Where to Eat in Tulum, Off the Beaten Track
It’s Tulum, on the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, so ideally you wake up to the sound of waves and birds, with a breeze coming in through the open window of your cabana by the beach. You start the day slow and easy, maybe in a hammock, with a cold coconut and a flimsy straw. But eventually, you have to get out there and eat something.
And if you’re not looking to experience Tulum as the Williamsburg of Mexico? You don’t have to. Feel free to skip the overpriced hotel restaurants and the yoga studio/juice bars, and join the locals for delicious Yucatecan-style food. Here are a few places where I ate well on a recent trip:
A friend from Mexico who used to run a restaurant in Tulum first told me about Honorio Chay Cavich, master of the buried pork, cochinita pibil. Every evening, Honorio marinates a huge piece of pork in bitter orange juice, spices, and a paste of the tropical achiote shrub’s seeds, then roasts it in a pit until the following morning. The cochinita is gorgeous, dripping with sweet, fatty, orange-stained juices, but one of the best things about Honorio’s stand is the constant supply of fresh tortillas. Two cooks shape the tortillas by hand from a big tub of masa into thick, tiny disks, griddling them continuously throughout the day so each one arrives hot and flexible, full of aroma. Besides the cochinita, there’s lechón, fine suckling pig in shreds crowned with big puffs of fried pig’s skin, as well as turkey cooked until it’s falling off the bone, served in a black chili sauce. Go for breakfast, and go back for lunch. Taqueria Honorio is on Satellite Sur at Avenida Tulum, just across the street from Pool Market. Closed on Mondays.
Pozolería La Mexicanita
It won’t appear on Google Maps, but this traditional, family-run pozolería is right there, at the intersection of Osiris Norte and the unmarked avenue south of Kukulkan Norte. The open-air restaurant serves three kinds of pozole in traditional clay dishes with all the fixings, and each is spectacular. Try the pozole verde, which is bright green with (mild) chilis. Chicken is good, sure. But if you need additional fortification, ask for it surtido so you get fatty pieces of pork skin and cheek, plus a few crunchy pieces of ear meat threaded with cartilage. It may sound rough around the edges, but the broth is rich and creamy, and the meat expertly cooked and carefully cut. Even though this is a roadside restaurant, with no real walls to speak of, you’ll find attentive, warm table service. Pozolería La Mexicanita is at the intersection of Osiris Norte and the unmarked avenue south of Kukulkan Norte. Closed on Mondays.
If you can get past the racist cartoon of a man on a camel (unfortunately, that was the first thing I noticed when I sat down at El Camello), you’ll find a low-key, sweaty destination for generous portions of cheap seafood. Many of the restaurants serving fish in Tulum don’t actually work with local products, but El Camello runs a market next door and has the goods: boquinete, a small, toothy snapper that’s delicious whole, fried, with a stack of tortillas and a side of rice and beans; chivitas, the meat of local sea snails chopped up in giant piles and seasoned with lime juice and chilis; and plenty of octopus. This is the place to go with a big group looking to eat well and drink cheaply under a slow fan, all the while watching Mexican music videos on the TV. El Camello is on Carretera Chetumal-Cancun between Calle Palenque and Kukulkan Norte.