Learn How To Make The Best Italian Food – Taverna Akumal, The Inside Story

Taverna has the best Italian food in the Riviera Maya, located in the small coastal town of Akumal. But how did one of the best Italian food restaurants become established in this quaint little beach town? Not only do we give you the inside story behind Taverna Akumal but we also share some of the Chef’s recipes. So you can make the best Italian food at home.

Where Is The Best Italian Food In The Riviera Maya

Without a doubt the best Italian food in the Riviera Maya is at Taverna Akumal.  Already noted as one of the top 10 Riviera Maya restaurants.  Taverna is in Akumal, a small beachside town about halfway between Playa Del Carmen to the north and Tulum to the South. About 10-15 mins from Playa and Tulum. But while Akumal may be much smaller than either Playa or Tulum, it boasts the best Italian food at Taverna.

Taverna Akumal is tucked away just off the beach in a large upstairs outdoor palapa. Allowing you to enjoy the spectacular food and service. And the great year-round outdoor climate. If you are driving to Taverna Akumal head towards the beach. As you go through the famous arch in Akumal, it is on your left. But drive a few yards more to find parking on the left for a modest fee.

The History of Taverna Akumal

The history of Taverna Akumal dates back to 2014. At that time, Alberto Lombardi, a frequent visitor to Akumal had several restaurants in Texas, Georgia and Nevada. Having been a successful restauranteur born in northern Italy, he decided he had a pet project of his own. To bring the best Italian food, a comforting family atmosphere, and great service to the sleepy town of Akumal.

But the first challenge was to find a great chef trained in creating fabulous authentic Italian food. And then someone to help manage and create the restaurant with him. Luckily, in March 2015, Alberto met Chef Leo Leonetti and his fiancé Ale Ruiz.

Chef Leo Leonetti and Ale Ruiz

Chef Leo’s culinary journey began early on in Puglia, southern Italy. By the age of 15, Leo was already working weekends in a restaurant in his hometown while he was at culinary school. At age 16 he moved for the summer away from his family to a small town to gain further experience working in restaurants. Every summer for several years Leo would leave his family home and make the trek north to Riccione. To hone his cooking skills.

As his experience and skills as a chef grew, Leo wanted to learn even more. So he moved to England where he spent periods of time over  3 years working in exclusive restaurants in London and Bath. In Bath, Leo worked with celebrity chef, restauranteur, and TV personality Jamie Oliver. At his famous restaurant Jamie's Italian.

Continuing his culinary adventure to expand his horizons as a chef, Leo then spent time working in many Italian restaurants. Including in Seville, Spain, where he was head chef at the Italian restaurant, Al Solito Posto. And being in charge of the Italian restaurant aboard Princess Cruise Lines. And this is where fate led him to Taverna Akumal.

While working aboard Princess Cruise lines, Leo met a young, attractive Mexican chica, called Ale. Originally from Mexico City Ale was a hostess. One thing led to another and their romance blossomed. Deciding that they wanted to move on again Leo and Ale this time headed for the Riviera Maya, Mexico. It was then, during a chance meeting with Alberto Lombardi, that Taverna Akumal began to come to life.

A Labour of Love

In early 2015 Alberto, Leo and Ale began work on creating Taverna Akumal. This trio formed a formidable combination. Alberto had decades of experience as a restauranteur. Leo bought his finely honed experience as an authentic Italian chef. And Ale bought her organizational and management skills to the project. Many days and nights were spent designing the restaurant, down to the smallest of small details. There were shopping expeditions across Mexico to find exactly the right furniture and décor. For example, the tables and chairs were hand-made by an artisan from Coba, while several of the furnishings are from Merida.

Over several months the restaurant began to take shape. But then there was the menu to plan and agree upon. At this point Chef Renato De Pirro, corporate Chef of Alberto Lombardi’s restaurants in the United States also joined the team. While Leo grew up in southern Italy, Renato was from central Italy and Alberto was from northern Italy. This resulted in the best Italian food created from a perfect union of flavors and recipes from across Italy.

Finally, after many months of hard work, Taverna Akumal opened in September, 2015

The Secrets to Success

Since that first opening night in September, Taverna Akumal was an instant success. And has continued to grow and evolve. Consistently producing the best Italian food and a host of memorable evenings for its many guests. 

Over five years since it started, how does Taverna Akumal continue to consistently produce the best Italian food? And the remarkable welcoming family experience for its guests? The secrets to Taverna’s consistent success are in the small details. And the dedicated attention and hard work from all its staff. 

The first secret is that everything is homemade at the restaurant and made from scratch. You won’t find any premade pasta, sauces, or other ingredients here. Everything is made on-site from scratch. Something that you will see in the recipes you can download to make at home.

A second secret of Taverna Akumal's success is the ingredients used to make the many dishes on the menu. For example, Ale drives many hours if necessary to get perfect, fresh ingredients. Only the freshest of produce will do. Including that grown by Taverna Akumal themselves. Yet to ensure the authentic Italian flavor, some things can only come directly from Italy. For example, olive oil. A crucial ingredient in any world-class Italian restaurant, it is imported from Tuscany. As well the tomatoes and cold meats are also imported straight from Italy. It is this balance, using fresh local produce and authentic ingredients from Italy, that ensures the consistent flavor of the food.

Another secret of Taverna Akumal’s success is the atmosphere. When entering it feels like returning to your hometown's favorite restaurant. Where you receive a warm greeting, not from restaurant staff, but from caring friends. Every effort is made to understand each guest's preferences. Whether it is where they like to sit, or the drink they like to start with. Or the dessert they always end with. The small details matter here.

Elda, front of house manager, prides herself on creating the perfect atmosphere for her guests. And explains that the mantra at Taverna Akumal is great food, great wine, great service. And that they strive for customers to experience authentic Italian food in a welcoming environment. Where guests feel like they are part of the family. Where they can eat, drink, and enjoy life.

And this service extends to special requests that guests might have. Or want a special dish, not on the menu? No problemo. Ale has been know to drive for hours to secure ingredients for a special customer request for dinner the following day.

Taverna Akumal’s Menu

Taverna Akumal has a wonderful menu of classic Italian dishes with something for everyone.


You definitely can’t go wrong with the Bruschetta. Classic flavors from Italy abound with basil, garlic, and tomato. Combined with authentic Italian olive oil on crusty baked bread. Or you could go with the traditional Caprese salad. The Tuscan olive oil drizzled over fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato, and arugula. Along with a pinch of Caribbean sea salt.

Another Italian favorite is the Fritto Misto. Shrimp, calamari, and vegetables served with a spicy tomato sauce. But if you want something a little out of the ordinary then you have to try the avocado fries. This is where a little bit of Italy meets North America. Slices of breaded avocado deep-fried and served with a lemon-cilantro aioli dipping sauce. They are the perfect match with a glass of the local Akumal beer.


A classic touch that Alberto Lombardi and Chef Leo insisted on was a traditional wood-burning brick oven. Also used for making the fabulous focaccia. But the main use of the wood-burning brick oven is to cook the traditional pizzas served here.

Here the best Italian food is combined with local and North American favorites. The classic Margarita pizza and Salsiccia are much-loved. The Salsiccia is Italian sausage. And is combined with bell pepper, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and homemade tomato sauce. All fired on the wonderful pizza dough from the wood-burning oven. Other Italian classics include the Salamino (Italian salami and goat cheese). And the Bianca (prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, and parmesan cheese).

The best Italian food pizzas are complemented by 2 North American style pizzas. The Akumal is a spicy Mexican pizza with habanero and chorizo. But with a touch of Caribbean sweetness inspired by adding mango. The California pizza is an homage to the US state featuring chicken, avocado, feta, and cilantro.

If you are a pizza lover, you definitely can’t go wrong at Taverna Akumal. Classic flavors, homemade sauces, and dough. All expertly cooked in a wood-burning brick oven.


What is the secret of making a good risotto? There are a few secrets, but one of them is the type of rice you need to use. Most people think you should use arborio rice, but that’s not the case. The rice to use to make the best Italian food and risotto is Carnaroli.

Carnaroli is Italian medium-grained rice grown in northern Italy. And is used for making risotto. Instead of the more common Arborio rice. Due to its higher starch content and firmer texture Carnaroli keeps its shape better. An important facet during slow cooking is required for making risotto. Carnaroli rice is one small, but important, detail helping to make the best Italian food in the Riviera Maya.

Taverna Akumal has 3 risotto recipes always on the menu. Besides other specials they sometimes on offer. Risotto al Parmigiano con Salsa Tartufata is a wonderful combination of Parmesan cheese and truffle oil. Which creates an extraordinary flavor.

The Risotto ai Frutti di Mare is one of the most popular dishes. Featuring a saffron-flavored risotto with seasonal fresh seafood. And finally, the Risotto Gamberi e Asparagi uses one of Jamie Oliver’s secrets for making great risotto. Before adding the stock Jamie Oliver's trick is to heat the risotto rice, then add vermouth. To enrich the rice add an extra depth of flavor to the risotto. Then when the kitchen is smelling of exotic vermouth, he starts adding the stock. Chef Leo has perfected this recipe further and adds prosecco wine instead. Providing a unique, but traditional depth of flavor to one of the best Italian food dishes.

Pasta Fatta A Mano

There are 6 superb pasta dishes to choose from at Taverna Akumal. Not counting the periodic specials they may add to the menu. These include an authentic Bolognese. Or a vegetarian option. A rustic lasagne with spinach pasta. A ricotta and spinach stuffed ravioli, and wonderful eggplant parmesan. Like the Risotto ai Frutti di Mare is an equally popular Fettucine Frutti di Mare with fresh seasonal seafood. And there is delicate Tagliolini Gamberi e Zucchine. Tagliolini with garlic shrimp, white wine, and fresh zucchini.

