Finally... a TRIP REPORT! Thanks to all - esp the tireless Veggo, for every response to my and other people's posts over the years. So many fabulous recommendations, we didn’t really get steered too wrong. Advance apologies for length!
- Xcatik off Avenida Tulum. Serene atmosphere - nice stone work, running waterfalls, white linens, candlelit. Good service. Not very good margaritas. Shrimp and Avocado salad to start - just OK. DC got 300 gram Rib Eye (!) which was generously sauced and well cooked. A little different cut than we Americans are used to, but tasty. Practically unfinishable! I had the Tikin Xic - a Mayan fish dish. Nice presentation but a little bland unfortunately. No dessert here. DC opted for a chocolate cone at Panne y Chocolate Gelateria.
- El Tacoqueto - We went here for lunch. It's the place where, if you don’t know the menu, you point at the pots in the kitchen. We had a slight fear in doing this - don’t speak the language - don’t know all the local eats - but there was basically a pork dish, a fish dish, steak etc and we picked accordingly. They were very nice and helpful. DC got the bisteka with peppers - really nice flavors - and I got the gambas soup. Huge prawns, great presentation, mild flavors.
- Mr Taco - at the Coba turn - very pleasant semi retied couple from Mexico City. Very tasty. Ditto with the stand across from the HBSC, forget the name, next to the chicken place.
- La Nave - We had breakfast twice here. Good coffee and huevos rancheros.
- The bakery - not sure of name - after the bus station I think - FANTASTIC sweets and savory turnovers. Bread looked amazing. All locals in here. Just grab a caf tray and some tongs and prepare for a lack of restraint!
- La Zebra - Good drinks and guac. Just ordered up here so would could keep our loungers.
- Om - Ditto. Beers and chips and salsa. No real meal. We tried to get to Milamores but it is VERY CLOSED. Such a bummer as the property looked amazing.
- Mateo's - Jungle side of the beach near Zamas. Nice atmosphere. Food was just OK. In their defense we ordered the "sampler" cos it was late and we just wanted a lil nosh; in our defense, the sampler should be good! The only place we came across that reminded us of the Mexican equivalent of "marginal pub food".
- Zamas - Good black bean soup - but the veggie quesadilla, just OK. Great view and hang tho. Good service. Music at night which we missed.
- Oscar y Lalo, on southbound side of 307 just north of Tulum. Great service - owner and daughter of the Oscar in Oscar y Lalo was very attentive and pleasant. Lovely back garden. She suggested an interesting margarita special so I tried it - Chaya, a Mexican green like spinach or kale. I just do not like margs presented in large grails. They are cumbersome and heavy and usually a telltale sign of a bad marg. I couldn’t taste the tequila really but glad I ordered cos I was interested in the chaya (and remained that way whenever I saw it on the menu for the rest of the trip!) We wanted to go all out with the seafood here because we'd heard great things so we split the Ceviche Mixto and the Mixed Platter. Fabulous ceviche, even the conch, which I dubious about because I've never had good conch - it was great! The mixed platter was the perfect way to enjoy Oscars - shrimp, lobster tails (vgood), grouper, calamari (couldve gone without the chicken) and lots of beans, veggies and rice on the side. She gave us a taste of the braised octopus in paprika oil - off the charts. 600 pesos+ for the two of us.
- Ginger, a block off Avenida Tulum and Satellite (it has moved from its former Avenue location, FYI). We hadnt read much about this place on Chowhound but we tried to go to Cetli (closed on Wed fyi) and remembered the name being in the top 3 on Trip Advisor. Nice little find. DC loved the vibe. I didn’t really, too modern for my taste - I prefer cozy - but they played good music and it was serving mostly locals, a good sign, and the chef and waitress (manager?) came and sat with them at the end of the night. Not very crowded but it was late. Good service - American FOH server who was very pleasant. And Chef Javier - kudos. The food is homey and not exactly Mexican tho you can tell he's got it in his blood. We started with a fried wedge of camembert with apple compote. Yum. What's not to love about fried cheese? For mains, I got the flank steak with his mama's salsa - roasted tomato puree very good. When she asked if I wanted more sauce, I asked for a keg. Wonderfully presented - stacked with layers of roasted red pepper and grilled cactus, a first for me. Steak was under cooked but the piece was so large I was able to eat the outer MR/M portion. DC got the filet mignon - a dubious choice! - served with red wine sauce (almost like a gravy). The food had flair -- even if the menu reads a bit 80s/90s on paper -- and was a welcomed pause between all the trad Mexican and seafood. Very reasonable prices 550 pesos for two?
