Grand Velas Riviera Maya: A Mexican Culinary Treasure

The Ambassador section with its massive pool

Contributors John and Sandra Nowlan visit Grand Velas Riviera Maya south of Cancun and are wow-ed by the cuisine.

We didn’t expect a fine French restaurant at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive jungle/beach resort. But in most aspects, especially its cuisine, the five-star property along Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, a half hour south of Cancun, lived up to its reputation as one of the most luxurious resorts in Mexico or the Caribbean. 

The expansive 206-acre property includes 539 large, luxurious suites, all at least 1,100 square feet, divided into three sections, each with a massive, clean swimming pool. 

Grand Velas Riviera Maya Suites

A suite at Zen Grand Velas Riviera Maya: All rooms are spacious and well equipped
A suite at Zen Grand Velas Riviera Maya: All rooms are spacious and well equipped

The adult-only Grand Class and the family-friendly Ambassador Suites are in front of an attractive, very walkable white sand beach. Few swimmers were present, mainly because the water was shallow and there were some rocks underfoot. The other section, Zen Grand Suites, is almost a mile inland, carved out of mangrove and Yucatan jungle foliage. 

We always enjoy an ocean view, but after a few days at Zen, we appreciated the high-end, thoughtful amenities in our suite and the quiet jungle environment, surrounded by exotic flora and fauna.

All suites have a personal concierge to look after every need. Zen includes a gourmet Asian restaurant and an excellent buffet, especially for breakfast (including a wonderful selection of fresh fruit and juices).

Wait staff at Zen, ready for the breakfast buffet
Wait staff at Zen, ready for the breakfast buffet
Tropical juices at the Zen buffet in traditional Mexican glassware

Tropical juices at the Zen buffet in traditional Mexican glassware

A very efficient shuttle system—never more than a three-minute wait—takes visitors to the Ambassador and Grand Class buildings, where three of Mexico’s best restaurants are located. The variety of accommodations is well suited to a multigenerational vacation.

Gourmet Dining at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

There are five outstanding restaurants at Grand Velas and we had time to visit four of them.

Cocina de Autor: Creative Cuisine

Sea bass, one of ten small plates at the AAA Five Diamond Cocina de Autor restaurant
Sea bass, one of ten small plates at the AAA Five Diamond Cocina de Autor restaurant

Cocina de Autor was the first all-inclusive resort restaurant in the world to receive a AAA Five Diamond award. It was well deserved if playfulness, creativity, and great taste were the criteria. 

The chefs prepared ten imaginative small and medium-sized plates from local products. The attentive, well-trained staff expertly served the plates, which were accompanied by excellent Mexican and international wines. 

Honeydew shrimp and yogurt at Cocina de Autor at Grand Velas Maya Riviera
Honeydew shrimp and yogurt at Cocina de Autor

Ingredients included spider crab, smoky tuna, honeydew shrimp, striped bass, Mexican bald pork, and bone marrow accompanied by jackfruit, figs, black garlic, kohlrabi, caviar, and yogurt. Two desserts, one with chocolate and sesame seeds and the other with blueberries, mascarpone, and honey, rounded out the almost three-hour extravaganza. It was a memorable experience.

Blueberry with mascarpone and honey dessert
Blueberry with mascarpone and honey dessert

(Editor’s Note: Cocina de Autor was awarded a MICHELIN Star in the first MICHELIN Guide to Mexico)

Piaf: Fine French Cuisine

Elegant dining at Piaf, the resort’s French restaurant
Elegant dining at Piaf, the resort’s French restaurant

Equally memorable the next day was the four-course dinner at the resort’s elegant French restaurant, Piaf (named for the famous Parisian chanteuse Edith Piaf. Decorated in tasteful red and black with Swarovski crystal curtains and a fresh red rose at every table, the menu was traditional French but with extra flair and imagination. 

For instance, the chef’s escargot appetizer included not just snails in garlic butter but tartiflette, Morbier cheese, and watercress purée. The soup course (French onion or lobster bisque) was followed by a choice of five meat, five fish, or four vegetarian entrées.  

Piaf’s unique take on escargot at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Piaf’s unique take on escargot

We chose tender beef short rib with dauphine potatoes, blue cheese sauce, and coffee foam, as well as lamb cooked two ways with stuffed artichokes.

Beef short rib with coffee foam
Beef short rib with coffee foam
Lamb two ways at Piaf
Lamb two ways at Piaf

Desserts included pear in red wine sauce with almond crust and a dark chocolate soufflé with passion fruit sauce. Grand Velas clearly finds top international chef talent for its restaurants.

Pear with almond crust, one of five dessert choices at Piaf
Pear with almond crust, one of five dessert choices at Piaf

Frida: Mexican Cuisine

We expected the Mexican restaurant, Frida, to be outstanding. And it was. 

A surprising beginning for all guests was the small bowls of fried grasshoppers, ants, and red worms. A yukky reaction quickly turned to smiles as most guests found the unusual appetizers crispy and tasty. 

Amuse Bouche at Frida: Bowls of fried grasshoppers, ants, and red worms.
Amuse Bouche at Frida: Bowls of fried grasshoppers, ants, and red worms.

The main courses continued the resort’s commitment to creative cuisine using mole, mezcal vinaigrette, truffles, black recado (spice paste), huitlacoche (a black corn fungus tasting like truffle), and chipotle molasses to enhance grouper, salmon, shrimp, octopus, beef filet, duck confit, and suckling pig entrees. 

Seafood chimichanga at Frida at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Seafood chimichanga at Frida
Sweet huitlacoche taco with black truffles at Frida
Sweet huitlacoche taco with black truffles at Frida

Bespoke Gourmet Experiences

Sampling three unique types of Mexican honey
Sampling three unique types of Mexican honey

The daily schedule at Grand Velas Riviera Maya includes complimentary chocolate, tequila, and mezcal tastings (even pairing the drinks with mole samples) and guided tours of Zen’s jungle habitat, ending with samples of three unique types of Mexican honey. 

We appreciated that all bars and restaurants also have non-alcohol beer and wines available. We love good coffee, especially at breakfast, but found the quality of the java in all restaurants to be mediocre.

Beyond the Cuisine

One of the spa's hydrotherapy pools
One of the spa’s hydrotherapy pools

Many guests come to this Grand Velas resort for its remarkable 90,000-square-foot spa located in the Zen section. Forbes Travel Guide gives it five stars, and Virtuoso calls it “the best in the world.”  

Skin therapies and massages are combined with Mexican holistic rituals to relax and rejuvenate. Guests begin with the water ceremony, which includes a steam room with herbal infusion, an exfoliation room, an ice room, various hot and cold showers, and several hydrotherapy pools before the traditional Mexican treatments begin. 

Sandra chose a signature Bacal (Corn Cob) Massage. In Mayan culture, corn is a sacred plant. The unique experience began with therapist Sebastiana performing a short Mayan ceremony honoring the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water), followed by a dry cornmeal and honey exfoliation to detoxify the skin. Then, a massage with copal oil using hot corn cobs to apply pressure. After the eighty-minute treatment Sandra’s muscles were tingling and she felt very refreshed.

Sebastiana prepares for Sandra’s hot corn cob massage
Sebastiana prepares for Sandra’s hot corn cob massage

Although our stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya lasted just three days, we could easily observe why the resort deserves its stellar international reputation for fine cuisine, unique spa treatments, and outstanding, friendly service.  Next time, we hope to have a chance to dine at Lucca, the Italian-Mediterranean Restaurant. 


Disclosure: The Nowlans were guests of Grand Velas Riviera Maya but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.


All photo credits: John and Sandra Nowlan, except for Pinterest Pin (Grand Velas Resorts).


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