One of my biggest joys in traveling is eating at tiny places off the beaten path. But because we had to play it safe this time, I couldn’t traipse around like I usually do. However, Jason agreed to allow a food-hunting trip as long as it was recommended by someone “in the know.”
So we asked Alexandre, the Air Transat vacation rep assigned to our resort, who has also lived in Playa for the last four years.
“If you want real Mexican food, then definitely do tacos. There’s a little place right here,” Alexandre said, pulling out a map of Playa. “I don’t know what it’s called and it doesn’t look like anything on the outside, but they have the best tacos de maciza.” Perfect.
So we headed off to Playa in a colectivo, under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary.
After the morning wandering around Fifth Avenue (McDonald’s, Subway and Dairy Queen abound), we walked about four blocks north, leaving the tourist strip behind.
We got to the corner of 20th Avenue and Calle 1 Sur and looked for the humblest looking place, easily finding Chicharroneria y Carnitas Teresita.
Bags of fried pork rinds hung from the awning, and a small meat counter stood at the front. A handful of plastic tables and chairs made up the dining area, with a handy sink and flats of Coca-Cola bottles piled in the corner.
The “menu” was signs made of cut-out construction paper taped to the wall, above someone’s bicycle. Most importantly, a steady stream of locals came and went. Perfect.
We sat down and a super friendly waiter with a huge grin came over. We ordered two tacos de maciza each, not knowing what to expect. In fact, we hadn’t even checked what maciza was, but knew from hearing the orders around us that it’s certainly one of the specialties of the house.
Maciza turns out to be very lean shredded pork meat (a mix of pork butt and shoulder), lightly salted with a hint of smokiness to it. The tacos come on small warmed corn tortillas, sprinkled with chopped onions and coriander. I squeeze a lime on top and take a bite. Heaven.
Each taco also comes with a piece of chicharrones (fried pork skin) which adds a delicious (albeit artery-narrowing) crunch.
The waiter brought us three salsas and kindly declared one “muy caliente,” in case us gringos proceeded to slop it all over our tacos without trying it first. The red sauce was indeed very spicy, but a tiny dab here and there was awesome.
Of note, Jason said he thinks his bottle of Coke tasted better in Mexico because they use a “different sugar.” I thought he was nuts, but turns out he’s right!
But after staring at the unfamiliar Spanish words on the wall, and not having a dictionary or iPhone around, it was clearly time for “Chinese pregnant lady pantomime.”
I managed to get them to show me what else was available from the meat counter, including cuerito (braised pork skin) which looked quite gelatinous, buche (fried pork esophagus), and surtida (mixed). We settled on kastacan, which the counter guy gave me a sample of first.
I liked the kastacan mixture of chopped up fried pork skin and roasted pork even better than the maciza, because of the added texture and saltiness from the skin.
At this point, a lady pointed to the TV and asked if we minded if she changed the channel from soccer. We shook our heads, and she determinedly flicked through to find … Grey’s Anatomy, in English with Spanish subtitles.
Jason rolled his eyes. I grinned and polished off my kastacan. Our final bill for six tacos and one Coke was 58 pesos ($5.80 CAN).
Chicharroneria y Carnitas Teresita, 1a Sur s/n Centro entre 20 y 25 Col. Centro, Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Phone 984-803-1931, cell. 984-745-4420.