A few weeks ago I headed down to Mexico for a weekend getaway in Tulum. Immediately going into food discovery mode, I went on the hunt for the town’s most delicious eats. Here are my findings:
Best-Kept Secret: This Amazing Little Hotel Restaurant
In my opinion, this unassuming hotel restaurant is one of Tulum’s hidden gems. My meals at Villa Pescadores were by far and away the best food I had during my trip. I am shocked that this place has yet to be mentioned in any other roundups of the top eats in Tulum because these guys are quietly killing it every night.
Located on the northern end of the main beach road, the VP is in a sleepier, less trendy area of the hotel strip where public beach access points allow guests to mix with locals and witness a fisherman co-operative at work as they launch and store their boats on the beach.
Tulum’s easy-going beach vibe is reflected in the casual elegance of this comfortable, but well-appointed dining room housed in an open-air thatched roof building. I dare you not to feel instantly wooed by the simple beauty of the space. While seated at one of the neatly finished wood tables, you’ll want to kick back in your chair, close your eyes, and listen to the breeze from the beach as it rustles the nearby coconut tree grove and overhead ceiling fans add a relaxing hum. Go ahead and do it – savor the moment – you’re on a damn beach vacation and everything is perfect in the world!
Be sure to gaze over and notice the bar’s beautifully stacked mid-tone wood shelves with gold foil-lined backs and the colorful ceramic water jugs repurposed to serve as plant holders. These little touches hint at the love and care that must have gone into designing this space.
As for the food, it really doesn’t matter which meal you choose to dine at this restaurant because the food is excellent across the board.
Breakfast: Their Huevos Rancheros ($120) will pretty much ruin your experience of all other huevos rancheros for the rest of your life because there’s no way another version of this dish could compare. Made of a corn tortilla, beans, cheese, two fried eggs, onion, coriander, avocado, and a fiery red sauce is so tasty that even when no food remains on the plate you may do as I did and desperately scrape your fork against the cast iron plate over and over in attempt to taken in every last drop. Ugh! I’m dreaming of this right now.
The Huevos Divorciados ($120) is also a crowd pleaser, nearly identical to the Rancheros except for the fact that half of the dish is smothered in the aforementioned amazing red sauce and the other half sits in a pool of equally delicious green sauce.
For something sweet on the side, order a plate of Fresh Fruit (a selection of cantaloupe, mango, papaya, strawberries, kiwi, and apple) with a bowl of Yogurt and Granola, or the fresh Banana Bread which comes with slices of fresh banana and a chocolate dipping sauce.
Dinner: Equally spectacular. My favorite dish was the Pasta with Mushrooms (don’t know the exact price, but less than $200), coated with some wonderfully flavorful olive oil mixed in with some fresh cheese and tomatoes. Such a simple dish, but tasty, comforting, and clearly cooked with care.
Drinks: I don’t often drink alcohol, and that rule extends to vacation. However, fellow teetotalers will be pleased with the non-alcoholic fruit smoothies on the menu. While all are delicious and made-to-order, the best are the Sirena ($100) made of carrot, melon, kiwi, honey, and orange juice and Jugo Verde featuring pineapple, chaya, mint, celery, and orange/grapefruit juice.
Service: Waitstaff is spot on. Friendly, courteous, and accommodating — even to those of us with horrible Spanish skills.
The Reservations-only Spot
For buzz-seekers, a trip to Tulum would not be complete without a meal at Hartwood. Located in the jungle-glam southern section of the beach strip, this open-air establishment is owned by New York City ex-pat chef Eric Werner and wife May Henry have carved out a reputation as being a favorite stop for the food and fashion-world glitterati.
Although the restaurant is infamous for being impossible to book, I emailed a week and a half before our trip and quickly received a confirmation for a table for two during their Sunday night service.
