The opening last year of Don Chendo’s in Playa Del Carmen was wonderful news for diners. And for chef/owner Russell Granger, it represents a dream fulfilled.
When Russell was a little boy, he always imagined having a restaurant with just ten tables. Last year, as he was putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant, he took a count and realized that there were exactly ten tables in the space. After a long career in the food, beverage and hospitality industries, Don Chendo’s looks, tastes and feels like a homecoming for Russell — and for diners.
The Prodigal Chef Comes Back
A resident of Playa for the last eight years, Russell took off to do some traveling during the 2012 summer. While we cheered him on, we couldn’t help but feel a pang – would this popular New York chef come back to Playa ? Well, the answer for all of us was positive. He came back and after many dinner at Chendo’s, we can report with confidence that it was worth the wait.
Familiar Foods, Highly Crafted Flavors
The kitchen at Don Chendo’s is centered around a brand-new pizza oven, from which he delivers his signature dish: a range of deep-dish pizzas. These pizzas are every bit as tasty and authentic as anything we’ve eaten in Chicago, New York or, for that matter, anywhere else in the United States.
For his pizzas, Russell uses almost every combination of toppings you can imagine, and creates crusts you may not have even thought of. We recently tried a pizza with sausage baked in the crust and one with sausage sprinkled liberally on the top. Both pizzas were delicious and both featured handmade, seasoned Italian sausage, created at Don Chendo’s.
We have also enjoyed his fettuccine Alfredo with steamed, sautéed and sauced Italian vegetables. Not only are his plates beautiful, but the food tasted incredible. We are lucky to enjoy Russell’s famous chocolate brownies for dessert when the mood strikes: these incredibly rich, very moist and fudgy treats are something between candy and cake.
Of course, no restaurateur with an Italian flair could hold his head high without featuring an espresso maker, and Russell doesn’t fail here, either. Perfect espresso with a perfect chocolate brownie… is there anything else?
Warmth Beyond the Kitchen
Don Chendo’s is on 30th near Constitutyentes, about a block north from the DAC grocery store. There is a beautiful outdoor terrace in front, and the décor (inside and out) is very simple and clean. The space is painted in white, black and Coca-Cola red, and the walls are punctuated with lovely black-and-white photography of people from all nationalities and walks of life. Each has a theme of love and caring. This sentiment is everywhere at Don Chendo’s. The moment we walk into the space we feel a warmth that goes well beyond the glow emanating from the kitchen.
Every piece of restaurant equipment is brand new and the kitchen, while compact, is another amazing piece of New York that you don’t often see in Playa.
The tightly-knit Don Chendo’s team has history working together. This is quickly translated: we experience a level of care and comfort for food and atmosphere here that new restaurants can’t typically convey.
Given the quality of the food and service, Don Chendo’s has quickly become popular. Given the size of the space, diners may need to exercise a bit of patience before being seated at one of Russell’s ten tables. We promise you it will be well worth the wait.