Booked three weeks prior to flying out, I spent New Years 2015 in Tulum, Mexico. The days (and nights) were hectic because of the time of the year it was, but I still managed to get some good Mexican style eats in the mix. The following restaurants are ranked in order of my overall enjoyment of them though really, all were pretty damn impressive.
I loved it here. The quirky and cool jungle-like ambience, the creative (though somewhat sweet) drinks, the inventive and highly flavorful dishes. I’m putting Casa Jaguar at the very top of my list, which is quite a feat considering how impressed I was overall by the chic dining scene in this small but bustling coastal town in Mexico. For some reason the wait for a table was actually the shortest here; in whatever you read, it is often suggested to put your name down at Hartwood and then wander down the street to Casa Jaguar for drinks. I’d scratch that- go to Jaguar for food and drinks, definitely not just the ladder. The scallop crudo was incomprehensibly good, peppered with juices and spices that brought this fish to life in a way I didn’t realize possible. The ceviche was diced with apples, corn nuts, cabbage, onions and topped with sprouts. It was excellent. And the whole fish was smothered with rosemary, olive oil, salt, pepper, potatoes and lemons, making this take on the usually chicken-centric dish work incredibly well. Make sure you get yourself the mashed plantains, too- they’re out of this world.
Posada Margherita truly is just that; a restaurant that essentially feels like a beautiful, warm, rustic and meticulously decorated home, with Italian food at its core. Like so many others in Tulum, the setup is open-air and the turquoise Gulf waters hover at the end of your line of site, making the space even more breathtaking than it already is. Dozens of candles light the sprawling space, making way to white-washed tables, an art-deco kind of garden out back, and a boutique store in the front. An impressive bread and cheese board is every table’s greeting, the rosemary focaccia being a stand out. The menu is intimate, and the pastas are what rule. Posada is a must-do when in Tulum.
If in the future I find myself with the opportunity to stay at Coqui Coqui, I absolutely will. While this time around I did not get the chance to see what any of the seven rooms at this boutique hotel looked like, based on the rest of the design and feel here, I can guarantee that they are immaculate. Walk into Coqui Coqui and you immediately have a feeling of calm, serenity, style and fiercely good taste. I had both breakfast and lunch here (they do not offer dinner), each meal fulfilling the desire for fresh and flavorsome food, with the sand as your floor and the water again as your view. The polpo here was mixed with goat cheese, cabbage, spinach and grape tomatoes, and it was my favorite of the week.
Gitano is awesome. It’s a restaurant, mezcal bar, and a dance floor with a live DJ situation, all in one. Even though you’re in the jungle, the vibe and look of the bar at Gitano is pure New York, in the best possible way. The bar is the centerpiece here, with low lit shelves stocked with bottles and a sexy group of bartenders serving from them. The rest of the space is used for dining and while the food was not the best I had in Tulum, Gitano still made its mark overall.
Dusty cement floors, white plastic chairs, no frills- this roadside joint was totally authentic (it’s outside of the main strip of Tulum, in the less developed town). Founded by local Mexican fisherman, at El Camello is all fish, all the time. Your main choices focus around ceviche, pulpo, and whole fish, all of which can be ordered literally by the boatload, feeding a huge, hungry group without flinching.
El Tabano is cool. It’s literally like a life-sized hut in the middle of the jungle. Floors are dirt, roofs are hatched, food is solid, service is as per usual not fast, but very much friendly. The menu is on two huge hanging blackboards on the left, and while you’re waiting to place your order, the mezcal drinks- specifically the mezcal marguerita- will more than fill your time, and get you pretty riled up for the meal ahead. El Tabano’s specialties seemed to be shrimp, grouper and obviously, ceviche.
Taqueria de Eufemia
This is essentially a taco truck parked in the sand, parked at the base of one of the dozens of
hotels/ecolodges along the Tulum main strip. Funnily enough (or not really at the moment of this taking place) I didn’t actually end up eating here, because the wait was so painfully slow that we had to abandon all food in an effort not to miss our flight out and head to Cancun, to the airport. It was a sad sad thing, cause those tacos looked damn good.
I did not get to, but wanted to try:
Casa Banana (half of our group went before the others arrived, and loved it)
Hartwood – I’ll stop there. The fact that I did not go was painful. It was discussed and/or
attempted each day of our holiday, but without success. Twice we went and got harshly turned
away, which didn’t leave the best impression either. I eventually learned that they only seat people from 6pm-8:30pm and that if you aren’t on the line by around 5:30pm latest, you’ll miss that night. People apparently start lining up at 3pm, too, so if you do wait until say 5:30pm, I’d expect a solid two hour wait at best.
Also of note:
Papaya Playa Project
Ridiculously cool scene. Uber sexy, chill, every good adjective one can think of. Go at night, get involved with the barefoot dance scene on the beach, and enjoy. You won’t find many more places like this in your life.
Yaan Wellness Energy Spa
$25 will get you a 75 minute yoga class, and a majestic experience in a gorgeous setting. Make it happen.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
A few kilometers past the end of the busy part of Carretera Tulum Boca Paila, the road quiets down and opens up to 1.3 million acres of protected area, the largest in Mexican territory. The water is even more blue and clear, the beaches calmer, the scene much quieter. Though we got a few mixed messages on this, eventually we discovered you can in fact head into Sian Ka’an on your own, no organized tour needed. All you need to do is pay 25 pesos, the equivalent of about $1.10, and you’re in for a day of uninterrupted relaxation.
A few additional things you’ll need to know:
All polpo and ceviche, all the time. It’s on every menu, and it’s mostly awesome.
Polpo = Octopus, know that.
Mezcal is the overwhelming drink of choice here. Get on board.
All locales (bars, restaurants, spas) are open-air and/or literally on the beach, which is a pretty amazing characteristic of Tulum.
There is one main “strip” in Tulum, called Carretera Tulum Boca Paila. This road houses all of the hotels, all of the below noted restaurants aside from El Camello, all of the beaches, and most of the nighttime spots, too.
This road is half jungle, half beach (left versus right side of the road).
Carretera Tulum Boca Paila offers absolutely everything one person could ever want (in my
opinion) and is one of the cooler roads in the world (big statement).
There is another long road, which lies perpendicular to this aforementioned one. This road is way more local and has a completely different feel to it, making it a good go to one day to remember that life exists outside of the oasis you’ve become so familiar with. This road has lots of shops (for Mexican blankets, hats, etc) and bodegas (for food you may want to pick up, alcohol, fruit, etc), all of the larger banks and ATMs, and at least a dozen other restaurants that I did not have time to try.
Everything aside from Coqui Coqui (that I went to) is cash only.
Yoga is offered everywhere; usually 2x per day at around 10am and either 4pm or 5pm.
Wait times to be seated at most restaurants were in the 1 hour+ range. The only place we found
that took a reservation was Gitano.
Service is slow in Tulum. Exceptionally so. You’re going to have to make a concerted effort not to let this bother you, or to let it sway your impressions of these otherwise highly impressive restaurants. It’s just part of the package when dining in and vacationing in Tulum.