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May 6, 2008 08:02 AM

Best Resturant in Tulum

Tulum has it's share of good restaurants but most are mediocre tourist traps. A traveler we met during our week in Tulum suggested we try El Tabano, one of the few restaurants on the jungle side of the peninsula.

My wife & I are people who like to try many different restaurants while traveling but this one was so good, we went four times.

The cuisine is mostly traditional Mexican but not the kind we gringos are accustomed to. Jalapenos stuffed with minced chicken, raisins & nuts is not a dish we'd find in the Mexican Restaurants in the US but husband/wife owners Laura & Paf insist the recipe comes from the local kitchens. The food is very fresh, and the menu changes almost daily.

The menu offerings are so enticing and well-prepared, that you can't help but return. (they serve breakfast, lunch & dinner - good coffee too).

Despite not being on the sea, the outdoor setting is magnificent - sit either under the thatched roof or completely unsheltered and gaze at the moon & stars while you dine.

We live in New York City where we eat world class food all the time. El Tabano offers the same world-class fare at a fraction of NYC prices (and the service is much friendlier too). Yes! World Class Cuisine. Amazing!!!

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  1. Good job finding a good representative eatery... often restaurant choices in Mexico's tourist corridors are a reflection of the economic stratification in the country.... only the wealthy or foreigners bring in their life savings have the money to build attractive, prime location restaurants... usually they lack soul & a personal touch (I have relatives who are these types of restarateurs so I know for a fact.... its just an investment property... if the tourist are willing to pay top dollar for location & convenience... and the food doesn't have to be stellar why put much effort into it? I have a distant couisin who owns 5 restaurants in San Juan de los Lagos... he only visits them... they basically manage themselves... and yeah the employees might pocket the money they overcharge clueless tourists.. and they may take food home etc.,... but its such a profitable & easy business that who cares?)

    That is why you have to have a good Chowdar in touristy Mexico to be able to spot gems like El Tabano or realize that the food stands are the best deal in town.

    And yes... the stuffed Jalapenos with chicken, raisins & nuts & dozens of similar variations... is a typical homecooked dish in that part of Mexico.

    1. We felt the same way. We ate dinner there, and went back for breakfast the next day, then dinner again. We had the red chicken more than twice. Even a simple green salad was special there, somehow. Oftentimes there was quite a long wait, but the environment is so relaxing (whimsical playlist of 40's swing/blues, feet in the sand, sun or stars above) that it really wasn't a problem. The waiters and cooks seem like a big happy family-there's love in the air, and in the food. This is my favorite restaurant in the world.

      7 Replies
      1. re: magentayumyum

        Okay - it's been driving me mad!

        We are going to an AI in Tulum for 5 nights only, but we want to go off resort one night to celebrate our anniversary.
        I keep looking for a lovely place - perhaps on the beach - with amazing food.

        I keep bypassing El Tabano because not only is it not on the beach - but the pictures of the food on TA - just don't look appetizing. Nothing is calling my name. Even the food descriptions don't call me.

        BUT then I keep seeing RAVES about this place.

        so what gives?

        Why is the food so good?
        and is it really a special place - atmospherically?

        Am I as a chow, making a huge mistake by not considering it?

        Please - I want to find a great place - Is El Tabano really it??

        1. re: NellyNel

          Never been, but I can report on a great restaurant I tried outside of Tulum - though it's expensive ... plan on spending 60-75 bucks a person.

          Hechizo is run by a couple who used to be chefs at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore and left to start their own restaurant on the beach. They only have around 12 tables and only seat three tables per hour, so getting reservations is a must. They are also only open from December - May or June, I believe. Nice life.