But what makes Taverna Akumal produce the best Italian food in the Riviera Maya and beyond? Using the best fresh ingredients such as local seafood, and homegrown produce is one reason. But they also painstakingly make all their pasta and sauces from scratch. Every day.

Making pasta daily may seem like an arduous task. But it is one of the details that results in the consistent, high-quality food served here every day. And making your own pasta now is no longer an impossible dream. Chef Leo shows in the video opposite how easy you can do it.


Located next to the sea, you would expect there to be some great fish and seafood dishes. And that is exactly what you get. All are produced in the wood-burning brick oven to add an extra depth of flavor to each dish. Whether the catch of the day, grilled whole or filleted, or the shrimp and calamari brochettes it is the freshest fish and seafood. One advantage of being so near the ocean. Other specialties include fish piccata grilled in a lemon caper sauce. And lobster grilled with potatoes and fresh vegetables.

And if you can’t decide which one to have, consider the grilled seafood platter. Consisting of shrimp and calamari brochettes, fresh lobster, and the catch of the day. But you will need a friend to help you with this dish!


To round out the main courses there are three exquisite dishes. The Filetto di Manzo is two grilled beef tenderloin medallions. Served with roasted potatoes, asparagus, and cilantro chimichurri. And there are two fabulous chicken dishes as well. Pollo alla Parmigiana and Paillard di Pollo. Or chicken parmesan with spaghetti al pomodoro. And a delicately grilled chicken breast with fresh asparagus and roasted potatoes.


So, if you don't have room for dessert then you need to rest awhile before leaving. Seriously. Order a coffee, let the belt out a little and relax. Taverna Akumal has a small selection of desserts. But they are all incredible and some of the best Italian food I have eaten anywhere.

The Gelato and Sorbet of course are homemade and provide a delightful end to a spectacular meal. That is if you can’t eat anything more. Otherwise, you have a problem because there are three outstanding desserts to choose from Tiramisu, Crème Brulee, and Tortino al Cioccolato.

The Tiramisu is traditional with expertly prepared espresso dipped ladyfingers with a mascarpone mousse. I love Tiramisu, and this definitely doesn’t disappoint. But the crème brulee is equally magnificent. A simple, classically executed crème brulee from a technically expert Chef. And then there is the Tortino al Cioccolato. The description of chocolate cake doesn’t do this justice in the slightest. The light, fluffy texture of the chocolate cake subtly explodes in your mouth with the warm, melted chocolate center. Topped with homemade vanilla gelato.

Wine and Cocktails

Any great meal and occasion is often enhanced by an elegant wine or a perfect accompanying cocktail. The detailed approach to the food and hospitality at Taverna Akumal also applies to the extensive bar. And the accompanying wine selections. If you're not sure what cocktail to start your evening off with, do not worry. The staff here have some splendid suggestions for you. Similarly, if you are not sure what wine to indulge in. While with this wine list you can’t go wrong, you might want to get some inside info. My personal favorite recently was an award-winning Mexican wine. Monte Xanic Calixa Blend. A cabernet, merlot, tempranillo blend that was superb. One I wouldn’t have tried if it wasn't for the recommendation of the waiter.

Want to Learn How to Make the Best Italian Food?

Well, if like me, you’re not only content to eat the best Italian food while you are at Taverna Akumal then you’re in luck. We cannot recreate the wonderful ambiance and setting. Or the care and attention you receive at the restaurant. But now you can create some of their magnificent food at home.

Chef Leo has prepared a 3-course menu recipe card collection for you to try at home. Starting with a dry and subtly aromatic cocktail,  a Falcone 1986 - a twist on the classic Negroni. Then make in a few easy steps the perfect Italian antipasti. Garlic, basil, and tomato bruschetta on crusty ciabatta bread.

Follow that up by making your own homemade pasta from Chef Leo’s recipe. As well as the recipe card, you can use the video to help you along too. Then learn how to make a classic pesto sauce that originated in Genoa, the capital city of the Liguria region in northwestern Italy. It is a magnificent traditional sauce that is creamy and rich, with a rustic, earthy flavor. And it pairs well with a cool glass of Pinot Grigio.

Then to top that off Chef Leo gives you his closely held secret recipe for his favorite after-dinner indulgence: Tiramisu. You can now create the rich, dark, and elegant flavors of Italy’s most popular dessert.

Learn How To Make The Best Italian Food – Taverna Akumal, The Inside Story

So now you know the inside story behind why one of the best Italian food restaurants is in the small, quaint, beach town of Akumal. And you have every incentive to visit on your next trip to the Riviera Maya. But not only that, you have some of Chef Leo’s secret recipes, so you can create the best Italian food at home too.

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