I’ve just arrived at Hotel Xcaret Arte, and Franco Maddalozzo is showing me something few guests ever get to see: the gastronomic director of the Hoteles Xcaret is taking me on a tour of the massive system of tunnels and roads connecting the resort’s nine restaurants. Every few minutes a golf cart passes by on the way to or from one of the kitchens or storage areas, the smiling employee at the wheel stopping for a second to greet Maddalozzo. Signs on the concrete walls point out directions and distances (it’s gotta be easy to get lost down here, I’m guessing), and colorful murals painted by staff members depict the masked athletes of lucha libre, the sport of Mexican wrestling that dates back to 1863.
But as cool as this behind-the-scenes, back door tour may be, it’s nothing compared to the magic that happens at the front-of-the-house. Let’s face it: at some all-inclusive resorts, food is merely a necessary stop in between the endless rounds of margaritas. At others it takes on more of a focus, yet still gets overshadowed by shiny things like the sprawling poolscape, wide stretch of umbrella-dotted beach, spa treatments, and post-dinner entertainment.
For tropical-bound guests who want to do more than soak up some fun in the sun though, Hotel Xcaret Arte is a place to eat and drink well.
The 900-suite property opened its doors in July of 2021, the second location in the hotel group. (Its sister resort, Hotel Xcaret Mexico, is located right next door.) The follow-up act touts nine dining experiences, inspired and overseen by some of Mexico’s top chefs who are pioneering and furthering their respective areas of culinary expertise—and garnering accolades in the process, including Michelin stars. Around 300 employees work in all the kitchens, Maddalozzo tells me, and the entire food and beverage staff almost tops 700.
Maddalozzo and I convene in Kibi Kibi, the Yucatan-Lebanese fusion concept under the care of chef Roberto Solis, a founder of New Yucatecan Cuisine who runs Nectar in his native Mérida. Unless you are familiar with Mexico’s regional history, this restaurant appears at first to be a fusing of two seemingly disparate cuisines. But Maddalozzo points out that after Lebanese immigrants moved to Mérida in the Yucatan in the late 1800s to commercialize their textiles, they assimilated into Mexican culture and also incorporated their own take on the local dishes.
One example is the namesake kibi; similar to a mini empanada, it’s made by frying a mixture of meat, bulgur wheat and vegetables like cabbage and onion, then serving it on a tortilla. (Astute epicureans will note the similarity to Lebanese kibbeh in both form and ingredients.) Surprises like this that combine cultures and ingredients in both traditional and new ways, are part of the fun of dining at Arte.
But since the average stay here is five nights, you’ll need to figure out a dining strategy. And hey, if that includes booking multiple lunches or indulging in a late-night fourth meal, no judgment. Keep in mind that reservations are recommended for the à la carte restaurants, as only a limited number of tables are reserved for walk-ins. Two of the included restaurants (Encanta and Chino Poblano) offer tasting menus, which by their very nature tend to be longer, drawn-out affairs.
While these menus can be fun for fans of molecular gastronomy or avant-garde technique, they can also be a bit esoteric or precious for those put off by overly described plates or garnishes arranged with tweezers. No matter which camp you fall into, it might be better to select just one; my vote is for Encanta, where more of the dishes hit the mark. Guests seeking the property’s most elevated dining evening can book a table at Xaak, which is not included in your stay but available as an add-on.
No matter where you choose to eat, here is some intel about the dining options I experienced, including the menu concept, design and must-try dishes:
Concept: Yucatan-Lebanon fusion from chef Roberto Solis, creator of New Yucatecan Cuisine and founder of Nectar restaurant in his native Mérida. (Note that this restaurant is reserved exclusively for guests of Casa de los Artistas.)
Design/Vibe: The main dining room is reminiscent of a brightly-lit souk, with trifora arches, terracotta tiles, and nods to Lebanese immigrants’ textile culture like dangling oversized silk tassels, tapestries and wicker woven light fixtures.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: Start with all the spreads slathered onto warm pitas. Silky labneh is topped with black recado, a Mayan spice blend made with ancho chiles; their take on hummus blends in pumpkin puree, topped with crunchy salted pepitas; and eggplant dip is rich and smoky. Grilled octopus is tossed with Arabian pepper vinaigrette and served atop refried tortillas called panucho, while rack of lamb is coated in za’atar seasoning.
Definitely save room for the best rice pudding I’ve ever tried, served in three textures: traditional creamy pudding, an airy sweet cinnamon-tinged foam and a rice paper tuile.
Concept: Contemporary Japanese including sushi and teppanyaki, overseen by chef Luis Arzapalo.
