Thousands of tourists head to the resort town of Playa del Carmen in Mexico this time of year to relax on the beach, shop and go scuba diving. But food writer Steve Dolinsky says spring breakers are missing a key part of a Playa del Carmen vacation: the food.

“It’s easy to walk outside your condo or your hotel here and stumble into a place that has an OK ceviche or have some OK tacos,” Dolinsky says. “But if you walk just 10 minutes off this main strip you’ll find interesting taco carts, interesting stores.”

Shrimp and Octopus stuffed poblano from Axiote.

Steve Dolinsky

A perfect example is El Pirata, a seafood restaurant that Dolinsky recommends for the shrimp and octopus cocktails. Another is C-Grill, a new restaurant that is a little closer to the more tourist-heavy area.

Pedro Abascal, the executive chef at C-Grill, focuses on finding local sources for his menu, Dolinsky says. Much of the local food on the menu, like the lamb, lobster and octopus, is found within an hour of his kitchen.

Ceviche and Octopus Carpaccio from C-Grill.

Steve Dolinsky

Abascal also looks for local zapote wood to grill his food over, which Dolinsky says is pretty common.

After doing some exploring, Dolinsky says he found La Carniza Cecina Estilo Yecapixtla, a food truck wedged between a Nissan dealership and the highway, and Las Karnitas, where you can find authentic pulled pork carnitas tacos as well as an actual tower of salsas and guacamole that you eat with fried pork skin.

The tower of condiments at Las Karnitas.

Steve Dolinsky

We asked Steve to rustle us up a recipe for Yucatán-style Habanero salsa. Fair warning, it's hot:

-20 fresh habanero chiles
-2 heads of garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
-1 1/4 cups fresh lime juice
-2 teaspoons kosher salt + more to taste

1. Char chiles under broiler or over gas flame until blackened. Place in a bowl; cover with plastic. Let steam for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Toast garlic until tender and skins are charred, about 6-8 minutes. Let cool.
Wearing gloves (important — do not handle with bare hands), peel chiles, discard stems. Peel garlic cloves.

3. Pulse chiles, garlic, lime juice, and 2 tsp. salt in a blender until a coarse purée forms. Season with additional salt to taste.

A previous version of this story misstated that C-Grill had shark on the menu.

From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI