Photo by Jill Kimball

Where to eat and drink on Tulum Beach

Photo by Jill Kimball

Back in March of 2017, my husband and I spent a whole blissful week exploring and relaxing in Tulum, the Yucatán Peninsula’s most stylish and bohemian resort town. As the destination’s popularity among Americans has grown, so has the number of friends asking us for recommendations on what to do, see, eat and drink while they’re in Tulum. After drafting a couple of mile-long emails, I realized I may as well make my list of recommendations public and official here!

The thing about restaurants and bars along Tulum Beach road? They’re all beautiful. Some boast straw roofs, sandy floors and sweeping views of the impossibly turquoise waves. Others sit ceilingless in the dense, tropical jungle across the road, open to the stars and sultry air. But while almost every establishment in Tulum’s romantic, naturally aesthetically pleasing environment is Instagrammable to the max, only a few can claim both style and substance.

Before I dive in, I’d like to share a few general tips about eating and drinking along Tulum’s beach road:

  1. Always, always bring cash…in pesos. Many restaurants take debit cards, and almost all take U.S. dollars. But if you pay using either of these methods, you’ll be charged significantly more, as restaurants calculate the dollar value of their dishes using an unfavorable exchange rate. Save your hard-earned money by hitting the ATM regularly and withdrawing local currency. Note that you’ll have better luck at the ATMs in the actual town of Tulum; along the beach road, the density of foreign tourists causes machines to run out of cash and malfunction regularly. We always used the machine inside the gas station at the intersection of Avenida Coba and the Tulum-Cancun highway.
  2. Don’t wear high heels. As I explained in my last post, Tulum isn’t a dressy town. You’ll look and feel out of place if you try to go full glam. (Plus, who really wants to ruin their nicest shoes on that dusty, gravelly, pothole-ridden beach road?) Stick to flip flops, flat sandals or espadrilles.
  3. Eat early. We found that Tulum’s dining schedule is pretty much the opposite of Portugal’s. It isn’t a late-night town — probably because it’s not on the Mexican electrical grid and thus is quite dimly lit at night — so its best restaurants fill up well before dark. If top-notch food is what you seek, plan to eat dinner around 5:30 or 6 p.m., unless you’re able to make a later reservation. If you’re full of energy after your meal, fear not: There are a few places where you can grab post-dinner drinks before turning in for the night.

And now, without further ado, here are some of my Tulum favorites!

Photo by Jill Kimball
Margarita at Eufemia in Tulum, Mexico, Photo by Jill Kimball

TAQUERIA LA EUFEMIA

Situated right on the best stretch of sand in Tulum, Eufemia is the ultimate destination for those who need midday sustenance but don’t want a break from beach-bumming. The sandy hut serves up a variety of fruit juices, margaritas, brunch foods and delicious yet extremely affordable tacos. Customers who opt for meat, fish or veggie tacos can visit Eufemia’s extensive toppings bar to add fresh salsas, fruit and crema to their food. From there, they can choose to sunbathe on the beach, sit at an umbrella-shaded table or stay cool inside the hut, where the most coveted seats face the waves. Visit closer to lunchtime and you’ll practically have the place to yourself; visit around 3 p.m. and you’ll find yourself competing for space with dozens of scantily-clad, sunkissed and chic twentysomethings who have biked in from town.

(Note: In 2018, Eufemia moved across the road to I Scream Bar temporarily, but its owners say it will soon be back at the beach.)

Photo by Jill Kimball

Casa Jaguar

Looking for post-dinner drinks? Allow me to recommend Casa Jaguar, an open-air restaurant on the jungle side of the beach road. I can’t comment on the quality of the food here — reviews of the eats were so-so, so we skipped out — but I can say that the cocktails were creative, delicious and beautiful. The decor, all southwestern-print pillows, candles and young palm trees, wasn’t too shabby, either!

