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Mexico may have more of a reputation for hot nights and tequila shots, but their hidden secret is the huge selection of food you can get anywhere in the country. Because Mexico’s not as commercialized as other countries, the focus on fresh, home-cooked food is still a big emphasis, which means you’ll get an amazing dish no matter which city you’re visiting. To help you plan your trip, here are some of the top restaurants and food stands you really need to go out of your way to eat at.

1. Puerto Madero (Cancun)

If there’s one American dish you’ll be craving in Mexico, it’s a juicy steak grilled just the way you like it. Puerto Madero is one of the finest steakhouses around, never mind in Cancun, and you’ll get top-notch service to match. For an extra level of atmosphere and romance, reserve a table on the terrace to feel the warm Mexican breeze as you dig into your steak.

2. Julia Mia (Cancun)

To really get a sense of authentic Mexican food and ambience, head down to Julia Mia, a new restaurant in Cancun located close to Costco and OXXO. Try the Camaron Piojo for an appetizer, getting your appetite ready for main dishes like the Tacos de la Esquina al Vapor or the Pollo con Mole. If you’re in town on a Friday night, then Julia Mia is a must-see, as you’ll enjoy live Mariachis with your cuisine.

3. Maro’s Shrimp House (Cabo San Lucas)

Seafood is a tricky dish to get right, but the chefs at Maro’s Shrimp House never got that memo. They specialize in a low-key, exciting atmosphere that only enhances the menu, with great dishes like the Bulldogs, steak and lobster dinner, and varieties of shrimp just begging to be tasted. Hop down to Cabo San Lucas and enjoy free valet parking, with incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff inside.

4. Burrito Surf, Burrito Shop 1895 (Cabo San Lucas)

Sometimes, the only thing that’ll hit the spot is a huge helping of food that’s spilling out of its wrapper, and Cabo San Lucas’s Burrito Shop provides that in spades. The atmosphere is so friendly and inviting, there’s a good chance the owner will sit down and talk to you about the menu, which includes guacamole as an appetizer. For about what you’d pay at McDonald’s here, you can stuff yourself on a huge variety of burritos, made with more ingredients than you could ever imagine.

5. La Palapa Belga (Cancun)

Is there anything nicer than being able to enjoy a mouth-watering meal while watching the sun set on a lagoon? At Cancun’s La Palapa Belga, it’s an everyday reality. It’s the kind of restaurant tourists don’t usually know about, so you can sit back and enjoy an elegant atmosphere while you tuck into French and Belgium gourmet dishes. It’s popular among the locals, but the service is definitely world class.

6. Kabul Afghan Cuisine (San Carlos)

One of Mexican chefs’ hidden secrets is being able to recreate dishes from around the world with all the authenticity of a homegrown cook, and this San Carlos hotspot tops the list. You’ve never tried an amazing lamb kebab until you’ve come here, as the chefs focus on making the details as excellent as possible. They’ve also been taking tips from their clientele in improving their wine list, and a hearty meal here won’t even come close to breaking the bank.

7. Chaka (Playa del Carmen)

When you return from your trip in Playa del Carmen, make sure one of your memories is a trip to Chakka, one of the Riviera Maya’s best-kept secrets. You’ll be digging into your meal with the jungle surrounding you, adding a level of ambience you can’t get anywhere else. Try the venison chalupas or beef tongue tacos for a truly good experience, although you really can’t go wrong ordering anything off the menu.

8. The Red Cabbage Café (Puerto Vallarta)

Instead of sticking to the tourist drag in Puerto Vallarta, step off the beaten path and discover this hideaway’s menu of traditional Mexican cooking. Closed Sundays, you can enjoy dishes like peanut soup and chilies en nogada every other day of the week. And for a bit of trivia, tell your family and friends The Red Cabbage Café’s menu has been designed on the food served at Frida Kahlo and Deigo Rivera’s wedding.

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