What: Attention, BBQ fiends: The Yucatán holds a special treat for you, and it’s called poc chuc. The Mayan name translates to “grill burning embers,” more or less, referring to the traditional way of cooking this marinated pork dish: over fire. Similar to fish prepared tikinxic style, poc chuc calls for a marinade of sour orange juice and achiote paste. It’s likely that this dish came about in Yucatecan villages, where farmers cured the meat in salt water to preserve it (source), then added the acidic flavors to mask the saltiness. (There is also a restaurant called Los Almendros in Ticul, south of Mérida, that claims to have invented poc chuc, but that seems less probable—perhaps they were the first to adapt it to restaurant kitchens.) Traditionally, poc chuc is served with fire-roasted onions, cabbage, and chiltomate (habanero-tomato) salsa, for a simple but perfect union of tangy and fiery, crunchy and tender.
Where: On a busy street near the center of Isla Mujeres, Kash Keken Chuc (998-274-0107; Av. Rueda Medina at Otope, approx. map) is easy to miss if you’re not staying nearby, but any taxi driver should know it. It’s a small corner shop with just a few tables and—more important—a large open grill. Takeout and delivery is popular here. (This makes an excellent meal to bring back to your hotel/apartment, or the beach for a picnic.)
When: Daily, 9pm-5pm. They do run out of meat, so don’t go too late in the day.
Order: One portion of poc chuc goes for 70p and comes with rice, a grilled onion, soupy black beans, a vinegary cabbage slaw, a very hot (habanero-based) sauce, and tortillas. It’s a lot of food for a few bucks—you can also order it in ¼, ½, or 1 kg increments—and it’s absolutely delicious. (Of course, it’s not the prettiest to look at when it’s poured out of to-go containers/bags.) The roughly chopped meat is tender and pleasantly salty, with a nice char on it, and the accoutrements only make it better. A little of everything wrapped it into a warm tortilla? Heaven.
Alternatively: Next time we’re on Isla, we’ll take Holly Eats’ sage advice and track down hole-in-the-wall Tino’s the Rib Man (Av. Medina & Matamoros, approx. map) for its weekend-mornings-only meat fest—another takeout sort of joint. If you’d prefer your poc chuc while sitting down at a cute little café, try El Poc Chuc (Av. Abasolo at Juarez, map) on Isla’s north end—it’s a decent option, if not as good as Kash Keken Chuc. Elsewhere in the Riviera Maya, you might try a great Yucatecan restaurant like Labná (998-892-3056; Margaritas 29, map) in downtown Cancún or El Faisan y El Venado (Carretera Federal at Calle 2 Norte, map), off the highway in Playa del Carmen.