Dining in a 10,000 Year Old Cavern in Riviera Maya
One step inside Alux Restaurant and we knew we were in for one memorable night. It was my husband’s and my first trip to Riviera Maya and we were looking for adventure- even in dining. And this place had it all. Ambience, history, romance, mouthwatering cuisine, and yes, even magic.
Located in the heart of Playa del Carmen, Alux (pronounced a-loosh) is popular with locals, ex-patriots and international visitors alike. Highly recommended by a Playa resident as a must-do, he promised the dinner would be a unique and unforgettable experience.
Entering the restaurant’s courtyard was like walking through a tropical Mayan jungle as we followed a cobblestone path lit by twinkling lights. A mysterious descending staircase lined with luminaries descended into a spectacular underworld that took our breath away. Suddenly surrounded by stalagmites, stalactites and other fascinating rock formations, their jagged structures enhanced by a kaleidoscope of colored light, we knew we had chosen well. The view was mesmerizing. Amber colored chandeliers cast a warm glow over the tables and diners spoke in hushed voices as if their echoed voices inside the cave would interfere with another diner’s experience.
We were seated next to a crystal clear cenote, a rare geological freshwater sinkhole formed thousands of years ago when limestone dissolves and the ground gives way creating an underwater reservoir. Sacred to the ancient Mayans, these cenotes were a critical source of water during times of drought and were believed to be entrances to the underworld. The natural watery beauty of this cavern makes you almost believe it’s true.
The restaurant takes its name from the Alux, the legendary sprite-like mythical Mayan entities who are said to appear at night seeking magical places to hide and play. And the places they love to play best are the many Mayan caves found in this region. Our wait staff confirmed many unexplained happenings in the restaurant they could not attribute to anything other than the Alux.
Inspired by Mexico’s colorful ancient history, the restaurant menu offers lavish, tantalizing, yet affordable offerings from both the land and the sea. The wine is served directly from the underground wine cellar and chilled to perfection.
The Alux Salad with spinach, apples, grapes, aged cheese, bacon, almonds, sunflower and amaranth seeds paired with a citrus vinaigrette was the perfect size for sharing. My entrée, the Mayan Sacrifice, was a tender, savory chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and chaya (known as tree spinach in the Yucatan), wrapped in bacon, accompanied by blackberry and mango sauces and served with julienne chive vegetables. My husband’s entrée, cooked to medium-rare perfection was the Rib Eye al Sirah, topped with a pink pepper Sirah wine-infused sauce and served with cilantro and parmesan infused mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. Both dishes exploded with unique flavors but neither was too exotic to intimidate the culinary less sophisticated.
After dinner, we were treated to a meandering tour of the numerous naturally formed eclectically furnished underground vaults of the Alux. The mystical energy and spirit of the ancient Mayans could be felt with every twist and turn. Of special note was the impressively large Mayan Ceremonial Hall- the most recently discovered part of the Alux cavern. Traditional Mayan weddings are performed here. These native nuptials are guided by a shaman and feature extravagant dancers in full Mayan costume.
Thus ended one of the most unusual and unforgettable dining experiences of our lives. As we were leaving, we asked the assistant manager whether he believed in the legendary Alux and their reported magical activities in these underground caves. Smiling, he winked at us as he replied: “Aquellos que no creen en la magica nunca encontrarlo”. “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”.