- El Tabano - on the beach, jungle side, after you pass the gates on the south end. This was the only place we had to wait a few minutes, tho not long, and likely because rain was passing thru and they didn’t want to seat us in open air. Very cute, open air, lush fauna, palappa style, even the bathrooms had charm, bring your bug spray. One of the few places that went beyond the copa de casa, so we got wine. Ordered a stuffed pepper starter that never arrived. (The only service gaffe of the trip I think.) I got the grouper in pumpkin seed sauce. Light yet savory but not as nuanced as I was hoping. They obliged my request for a side of chaya (finally!) Sauteed, lil garlic butter - delish. I want to find this green here. DC got the coconut ginger shrimp - something I would never order considering how we get it in the states (sickeningly sweet and dredged in grease fry!). But it was really light and tasty. A nice julien mix and served with a light coconut milk sauce. Lots of shrimp too - 10 of them maybe? Our waiter was very pleasant, but missed the mark when he forgot to order the app. And FWIW, the chalkboard only menu is a bad idea. If youre seated on the side of the resto you have get up and walk over, and there are two tables right there. No fun for them either I'm sure. And I really like to take in a menu, not do a quick scan down in 30 seconds and run back to my table. ~800pesos, tip included.
- Cetli, off Avenida Tulum. WOW! What a special place. Next to an 80c taco, easily the best meal of the trip. Built into a little house on a side street off the main Avenue. I believe the two women owners - Chef Claudia and FOH gal (forgot her name - lovely girl) - live on the other side. If you sit on the terrace side you can see Miss Claudia cooking away in a kitchen probably much smaller than yours. Like a NYC kitchen. The other room was probably once the living room. I only counted 10-12 tables. Atmosphere was low key, warm and welcoming and the food was STUNNING! After our entrees came I wished we couldve gone back and ordered starters. The welcome platter had lovely bits and bobs - I'm sure they change - homemade peanut bread, pepper cream cheese (she said it was butter!), mini corncakes, guac. The meal took a while, everything cooked to order by Claudia, but well worth the wait. I hadnt had any mole negro yet and opted for the Chicken Mole. Delicious. Delicate and rich. Flavors were popping all over. The chicken looked odd to me I couldn’t figure out how it was cut (looked like when you cross section a red pepper) but baked to moist perfection. Served with plantains. The DC got the showstopper - the house stuffed poblano (there are two - this was the house special with minced beef - fear not the ingredients the menu mentions - pineapple, raisins, almond crème - it sounds a little far out but it was AMAZING!) the sauce was incredible. Unlike anything we'd ever had. I believe it was an almond crème with a mix of spices and garnished with pomegranate seeds. For dessert we ordered the bread pudding - moist and swimming in a delicious almond crème and served with a raspberry sorbet. Hands down best meal and I will dream about that Stuffed Pepper for the rest of my days! 1000pesos+ for the two of us. When we got above 30-40 a person on our trip, we'd have a slight struggle with justifying it, considering how reasonably priced great food can be but this was well well worth it. If you are looking for a splurge meal, this is it (we didn’t go to Hechizo; and we found El Tabano good but handily a step down from Cetli).
- Lucys - fish and shrimp tacos. Good, maybe overpriced comparitively, 25 pesos each I think?. DC had and liked her ice cream too.
- Cueva del Pescador - Fantastic ceviche. Waiter's opening line was, How many margaritas? Very good, best of the trip maybe.
The beach here is great.
- Dinner at El Meson del Marques. Lovely atmosphere, moderately priced ($40 american for two of us?), decent to average food. We had the longanezia sausage to start. This was great! So large a portion - 5-6 (uncut) links maybe? - I wondered if I would even finish my dinner. Close to a linguica, but not as much of a spicy bite. DC got a simple manchengo and tomato salad. Cheese was good, tomatoes were not. DC's grouper dish was on the bland side (for me) but just what he was looking for. I got the Conchinita Pibil - nice presentation - tin box, banana leaf, pickled red onions. It was good, but I wanted more flavor. Had CP one more time during the trip, and it was my first so nothing to compare.
- Lunch at Restaurant Zaci. Meh! My chicken was so overdone, and not likely cooked in its Relleno Negro sauce, which was delish. I left the chicken alone and sopped up sauce with the very excellent masa tortillas. Too bad because the cenote is RIGHT there. Future note: Good for beers or a drink but pass on the food, I say.
Playa Del Carmen
- Had a quick beer at a place on the beach. Nothing remarkable. We did not leave town big PDC fans, but regrettably didn’t get to any of the restos on our list due to an appt back in Tulum. There's always next time....
And there will be a next time. Tulum is a special place. The ruins, the history, the beaches, the cenotes, the people, the drinks and of course... the food! Thanks again to everyone who helped make the chow end so special.