This is all fantastic -- my wife and I are going to Tulum for 9 days this month and I'm glad to see there truly are some great food options. Quick question: anyone ever have stomach/intestinal issues from eating fruit, or drinking fruit juices or agua frescos? Are they generally as a rule made with purified water? Thanks.
Just got back from a week in Tulum and can confirm: best food at the places with the plastic chairs, where the Mexicans eat. The tourist restaurants were awful. I did not like Don Cafetos or Buenos Aires at all. Had a very so-so meal at El Mariachi, although both gringos and Mexicans eat there. They did a weird double-switch where our pariallada only had chicken and beef on it and when we pointed this out they got all faux-embarassed (the chef screwed up!) and gave us free drinks. Regarding the restaurants on the beach, we ate lunch at Posada Margherita and it was fine - and $50. The fresh pasta with seafood was good, but my filet of snapper cooked in seawater and lime (sounds good) was totally lame. Like a meal I'd cook on a really off night at home - no zest at all.
Anyway, best tacos: Taqueria la Poblano at the far end of town on the left hand side. You might have to wait a bit since the guy takes his time turning the tortillas in the oil the meat is cooked in, and everyone in town is coming to eat there. But sit it out - the tacos are terrific.
Best home cookin' (actually a crew from Chiapas), a few doors down at a place called El Taquetto or something like that. It's got "Cocina Economica" on the sign - this is the one on the left side of the street facing south, not the "cocina economica" on the right at the very end of the street. This place is amazing - $10 for a meal for two - and the best meals we had while in Tulum (they just don't have booze, but you can drink up beforehand and afterwards and have a licuado or an agua fresco with dinner - agua fresco=purified water in a blender with fresh fruit). The first time we went we had soup with shrimp and a beef dish that came with frijoles and rice and tortillas. Second time, chicken stewed in a chipotle sauce and pork in a verde sauce. If you don't speak Spanish they take you back to the kitchen and take the lids off the pots and show you what they've got - four or five different dishes every night; no set menu.
Good empanadas around the corner (going left) at the end of Avenida Tulum) at a place that's a little hard to fine, near the square, called Hola Primo. These were some funky empanadas - basically a corn tortilla folded over, but with great hot sauces.
Good tacos al pastor at the Dukes of Hazard place mentioned above. Good tamales at the place one block up from the obelisk on the right hand side (red stand that says tamales on it, but there are always people there, covering up that info).
Also, I tried the organ meat tacos at Diaz Grill (halfway up the main street on the right side) and they were fine. I grew up eating tongue in tomato sauce for dinner, though, so I wasn't as grossed out as some might be. What's really good at Diaz, however, is the dried beef taco.
The bakery on the right side of the street (midway) is good. We got pastries there for breakfast and lunch - the ones with ham and poblano peppers were good. A couple of times went after dinner and got their flan, which was great.
Bought mangoes at the fruit stands and had them with lime and salt. Also bought fruit at the San Francisco supermarket and it was good. Their bakery seemed pretty good, although we dug going to the bakery on the strip.
Didn't make it to Pepe's, which is around the corner from the bakery and, according to a friend of our hotelier, has good seafood. Very local joint, but it wasn't open the times we wanted to go.
Thanks a million to the guy who mentioned the cochinita pibil. That guy (literally right next door to the bus station - it says by "Tino") is only open on Saturday and Sunday (7 a.m. to 2 p.m.), but he's got the stuff (baby pig marinated in achiote/pineapple, etc., wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in the ground). And my hotelier (more on him in a moment) suggested a barbacoa that was cool - you'll have to track it down since I can't say exactly where it is, but if you go to the obelisk (heading south), take a left, go three blocks over and then about three up you'll find it. Just ask around that area and everyone knows what you're talking about. You have to go early on Sunday because he's usually out of food before 10 a.m. because it's considered a good hangover cure. We went at 9:20 in the a.m. and the place was packed. It's a bright yellow building (small, open). Basically you get tacos or tortas with hacked up meat (probably some head meat in there) and sauces, etc. They bake it wrapped in aloe leaves. The place was packed - with Mexicans, of course. And they really dig the fact that you've ditched the tourist beat and joined them for the good eating.
