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Jan 2, 2012 08:08 AM

Tulum trip report

Not being able to eat red meat or cheese, my expectations for food in Tulum weren't sky-high. So I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food, and the selection for my limited diet. Not everything was great, but several meals were spectacular. Here's a rundown:

Las Estrellas: Interesting to find Moroccan-influenced food in Mexico. I had a vegetable tagine that was quite good, if a little plain. My husband had the butter bean tagine, which I didn't like at all - some weird flavor that I cannot figure out. The food is very good, but the setting and atmosphere is magical, I loved it. The service was outstanding, and they brought us several plates of free hummus, which was super creamy and delicious.

Mateo's: we went here for lunch for convenience sake. The food was very basic and gring-ized, nothing to write home about at all. Chicken tacos were a bit on the greasy side. The margaritas were excellent, but caused me to have to go home and take a nap!

El Camello, Jr.: Great to get off the tourist route and go to a place bustling with locals. Loud hip hop music playing. My fish tacos were yummy, and I appreciated that the fish wasn't fried. The best thing was the fish salsa stuff that's free on the table. Wow.

Oscar y Lalo: This place was totally empty, which was surprising considering the press it gets. The food was pretty great - a trio of ceviches to start, then shrimp a la diablo - sooo spicy! The highlight of the experience was the baby spider monkey the owner was fostering after it was abandoned by its mother. I got to hold it! The downside was the hardcore sales pitch for the tours that they run.

Mezzanine: This Thai place, while quite sleek, had a remarkable location and was amazing at sundown. The steamed dumplings were incredible and my steamed fish with thai spices was light but flavorful. My husband's green curry with tofu was great but didn't have much tofu in it.

El Tabano: The clear highlight of our trip. I just cannot say enough about the food at this place. Watermelon and tomato gazpacho to start - perfection. My fish in pasilla chile sauce was one of the best fish dishes ever, and my father-in-law's fish with pipian sauce was really good, too. The vegetarian chile relleno stuffed with squash and other stuff was yummy. The menu is so interesting, you can spend twenty minutes gazing at it.

Posada Margherita: This place wasn't quite as amazing as people say, but we did eat there twice so I guess we liked it! The pastas are kind of plain but flavorful. I had spaghetti with mushrooms and tomatoes, which had both fresh and dried mushrooms. Loved it. The pasta with shrimp and zucchini was good but seemed to lack zip. The complementary appetizer plate is excellent, if too bread heavy. It would be nice to be able to order a salad, but there is no such option. I loved seeing the owners ADORABLE Italian-speaking kids running around the restaurant, and their dog is super sweet, too!

Hechizo: I had emailed them in advance to see if they could accomodate our annoying dietary restrictions, and they were incredibly nice about it. When we got there, the chef came out and talked to us about what we wanted, and made our dishes to order. I had a beet salad that was pretty remarkable, and a local fish that I can't recall the name of. The chef is from Mexico via Austria, and his wife is from Singapore. The food reflected their cosmopolitan nature, and was beautifully composed and executed. The setting is so unique and romantic – well, at least it was romantic until a party of Mexican supermodels and their off-putting male companions walked in, complete with armed bodyguard. Crazy scene. End of the romance, but quite a show nonetheless.

Maya Tulum: We had breakfast and lunch at this hotel a few times. The food is nice but not outstanding. It was a good place to grab a healthy meal. Their house salad, with tuna, potatoes and lots of other stuff, is really enjoyable, and their guacamole is especially good, as are their unusual juice combinations. I liked the juice with chaya.

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  1. Thanks for the report - heading down in early Feb. Looking forward to El Tabano and El Camello. Have read nothing but excellent reviews of both. Did you try any street food? I hear that Tamales Don Taco (street cart) is really good and cheap. Also Pollo Bronco for take out is highly rated. Restaurant Cetli (sp) is high on my list as well.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Maggie19

      Maggie, Cetli was magical and I can only say go go go! We also loved El Tabano...the food and the people were awesome. As for "street food", we tried several taco carts but I'm afraid I can't remember the name! We did LOVE this place we discovered on Chowhound...if you have a car you must go there. It's called Chamica (I think), here's the link to my review:
      and here's my review of Cetli:
      Have fun!

      1. re: Maggie19

        Not quite streetfood, but I'd suggest a roadside grilled chicken (al carbon) place. Really good chicken for cheap.

      2. We ate at El Tabano for lunch yesterday, partly on your recommendation, and it was the best meal of our trip. The icy cold mint-cucumber-avocado soup was a revelation but everything was amazing. We chose a couple of things and let the server pick another couple and it all combined into a memorable meal. The restaurant is in a lovely setting and we've decided we will be foregoing Playa del Carmen next time and staying in Tulum which is so much cooler. Thanks for poasting your trip report!

        1. Great report - thanks for all the detail! I have to second your rec for El Tabano. It was really atmospheric and the food was excellent. In general, it seemed like the food in Tulum isn't crapified for tourists. I figured I'd add my two cents to your original thread:

          La Gloria de Don Pepe: Nice little tapas joint on a side street off the main drag (Avenida Tulum). We had the albondigas and grilled veggie appetizers -- both were excellent -- as well as a very tasty seafood paella that was full of clams, head-on shrimp and a mollusk that looked kind of like a periwinkle.

          Sandbar: This was the restaurant/bar attached to the hotel we were staying in, so we had breakfast there every day, drinks often and dinner once. In general, the quality and preparation of the food was top-notch and the scenery was unbeatable - you could just sit there and watch the pelicans and terns dive all day. The grilled whole fish was a highlight. FWIW, the homemade granola was really good, too. I imagine people don't go to Mexico for the granola, but there you have it.

          El Capitan - I felt like a cheesy tourist eating here, but it was worth it for the lobster tail, which I got "al mojo de ajo". Hard to say no to shellfish smothered in garlic.

          Cetli: I really, really wanted to like this place. The decor and atmosphere were so cozy, and the chef was so charming. But the food just didn't live up to expectations and it was quite expensive. It feels mean-spirited to trot out a laundry list of what I didn't like about the food, so I'll just leave it at that.

          Happy Frog's: This is a little antojitos spot off the main square - they offer tortas, gorditas, sopes and huaraches with a variety of toppings and fillings like chicken, potato and chorizo, nopales and the like. It was cheap and tasty.

          We ate at a couple of other inexpensive Mexican eateries around downtown, and it seemed like it was hard to go wrong with just picking one at random and munching away. The Tortas Gigantes place close to the Coba/Tulum/Cancun intersection was totally forgettable (it's not much to look at, but we were curious and gave it a shot). But aside from that, we didn't encounter any duds in town.