When people realize our event season comes to a self-imposed screeching halt after the new year and doesn’t resume again until April, inevitably, their next question is “so, what do you do all winter?” Lots of things, really. Work is among them, but so is travel. And for a chef like myself, with travel comes lots and lots of foodie inspiration. My favorite destination, perhaps of all time, but at least for the last 6 years has been Tulum, Mexico. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Mostly people hear about the beach, the yoga, or more recently, Justin Bieber drunkenly desecrating ancient Mayan ruins.
People come to Tulum for all sorts of reasons, but make no mistake about mine. I came to EAT. Typically, when visit, they head to the beach. Don't get me wrong -- you can't come to Tulum and not go to the beach. We, of course, whiled away many days there. And the food is great. But I found that the places that most inspired me, that really fed me, were, by and large, not on the beach. That’s because the real food of Tulum, the slow roasted, chili spiked, wrap me in a tortilla and douse me with lime, juices running down your wrist, real Mexican goodness places are typically off the beach and slightly off the beaten path. And for the price of a cocktail, yes ONE cocktail, on the beach, you can get a full day's worth of meals in town.
Apologize in advance to your Crossfit coach, book your flight and get ready to chow down. In no particular order, here are some of my very favorite Tulum spots, some on the beach, some in town, some not in Tulum at all, but all worth a try!
Any good beach day begins with a good breakfast. (trust me --it helps soak up the sun and the impending cervesas.) In Tulum there’s two eateries vying for my top spot. So, naturally, I alternated between them both, trying to pick a winner. Challenge accepted.
The first is a little food cart just off the intersection of 307 and Ave. Satelite, called El Paraiso, run by the always endearing Eduardo. Here you’ll find the tastiest breakfast tortas (sandwiches) known to man. Move over McDonald’s, the “Mixta” is where it’s at. These sandwiches come in several varieties, but my favorite has tiny bits of chorizo, roasted pork, lime spiked mayonnaise, tiny bits of onion, tomato slices and queso all on a soft, slightly toasty roll. Sit at the little tables next to the juice shop, and order a Jugo Verde, made with local cactus, parsley, herbs and freshly squeezed orange juice. Heaven. The torta and jugo combined will set you back 60 pesos, or about $3.75usd.
Just across the street from Eduardo’s, you’ll see a line almost everyday of the week at Honorio Taqueria. Lines are like arrows directing the way to good things, so take your spot at the back as you watch the abuela’s (grandmothers) hand pressing each tortilla to order. I recommend the Aqua de Jamaica, bottled hibiscus water that closely resembles a floral, more refreshing take on cranberry juice. I took a hint from the lady in front of me in line and ordered three tacos con pibil -- slow roasted pork in achiote and sour orange that's slightly crisped on a flattop grill along with the amazing aforementioned tortillas, all topped with pickled onions and a variety of add your own sauces found on each table. Watch out for the habanero -- it’s makes for a quick wake-up and is as spicy as it sounds. You can also grab pork and tortillas by the kilo to take away, which makes for a killer quick & cheap dinner, which we enjoyed several times during our month long stay.
Before tripadvisor and blogosphere stardom, Chamico's was a quaint little spot on the beach just north of Tulum with no electricity, no running water with a couple of plastic tables and chairs and hammocks strung among the palms. Good news! Not much has changed. In a town where a lot changes in a year, Chamico's has held on to the top spot as one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. The menu is small and prepared simply, but that’s exactly the point. We always go for a late lunch (they close before dark) and order a few of everything for the table to share: fresh fish (usually snapper), fried over a wood fire in a gigantic cast iron skillet, margaritas, ceviche and camarones al ajo (shrimp in garic) and with our mouths full of deliciousness, we eat silently (silence is a rarity in our group). When they said eat colorful food, I think this is what they meant.