          Here's a review of the restaurant from Food and Wine magazine:

          "We were looking for a place called Hechizo (Spanish for enchantment), which we had heard was sensational. Finding the restaurant turned out to be a bit of a task. It was dark when we got going, since Hechizo does not begin serving till sunset. The already humble road became a rutted dirt path. Every half-mile we ran over a handmade speed bump in the form of thick cords of manila rope laid down by the locals. The road got funkier—more like a washboard—and darker. Had we passed the restaurant? We were looking for the private road into Rancho San Eric, a small community of private-estate houses right on the beach. We were driving truly off the grid, into a part of town with no electricity, where everyone who wants light owns a generator or makes use of solar or wind power. Finally, we found the road, parked in sand and followed a path lit by bulbs in conch shells. We couldn't see a sign for the restaurant. By the time we reached the dining room and saw the welcoming lights (inventively made of bulbs in candy jars and old glass buoys), it was clear that Hechizo is the sort of place that achieves its magic not through scads of money but purely through the ingenuity of its creators: chef Stefan Schober, 30, and his wife, Ying-Hui (known as Hui), the pastry chef, 29.

          Stefan, born to Austrian parents, was raised in Mexico City. While still in his teens, he went to Salzburg to study cooking. He eventually wound up in Singapore, at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia, where he worked with Hui. After they were married, they moved to Tulúm, where Stefan's parents live. With his parents' help, the Schobers designed and built nearly every part of the restaurant themselves, from the glowing bar (lit by lamps made from glass buoys that Stefan and his mother found on the beach after a hurricane), to the irregular wooden beams that hold up the roof. They opened on Christmas Eve 2003.

          There is no menu; instead, Stefan comes to each of the nine handmade tables, kneels on the floor and tells his customers what he's cooking that night. He offers up some signature dishes, such as a watermelon and mild Mexican goat cheese salad. Stefan makes a lighter version of the classic Mexican pork and hominy soup, posole, using fish stock and lobster; shredded lettuce and sliced radishes cut through the heat of the habanero chiles, as do the hominy and soothing strips of tortilla. He tops another dish, prawns seared in olive oil, with a brilliant pepper sauce made of demi-glace, soy sauce, black pepper and butter. ("An idea Stefan stole from a Singapore dressing for crab," says Hui.) For dessert, we were floored by Hui's pineapple soup—white discs of fruit in a cool coriander broth. Watching Stefan, the lone chef, and the quality of his intense concentration as he chops, spices and fries in his open kitchen is almost like observing something private; you think you should look away.

          There's a beautiful sense of isolation to Hechizo that permeates everything. Each day, Hui makes her desserts early in the morning while Stefan leaves at 6 a.m. to drive to Playa del Carmen or Cancún to buy his fish—up to a four-hour round-trip. He comes back and gets to work in the kitchen while she sets the tables. If a curious beachcomber should look in, Hui goes out to tell him or her about the restaurant, to spread the word. The night we were there, one couple had come from Miami to celebrate their 30th anniversary. At another table, a couple was dining there for the fourth night in a row. And though we were flying home the next afternoon, we knew that one day we would be coming back as well. This is the kind of restaurant where, at the end of the meal, you can't bear to think it will be the last time."

            1. re: coloradowanderer

              I second Cetli. We had a fabulous meal there. It's owned by a woman named Claudia -- who (according to my travel guide) trained in Mexico City. She does a little of everything -- she greeted us, told us about the menu, checked on us when our food was served, and then brought us homemade Mexican candies for dessert. The restaurant is in a small house in town (perhaps her house?) -- not beachside, but beautiful and romantic nonetheless. We enjoyed chicken stuffed with chaya in a peanut mole sauce and the house specialy- Chiles en Nogado, poblano chiles stuffed with ground beef, raisins, onion, garlic, and covered with a creamy sauce and pomegranate seeds. Everything was fabulous, but the peanut mole sauce really blew us away. We didn't have room for dessert, but the homemade candies were delicious. It was such a unique place -- you could tell that Claudia really cares about her guests and the food she serves -- we can't wait to have a chance to return.a

              We tried El Tabano one night as well and the food was very good, but I liked Cetli better.

              1. re: meb26

                I agree re. Cetli but beware - she has no liquor license!

          1. re: NellyNel

            Here, here for Tabano! See my review of it and a few others here:


            1. re: chowcito

              Does anyone know if El Tabano is closed on certain days? We will be in Tulum from a Sunday- Wednesday.