Hartwood is very much the thing you think it is. Its carefully crafted cool-but-casual vibe is reminiscent of what you’ll find in many “not stuffy, but still a little fancy” restaurants in downtown Manhattan, Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, etc. Despite a mainly minimalist color palette of white, black, and stone, the space is cozy and inviting due to the palm trees that gently hover over the dining area.
From the perfectly stacked cornucopia of the day’s fresh produce framed by flowers and candlelight to the color-coordinated chalkboard menus that are lifted and shifted around the dining room as needed when new diners arrive, Hartwood excels at making the most mundane moments of the dining experience and functional elements of the space a thing of beauty.
The menu changes daily, but on this particular night, we tried the Empanadas de Papaya ($165) appetizer, Filete de Mero ($380) – fish entree, Platillo de Pulpo ($365) – octopus entree, and the Betable ($95) – a roasted beet side.
Everything here is cooked by either oven or grill, and the emphasis is on the food itself. Plating is quite simple, and the seasoning and sauces of the mains are quite subtle — making the true flavor of the fresh seafood stand alone. The whole roasted beet had delicious flavor by itself, I actually found the accompanying sauce unnecessary.
Service was excellent, with our server taking the time to describe each dish to us in detail. Dishes came out promptly and properly paced. I do recommend getting a reservation in advance, as the restaurant was fully packed as early as 7pm.
In-Town Joint Where the Locals Eat
If you’ve got a car (or are willing to take a long bike ride), head out of the hotel/resort area and into town to check out the Tulum outpost of Los Aguachiles. I first heard about Los Aguachiles via an article that off-handedly mentioned the restaurant as the place where Eric Werner from Hartwood likes to get takeout.
I instantly loved this place as soon as I saw it: Light streaming in from the transparent roofing gave the entire place a warm glow, as several groups of families happily chatted at simple metal-topped tables while sitting on stackable plastic chairs sporting the Tecate logo. It reminded me of the amazing food, no-frills, no-bullshit style restaurants that are aplenty in NYC, but Denver seems to lack.
Soon after sitting down and ordering from their extensive menu, you will be issued a full artillery of no less than eight unmarked sauces, spices, and oils to experiment with. Not that you’ll really need it, because when the food comes out, it will be so delicious as-is.
The portions are HUGE. The “El Panchonchito” Breaded Fish Fillet ($159.50) is big enough to feed two adults alone. Served on a bed of rice and topped with avocado, sprouts, and a side of a mango sauce, every bite of the perfectly buttery fish will be a moment of elation. Even the side of sautéed veggies is a standout. The homemade lemonade was also the real deal — you could taste the fresh squeezed lemon juice. I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about how perfect this cheap meal was.
Off-the-Beaten Track Gelato Shop
Before you leave town and head back to the beach, take a mini-detour one block off of Avenida Tulum and head to Artehelado, an adorable little shop serving fresh-made gelato.
The store is actually a repurposed shipping container parked in an open lot where you can sit in one of the colorful Acapulco chairs that dot the space as you take on the task of quickly eating your gelato before it melts.
A one scoop cup will only set you back the equivalent of a couple US dollars, which is crazy given the high quality of the gelato. If you get the same guy at the counter that I did, he’ll be very nice and keep feeding you samples of nearly every flavor they have until you decide on one you like. I finally landed on the Guayaba Hibiscus, a refreshing fruity flavor.
Doughnuts with a View
The scenery is breathtaking and lovely. We were seated at a table just inches from the beach. The service is very good, however, don’t expect all of the dishes to make an impression. The Huevos Rancheros ($100) are good, but pretty standard. The Omelette ($105) is … an omelet.
However, one notable exception is the Ricotta Doughnuts ($95) side dish, which also appears on the dessert menu. Wow! Light and fluffy on the inside, prepare these puppies by dunking them into the cacao chocolate dipping sauce and directly pop them into your mouth. I wish all brunch places on Earth offered doughnuts this good for less than $5 USD. I would never have to play the “sweet or savory” breakfast game every again, I could afford to do both!
Have you been to Tulum? What are your picks for best eats on the beach?