Valladolid - we meant to go to the hotel - the menu looked really good - but ended up going to the food court next door for a "snack" on the way to Chichen Itzeh. The good news is we kind of stumbled upon a bargain: cochinita pibil at a place at the back of the food court called Caianos, which we ended up reading about later. Both the main dish and the lime soup were very good, and very cheap. The plan was to come back and eat at the hotel, but by the time we finished at Chichen Itzeh it was too late. I was really bummed about this because the menu at the hotel looked good.
Aside from these two instances I, too, had problems locating Yucatean food. I tried the poc chuc at this place on the avenue in Tulum (right side, plastic chairs and tables, has a picture menu - bad tip off, but it did have poc chuc and the expats were eating there) but it wasn't great. I think that place is better known for seafood.
Walked by the "Chinese/Mexican" place on the beach (name: Hechizo) and went up and chatted with the proprietor (the "Chinese" - ahem, Asian-American woman) and she seemed cool. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, though, and the menu seemed so familiar to me I didn't really feel like checking out their beef cheeks, veal, or prawns with mango salsa. Particularly when I was eating amazing food for ten bucks.
Playa del Carmen - shrimp tacos at La Floresta, on 307 about halfway through town (right side if you're heading south).
Hotel: we stayed at this place called Jade that was fabulous, in the lowest-key way possible without being someone's house. The proprietor, Juan, designed the whole thing himself and it's this great set up on stilts. Check out their website and what people say about them on TripAdvisor. I'd go back in a heartbeat.
Thanks again for all the info above. I printed out everyone's comments and basically had them memorized by the end of the trip.
just came back from there, so here are a couple more recommendations if anyone can use them.
The literally Dukes of Hazzard-colored orange and white taqueria at the far end of Tulum (the end opposite the obelisk and Playa del Carmen) on the west side of the street has the best tacos al pastor in town. I pretty much ried them all, and these folks totally rule. Also very good sopes al pastor or chicken.
The bakery in the middle of town has very good "budin" or raisin bread pudding, and nice cream cheese puffs that are addictive.
I didn't actually get around to trying the 'every type of cow head and organ meat you can imagine' taco place in the middle of town (again on the west side, with a big bull mascot sign) - but someone definitely needs to.
Charlies, with the glass bottle walls, has very good margaritas, but I didn't try the food - I saw very anglo looking burritos and went elsewhere, it seems to be a very touristy place even among touristy places, but the garden is very nice.
la nave, the italian cafe place, actualy has good coffee.
The chinese/mexican place is actually reliably good for when you want a restaurant and not a cheaper type thing, though it has a strange vibe. It may be the constant Nikelodeon and Cartoon Network going on - it seems to double as a day care center, but that's kind of nice.
but the absolute best thing I found in Tulum was the literal table-in-an-alleyway-entrance of the building just north of the bus station - it's a guy from Merida and his grandma, and they make one mean cochinita pibil. They put it in the ground to roast at night and start serving at 6 am, and usually run out by noon or early afternoon, so if you pass by in the afternoon or night, it looks like nothing's there. But the sign says "rico!" and it ain't lying. Stop by for breakfast or get a couple of tortas or go for it and get a whole plastic bag full of the stuff to take away and eat later. This place rules and the guy is incedibly friendly.
Having just returned from Tulum, I'd like to dedicate an ode to the bus station cochinita pibil lady. I have awesome pictures which I should be able to link to later, but let me stress this: she is open on the weekends, from the early morning until her pibil runs out. They're real and they're spectacular. Since it was our first pibil experience, I thought we would find better in other parts of the Yucatan, but after going to Mercado San Lucas Galvez and Valladolid, the bus station lady trumps every single one. Do not miss her tortas! the single best 15 pesos I've ever spent.
