Side of surprise at Cancun resort's Le Chique restaurant

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The dining room at Le Chique restaurant at the Azul Beach Resort Riviera Cancun by Karisma.
The dining room at Le Chique restaurant at the Azul Beach Resort Riviera Cancun by Karisma.

It started with a simple bowl of cherries. But a single bite into the ruby-red fruit was a quick indication that nothing at Le Chique restaurant was going to be as it seems. My mouth was filled with a burst of frothy margarita, which was hidden inside the faux fruit. The welcome dinner shot was just the beginning of what was going to be a dining experience full of surprises.

Let's start with the location of the restaurant itself, tucked unassumingly inside the Azul Beach Resort Riviera Cancun by Karisma. The resort itself is perfectly lovely, with spacious rooms, an adults-only section, spa, fitness center and a stretch of beach. And with rates starting at $164 per person, per night, it's more than reasonable. Still, it's quite a surprise to learn that one of the restaurants on the property is among the highest rated not only in Mexico but beyond.

Le Chique is an experimental-style restaurant known for avant-garde Mexican cuisine. They like to turn heads at this restaurant, and they have turned quite a few of them. For several years, the restaurant has been named one of Latin America's top eateries on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, which is sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. In 2019, the restaurant rose two spots to No. 32, which was a victory for chef Jonatan Gomez Luna.

The dining experience itself is playful and surprising, from the margarita cherries and succulent pork belly tacos to the beef slices that appear from smoke-filled domes -- all with a focus on regional ingredients. The menu is designed to play with your mind and senses. What appears to be isn't as is: cocktails hide in artificial fruit, and entrees look like desserts. Every detail is meant to bring a little gasp of surprise with each course and each bite.

A wine pairing is a separate charge, and guests can choose from a variety of different levels. We splurged for the penultimate tier, which at $90 per person serves some of Mexico's very best wine labels, along with an aperitif of Veuve Clicquot. Wine pairings are curated by Karisma Hotels & Resorts' head sommelier, Petrus Coenders.

Dinner starts at $110 per person for guests of the Azul Beach Resort and at $150 per person for nonguests.

The other restaurants at the resort, which are included in the nightly rate, are Tapaz for Spanish cuisine, Zavaz for Caribbean, Zocalo serving Mexican and Siena for Italian fare. Though the resort says that reservations are not required, I recommend making them as each restaurant was fully booked each night.

The rest of the resort recently completed a $7.7 million renovation, with upgrades to all 200 guestrooms and suites, including the honeymoon suites. Upgrades include new smart TVs, new terrace and balcony furniture and a new concierge and pool/beach butler service. Fun themed nights have been added, as well, like the weekly pool parties with bubbly and bites sponsored by Moet & Chandon. There are also casino nights, bonfire beach parties, "Jersey Boys" performances and more.

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