One can’t live on tamales alone, you also needs tacos, empanadas, and orange juice. No fear, the carts on Benito Juarez have that as well. In the mornings, Benito Juarez between 5th Avenue and the beach is lined with carts ready to serve hungry tourists and locals who work in the area. It’s a wonderful little spot, where a very good breakfast can be had for just a few dollars.
David’s favorite from the carts, as was one of mine, were the chile relleno tacos (MXN $10 / USD $0.75 each) from the fried cart on the north side of the street. The green peppers stuffed with white cheese and dipped in egg weren’t freshly fried upon order, but were still quite satisfying.
Warm from the griddle, the cheese was still melty, and topped with yellow rice and pico de gallo, it made for an awesome two to three bites.
The cart also sells shrimp and fish tacos (MXN $10 / USD $0.75 each; fish taco pictured above), but the peppers hold up better pre-fried. Since nothing is fried on the spot, everything ends up soggy, except the chile relleno taco which maintains some texture because of the pepper. The shrimp and fish, however, have nothing to save them. If you really want seafood, the shrimp is better than the fish.
Another favorite was the empanada cart on the south side of the street right off 5th Avenue where the dough is pressed in a tortilla press, filled with either chicken, beef, or cheese, and deep-fried immediately upon order.
I ordered one chicken and one cheese empanada (MXN $7 / USD $0.52 each). Pickled red onions, chopped cabbage, and salsa was provided on the side.
Both empanadas were light on the filling, but both were also wonderfully crunchy. I would have also tried the beef while I was there, but sadly, on each subsequent visit, the cart had sold out of empanadas. Get there early if you want empanadas. They sell out by 11 am.
Get there early if you also want fresh squeezed orange juice. The same cart has a juicer whirling away all morning. And it’s a good thing, the acid helps cut the greasiness of the empanadas. (Which means you can eat even more empanadas!) One cup was MXN $15 (USD $1.12). There’s a juice cart on 5th Avenue that only sells juice for a little bit more, but I liked the juice here better. The juice was much sweeter.
If you fail on getting your hands on an empanada, on the weekends and on the same side as the empanada cart, there’s a cart selling goat tacos (MXN $10 / USD $0.75 each). Goat can be a little too lean sometimes, but the meat in these tacos were juicy with just enough gaminess.
If goat is not your thing and prefer white chicken meat (I’m only judging you a little bit), there’s another cart that sells chicken tacos (MXN $15 / USD $1.14 each) piled high with shredded white meat and pickled onions. Unfortunately, although filling, I found them a little bland and dry.
I like my chicken dark, and you won’t get darker than the pollo en relleno negro tacos (MXN $10 / USD $0.75 each) on the north side of the street. A Yucatecan specialty, pollo en relleno negro is stewed chicken in roasted black chili paste and eggs. The meat was more flavorful and also juicier. (The cart is there weekdays and weekends.)
The same cart also has cochinita pibil tacos (MXN $10 / USD $0.75 each) where the meat is hand-shredded from a very impressive chunk of achiote-stained pork. (If you have a hankering for bread, you can also order the cochinita in torta/sandwich form.)
The meat was nice and tender, but flavor-wise, it needed a little something…
Conveniently, there was a little something nearby in the form of incendiary salsa.
On Fridays and the weekends, however, skip this cart and head straight to the cart next door where the pork tacos are far superior. At this cart, not only does the kind lady fill your taco with moist shredded pork, she also spoons gloriously fragrant pork grease over the meat. If that isn’t enough, on top she places a beautiful piece of chicharron so crunchy, an audible crack is heard as she breaks it off a giant slab of deep-fried pork skin. It’s all the decadent parts of the pig in one taco: skin, fat, and meat. Deliriously delicious, it had me licking my grease covered fingers when I was done. Without a doubt, this was the best bite of the entire trip. One chicharron taco was MXN $10 (USD $0.75).
There’s a little bit of everything for everyone on Benito Juarez. The only rule, go early. I’m not a morning person, but some things are worth waking up early for.
Benito Juarez Carts
Benito Juarez (b/n 5th Ave and the beach, next to the white church)
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico