A 30-minute drive from Cancun (and about as many years in maturity) is Riviera Maya, a haven for reformed spring breakers who have real jobs now. With its soft white sandy beaches, ultra-private settings, and a chilled-out vibe, Maroma Resort has become a magnet for celebrities, honeymooners, and people who just need to escape their BlackBerries. (Photo courtesy of Colleen Egan)
Built on a 25-acre beachfront portion of a coconut plantation, Maroma was originally the private home of the Jose Luis Moreno, the architect who built the property. Since Orient-Express purchased Maroma, Moreno has designed additions to the now-65-room property, working with the same family of Mayan masons and aligning each white stucco building to astrological settings to ensure proper energy flow.
Heading up the resort’s two restaurants — El Sol and El Restaurante — is Juan Pablo Loza, who joined the resort as executive chef last year after working at top Mexico City establishments like Le Cirque and Ciboulette. Loza describes El Sol’s menu as mixture of Mediterranean and pre-Hispanic Mexican, and his signature dishes feature braised short ribs with tamarind, smoked sweet potato purée, and a lobster enchilada with homemade mole sauce. El Restaurante is open thoughout the day and serves tapas-style small plates like empanadas filled with huitlacoche, sweet corn, and Oaxaca cheese.
Freddy’s Tequila Bar is a beachfront spot that offers more than 120 tequilas, and shots from the priciest bottle go for $350 each. For novices, or those who just want to sound more knowledgeable at happy hour, the resort offers a weekly cooking class and tequila tasting with Chef Loza where you learn the difference (hint: it’s aging time) between blanco, silver, reposado, and anejo tequilas. During the class, Loza demonstrates how to cook some of his favorite dishes, like chicken tinga (below), which he describes as a mix of whatever you have left in the fridge. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/supernova.gdl.mx)
The simple, flavorful dishes might make you wonder aloud why a certain American chain of Mexican fast food restaurants can replicate the recipes. To that, Loza can tell you what he’s learned from experience: Never mock Taco Bell in public — a child of the founder might just be in your cooking class.