In Tulum, there are two fantastic restaurants. The best is Hechizo. Its down the Boca Paila Road before the gates to Sian Kaan. The restaurant is a husband (chef) and wife (pastry chef) team. They met working at a restaurant (Ritz hotel I think) in Mexico City. He's German and she's Chinese. Super nice and fabulous food. He'll come out and explain all the dishes he has that evening, with wine and tip it was about $100 US (1,000 pesos). I'm from Boston and a comprable meal here would be at least $200+. Reservations recommended. Also, a great meal is at Posada Margherita. Italian and very very good. They are on the Boca Paila Road right in the thick of hotel zone. Zamas is okay but I feel the prices there and also other places onthe beach road are a bit much and the food is usually mediocre. The best Mexican food can be had in the pueblo. Venture off the main drag onto the side streets and go wherever there are lots of locals. You can't go wrong and the price will always be right as well. We love Los Pepes. More touristy but good is Charlies -that's the place with the glass bottle wall. El Mariachi's is good as well as Don Cafetos. For the best shrimp tacos stop at La Floresta in Playa Del Carmen. its on 307 before Benito Juarez BLVD.
in valladolid: el meson de marques on the town square has good food. also the street vendors that sell the flan.
if you go to ek balam there is an eco-hostel place nearby, follow the signs. great vegetarian and vegan food. they make hammocks in this village. very quiet.
good breakfast at the other restaurant on the square: forget the name, but it has a neon sign on top and it is on a corner, also a hotel and has an open front to the street.
ask for una comida may. papadzules is a very delicious dish, made with a pumpkin seed mole.
tulum: take the resort road to the right down the coast heading for the siam kaan reserve. there are many places that look like the food is great, lots of vegetarian places, but the best food we have had is at dos ceibas towards the end of the resorts. they have a great chef and daily specials. this place is awesome.
In the Tulum area, there are a lot of restaurants on the Boca Paila road which strings along the beach from the Mayan ruins down to the entrance to the Sian Ka'an bioreserve. Most of them aren't very good. Unfortunately a lot of places don't do Yucatecan food, they try to cater to European tastes, which they can't do because you just can't get very good produce most of the time. Lots of times your veg will just be thin tongues of carrot and zucchini, and your meat will be a chicken breast in a cream sauce. Urgh. Even the "Mexican" food will most often be substandard; and the more upscale the place, the worse it will be. However, the beach there is so nice you will hardly notice the food.
There are a couple of places on the Boca Paila that are decent: Zamas, which is just south of where the Tulum road in from the highway hits the beach area (turn left to go 4 km to the ruins, though this is not the main entrance; right to go to Zamas and the rest) is fun. Further down is Ana y Jose, the best and priciest of the beach hotels.
In Tulum pueblo (the town, on the main highway) there are a number of pleasant, ramshackle joints. I can't remember the name of my favorite, but it has an unmistakeable wall made of beer bottles. It's a small town, not very attractive. Park and walk around. Again, the Euro food options are mostly very poor -- pizza, italian, etc. all extremely mediocre.
The best food in the area is always, always, always at the taquerias. The crummier the plastic chairs and wobbly tables, the better the food -- and the higher the likelihood of getting Yucatecan food that is actually good. I had poc choc (thin pork in a tangy orange-achiote sauce) at a very fancy place in Playa del Carmen (30 minutes north of Tulum) that was mediocre, and the same thing in a plastic-chair tourist joint at Coba pyramids that was outstanding. But if you can't find Mayan food, you can always find fantastic tacos -- the world's most perfect food!
In Playa del Carmen, eat shrimp tacos at the Oasis. Beware the green sauce -- it's incredibly delicious but literally HUNDREDS OF TIMES hotter than tabasco etc. -- even aficionados of real heat have trouble with more than a couple of tiny drops.
Having just been in Tulum, there are several very good places to eat. Firstly, cool off with a fresh fruit or vegetable "licuado" (sort of like a smoothie) on the main avenue. Excellent mexican food can be found at Don Cafetos. La Nave and Cafe Gaudi are very good as well. Surprisingly good parrilladas and steaks at Buenos Aires - all within a 2 block radius in the pueblo. Early AM you will find in town a little stand of tamales near the bank- the green salsa ones are delicious - Toward the edge of town near the obelisk, try the tortas, and immediately next door, a taco of chile relleno and a good beer (a negra or XX amber).
In Valladolid, especially on Sundays, go to the hotel in the square with a beautiful courtyard - relax and have authentic yucatan dishes.