Design/Vibe: Lively communal tables helmed by hibachi chefs are the perfect place for dinner and a show. Golden wood paneling, banquettes, and chairs lend an air of warmth, and vintage Japanese bird cages hanging from the ceiling give the room a bit of whimsy.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: Usually relegated to a snack to kill time while waiting for your sushi, the edamame here are ridiculously good, charred and tossed in citrus and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese seven-spice blend. Miso shiro soup is an explosion of umami, poured tableside over steamed fish, shiitake mushrooms, fried tofu, bok choy, and green onion. Salmon, hamachi, and bluefin tuna sashimi is super fresh and served with yuzu dipping sauce, and black cod with shiitake and seaweed salad is glazed not only in the traditional miso but also mezcal.
The dessert bonsai tree will be the most talked-about and Instagrammable thing you order all vacation. It arrives on a platter cut from the cross section of a tree trunk, with a chocolate tree, green tea-soaked sponge cake “leaves” and hard-shell chocolate-covered “rocks.” So fun.
Mercado de San Juan
Concept: Regional Mexican cuisine curated by Juan Licerio, executive chef of Hotel Xcaret Arte.
Design/Vibe: The most beautiful buffet restaurant ever will make you think you are in the middle of a Mexican street fair no matter where your table is located. Streamered pinatas hang from the ceiling, tons of upended vases, pottery, and wicker baskets serve as light fixtures, and strings of papel picado—colorful paper sheets with cut-out details in different patterns—are strewn about.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: You can’t go wrong any time of the day at Mercado de San Juan, but if you are craving a truly authentic Mexican breakfast, head there in the morning. You’ll find a made-to-order quesadilla station, a chef pulling apart tender lechon to be stuffed into tortillas and topped with pico de gallo and guacamole, the fixings for MYO Micheladas, an entire area of Mexican pastries like conchas, sopapillas and pan dulce, and both rojo and verde versions of chilaquiles, the breakfast version of nachos topped with crumbled queso, red onions, and cilantro.
Pro tip: after loading up your plate with chilaquiles, carry it over to the omelet station, ask for two eggs fried over-medium, and plate them on top.
Concept: Comfort food with local ingredients by hotel executive chef Orlando Trejo.
Design/Vibe: Rhapsody in Blue, beachside. This is one of those places that looks gorgeous from every angle, and you just can’t soak it in enough—or take too many photos. Cobalt-colored corded knot balls hang at different lengths throughout the space, joined by hanging blue chairs whose swaying is more easily navigable while sipping cocktails rather than trying to enjoy a meal. Stylish sofas are scattered throughout, and a massive lit display case of hand-blown bowls in shades of azul, orange, and peridot lines the back wall.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: Sweet shrimp cocktail ceviche arrives with shaved radish, red onion, avocado and microgreens, and the kitchen’s take on elotes is coated with coffee mayonnaise, chili powder and fresh cheese. Chunks of fish are coated, flash fried and served with cabbage salad to tuck into tacos, and coconut creme brûlée gets a splash of coconut milk and a garnish of fresh mango and coconut chips.
Concept: The cuisines of Puebla and China are melded by chef Jonatán Gómez Luna of Le Chique in Riviera Maya, who’s known for a technique that combines a traditional and avant-garde approach.
Design/Vibe: A huge communal table with high-back Ming chairs runs the length of the restaurant and is situated underneath a half-pipe curved ceiling decorated with blue and white talavera tiles. But the most mesmerizing part of the room is the display case filled with animated maneki-neko, the Japanese waving cats dating back to the seventeenth century, believed to bring good luck.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: The tasting menu often gets updated; no matter what’s offered, presentation is a big deal here. The lychee margarita is a spherified, one-bite version; a wooden box slides open to reveal decadent foie gras with walnut praline; and suckling pig bao bun with mole almendrado is presented in a terra cotta pig (obviously).
The restaurant’s signature Pekin duck arrives in a ceramic bird and is a choose-your-own-adventure situation, with corn tortillas and Chinese crepes, along with plum sauce and mole poblano. For dessert, tangy yuzu pie is deconstructed into meringues, crust crumbles, custard, and ice cream.
Concept: Mexican cuisine with global influences from Barcelona to the Caribbean, from Michelin-starred chef Paco Méndez of restaurant Hoja Santa in Barcelona.
Design/Vibe: An ode to music, starting with wooden shelving units at the entrance that house turntables, stacks of records, and vintage radios. A huge monitor behind the u-shaped bar shows footage of Mexico’s rich cultural heritage over an authentic soundtrack, strolling musicians serenade diners with a glass bottle xylophone, and some tables overlook the live entertainment and fountain shows at the adjacent theater.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: The prix-fixe menu is ever-changing and meant to be a surprise for guests. Recent items include a deconstructed Caesar salad on a tostada, seared ribeye topped with avocado crema, and a marshmallow “worm” perched on an agave plant accompanied by a tasting of mezcal.
