By Jeanine Kitchel
Known for irresistible beaches, a party crowd and happy hour specials, Playa del Carmen also lays claim to its “Little Italy” section north of Avenida Consituyentes on Fifth Avenue. Five thousand Italians live in Playa, and with their arrival came a number of good Italian restaurants. For Italian food in the Riviera Maya, this is the place to go, plus the area itself, even though still Fifth Avenue, is less crowded and a nice place to stroll and windowshop.
Renzo’s Authentic Italian Pizza on Fifth Avenue (at Calle 24) offers pizza by the slice for 10 pesos. This tiny hole in the wall has been serving slices since 1999 when Renzo left Lucca, Italy, to become a Rastaman in Playa del Carmen, and neither the menu nor the amount of customers waiting in line has changed. The place is packed all hours–day or night. A few other Italian eateries dot Fifth Avenue, along with a couple gelatto spots, and several charming boutique hotels are Italian owned. But the real prize is Il Pescatore Ristorante Italiano, specializing in homemade (really!) pastas and fresh seafood. Located one block off Fifth Avenue at Tenth Avenue and Calle 24, Iviana, the ever present chef-owner-hostess especiale greets you, seats you and chats you up with her amazing daily specials. On my first happy accident visit, we had oysters on the half shell, fresh mussels sauteed in an incredible tomato, lime, butter sauce, glorious bruschettas on fresh bread, and the silkiest, smoothest ravioli I’ve ever tasted (spinach and cottage cheese). The house wine was smooth, red or white, and inexpensive by the glass. The wait staff was personable and attentive. The ambiance was Playa chic–quirky, colorful, indoor and outdoor dining, and off the main drag, a real plus.
Having lived in this area for the past 11 years I’ve been constantly disappointed in Playa del Carmen’s restaurant scene as prices skyrocket and real food, fresh fish and ambiance become scarce. Maybe tourists just don’t demand it. But Il Pescatore reaffirmed my faith in local restaurants. I’ll be back — again and again.