planet

El Vilsito

Auto garage by day, late-night taqueria in the evening, El Vilsito is a bucket list stop in Mexico City. For 32 years, this unlikely restaurant has been serving up tacos, gringas (flour tortilla tacos topped with cheese) and alambre (grilled beef with bacon, bell peppers and cheese). 

El Vilsito is most famous for its tacos al pastor, spit-fire roasted pork thinly shaved and topped with a slice of pineapple that’s been machete-chopped off the top of the spit. Be sure to bring cash and don’t expect to find a seat at this busy eatery. The restaurant is open from 8 pm-3 am Monday-Thursday, 8 pm-5 am on Friday and Saturday and from 4 pm-midnight on Sundays.

Related article: Mexico city's best street food

La Gruta

Sometimes even gimmicky, tourist-centered sites are worth visiting. La Gruta, located just 15 minutes on foot from the world-famous pyramids of Teotihuacán, is a dimly-lit dining room for 700 (no, that’s not a typo) that has served celebrities and public figures from Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera to her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. 

Candles illuminate the volcanic cave  in which the restaurant is housed. The food – which features familiar items like tacos and quesadillas – is a bit pricey, but the subterranean ambiance can’t be beat. For something not typically found in Mexican kitchens, try the pit barbecue cooked bajo tierra (underground). 

Traditional folkloric dance performances are held on Saturdays at 3:30 pm and on Sundays at 1:30 pm, 3:30 pm, and 5:30 pm. Reservations are strongly recommended but they may not be accepted during the weekend peak, when the wait can be over an hour.

Exterior shot of La casa de los azulejos and the blue and white tiles that cover much of the building.
The house of tiles certainly lives up to its name © Gogadicta / Getty Images

La Casa de los Azulejos

Only in Mexico can a massive retail/pharmacy/restaurant/department store chain like Sanborn’s find itself on a must-try restaurant list. Tucked inside a stunning 18th-century palace covered in blue and white tiles, La Casa de los Azulejos (literally, the house of tiles) is the most famous Sanborn’s restaurant in the country. 

The menu is surprisingly varied, offering everything from hamburgers and club sandwiches to filet mignon and enchiladas, but honestly, the food is nothing to write home about. Even the coffee is watery – but the remarkable setting makes up for it. 

That's because the interior of the building is as exquisite as the tiled exterior. A covered indoor courtyard and Moorish fountain are surrounded by stunning murals and mosaics that can also be viewed from the upstairs level. 

A series of gondola-like boats glide across the Yucatan Canal at night. All the boats have brightly lit signs at the front of the boat.
To-go meal takes on a whole new meaning in Xochimilco © Courtesy of Xoximilco


Often described as “the Venice of Mexico,”  Xochimilco is an unexpected garden paradise at the southern edge of Mexico City. Visitors (including huge numbers of locals) chose from dozens of trajineras (gondola-like boats), often searching for one decorated with their own name or country’s flag. 

Though sit-down restaurants exist at various boat docks in the region, the most unique – and most fun – way to dine is to order your food from one of the many vendors floating by. 

Quesadillas, tacos, and plenty of tequila and beer are served from small trajineras eager to feed the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors Xochimilco receives. The floating fiesta comes full circle as mariachi bands drift by on their own trajineras, entertaining diners with upbeat party songs and classic love ballads. 

For those visiting the Yucatán peninsula, a less-authentic but still-fun Xoximilco attraction was recently opened near Cancun and can be a good option for those who can’t make it all the way to Mexico City.

The experience includes a tasting menu made up of the most traditional dishes across Mexico – mole, ceviche, and cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork). Each boat is equipped with live music and a storyteller sharing popular Mexican legends.

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