Here are the rest of the dining experiences at Hotel Xcaret Arte:
Concept: Mediterranean Mexican Cuisine by chef Franco Maddalozzo, gastronomy director at Hoteles Xcaret.
Design/Vibe: Tropical wood accents and nods to the sea including hanging fish sculptures.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: Shrimp with guajillo chili, roasted artichokes, porcini ravioli, pozole, grilled fish baked in a mayonnaise and chili adobo marinade, and tarte tatin.
Concept: Oaxaca cantina from chef Alejandro Ruiz, known for promoting Oaxacan cuisine around the world.
Design/Vibe: A bar-in-the-round is situated underneath a high ceiling and tall column of bottles of agave spirits.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: Insects tostada with grasshoppers, chicatana ants, and agave grubs; pork carnitas with salsas; ribeye tacos with wild vegetables; and banana with mezcal caramel and vanilla ice cream.
Concept: The four-handed experience by chefs Alejandro Ruiz and Roberto Solis focuses on regional food with pre-Hispanic influences and is also inspired by Mexico’s female chefs throughout the generations.
Design/Vibe: Floral-painted Mexican pottery is set on inlaid wall shelves, tropical fish dart around an aquarium set into another wall, and diners are treated to views of the turquoise waters of a beach cove.
Can’t-Miss Dishes: Dining at Xaak is not part of the all-inclusive experience and costs $120 per person, not inclusive of beverage pairings. The eight-course prix-fixe menu was recently updated, with every member of the resort’s culinary team creating a dish. Maddalozzo’s contribution, simply titled “Vanilla, Chocolate, Coffee,” starts with ravioli made with coffee-infused dough, stuffed with beef oxtail and vanilla essence, and served with mole poblano.
Offered and included at all the restaurants are around 12 wines by the glass. Most hail from Mexico, Spain or Latin America, like a crisp Spanish Verdejo, or a Chardonnay or red blend from Mexico’s Valle de Ensenada, letting you sip locally. Other offerings from around the world are available by the glass or bottle for an extra change from a list curated by Mexican sommelier Sandra Fernandez.
Speaking of imbibing, spirits at Hotel Xcaret Arte are call brands and top shelf; look for the premium Tequila portfolio of Casa Dragones, and if you are a gin fan, ask your bartender for local Armónico, which nicely straddles between a London Dry and modern floral style and makes a killer G&T (especially when ordered from the swim-up bar on a hot day.)
Many restaurants offer a welcome cocktail, which can be enjoyed with or without alcohol. And El Deseo is a speakeasy-type lounge. There isn’t a sign, so either ask to be pointed in the right direction and follow the crowds or look for the telltale taco stand parked outside the entrance. (Remind yourself to make a pitstop there on the way out for a late-night snack because the tacos and fixings bar make for a perfect way to end the evening.)
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
As you might guess from the name, Hotel Xcaret Arte is influenced by local and regional artists and artisans; guests stay in a “Casa” that’s inspired by a type of art, from weaving, painting, and pottery to music and dance and literature. Clever touches in the rooms, check-in lobby, and public spaces of each Casa reflect the art for which it’s named, from wooden button doorknobs and oversized paintbrushes arranged in a giant jar to vibrant tapestries, cobalt blue and white talavera tiles and painted vihuela, the small guitar favored by Mariachi groups.
No design element has been spared including every inch of the stone flooring and walls, which was hand-hewn during the property’s construction.
The attention to detail is incredible and the overall effect is stunning—and worth an hour or two of meandering exploration during your stay. Each Casa has its own rooftop pool, bar, and lounge areas, and a few also have food service. (Casa de los Artistas is the most exclusive, as it includes access to the other Casas as well as Kibi Kibi restaurant.) Casa Guests can also partake in salsa dancing, textile weaving, throwing pottery, and more during the hands-on workshops offered.
All are fun diversions, if you can find the time between daydreaming about your last meal, savoring your current one, or planning where to go next, that is.
Hotel Xcaret Arte is located about a 45-minute drive from the Cancun airport. The All-Fun Inclusive concept here includes not only food and beverage, but unlimited access all their parks in Cancun and Riviera Maya: Xcaret, Xel-Há, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xenses, Xoximilco, Xavage, and Xenotes. Transportation airport-hotel-airport and hotel-parks-hotel is also included.