Photo by Jill Kimball

Casa Banana

We may never have visited this Argentinian restaurant had it not been so conveniently located right across the road from our hotel, Nueva Vida de Ramiro. Argentinian food, after all, tends to be beef-forward…and I’m, well, not. Lucky for me, red meat isn’t all they do well here. I ordered a whole roasted fish and was delighted with it: the buttery flesh melted in my mouth, and the skin was perfectly crispy. Like many other excellent destinations in Tulum, the cocktail list was adventurous and aesthetically pleasing; my mezcal drink came with a sparkler that doubled as a stir stick when the flame died down.
Photo by Jill Kimball

I Scream Bar

Walk by this funky, casual place after dark and you’ll hear locals and tourists luring you in with chants of “I Scream Bar! I Scream Bar!” Answer the call and you won’t be disappointed. This wonderfully unpretentious shack sells bottled beer for $2 and offers a variety of ceviches and tacos. But the real star of the show is its vegan ice cream, which is served in creatively upcycled beer bottles and comes in both traditional and wacky flavors, from cacao to coconut to mango ginger. Pay a little extra and the bartenders will mix in some mezcal or tequila.
Photo by Jill Kimball Photo by Jill Kimball Photo by Jill Kimball

Hartwood

Tulum’s most popular and buzzed-about dinner spot absolutely lives up to the hype. The menu changes daily, but you can always count on fresh seafood, unexpected herbs, homemade juices and cocktail mixes, and impeccable flavor.  Our ceviche, octopus and local fish dishes were scrumptious, and our cocktails were lovely and refreshing. Hartwood opens daily at 5:30 and doesn’t take reservations, and you’ll see a queue start to form quite early. To guarantee a table for two, show up 20-30 minutes before opening; if your party is larger, try to get in line by 5.
Photo by Jill Kimball

RESTAURARE

As a lifelong vetegarian-recently-turned-pescatarian, I’ve always loved seeking out great meatless restaurants. Restaurare, an entirely vegan establishment, was one of the best I’ve visited — and not just because it was drop-dead gorgeous. The coconut ceviche and mole-inspired curry were to die for, and the restaurant’s own all-natural, homemade bug spray at every table was such a nice touch! Sadly, I just learned that Restaurare closed last year after its landlord hiked up the rent. This happens to far too many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in hip, desirable places, and I find it heartbreaking. If you’d like to give vegan food a try, I encourage you to patronize places like Raw Love and Charly’s Vegan Tacos while you’re in Tulum. Let’s work together to keep these healthy, inclusive and yummy restaurants in business!

Drinking a coco frio on Tulum Beach, Photo by Ian Bishop
So there you have it — my top eating and drinking picks for Tulum Beach! What’s at the top of your list? And if you’ve visited Tulum before, what were some of your favorites?

READ NEXT: What to pack for a week in Tulum

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Seattle institutions

Lately, my deskmates and I can’t converse without getting hungry.

It all started last week, when I solicited a coworker’s advice on where to get great seafood in Seattle. My parents are in town this weekend and are looking forward to eating wild Alaskan salmon, said to be some of the best in the world. They wanted something good, not too fancy and quintessentially Seattle.

Well, my coworker said, what’s more quintessentially Seattle than Ivar’s? It’s best known for the “Acres of Clams” sign ferry riders see on their way in and out of Seattle, but another location in Fremont specializes in salmon and overlooks Lake Union. It was settled.

Days later, we discussed where in South Lake Union we’d eat lunch to send off the winter-term news intern. Most of the South Lake Union neighborhood was purely industrial just a few years ago, but then came a connection to downtown and several biotech companies. And in 2007, when Amazon announced it would move its headquarters there, out went the decrepit warehouses and in went the upscale cafes, LEED-certified condo buildings and trendy restaurants. Most eateries are so new they haven’t yet established themselves among residents or Amazonians.

But when Dahlia Lounge and Serious Pie moved into a building on Westlake Avenue, their reputations preceded them. The owner, Tom Douglas, is a well-known and critically-acclaimed restaurateur here and already found a following at his eateries in Belltown. We concluded that Tom Douglas is, arguably, a Seattle institution.

Amid all this food talk was discussion about what makes something “quintessentially Seattle.” It’s tricky, because Seattle is a city of neighborhoods; one neighborhood might call a popular hangout a Seattle institution even though residents in another neighborhood haven’t even heard of it. Places like Kidd Valley, Buckley’s and La Toulouse Petit make up my impression of Seattle, but that’s because they’re all within two blocks of my apartment in Lower Queen Anne. For others, Mama’s Mexican Kitchen, Espresso Vivace or Bauhaus might sum up Seattle best.

There are a number of factors in what makes a true, city-wide Seattle institution. For one, it must be a citywide chain (see: Dick’s, Molly Moon’s) or it must be fabulous enough for locals and tourists alike to make the cross-town trip to visit regularly (Elliott Bay Books). For another, it should be old and/or decrepit enough that it’s firmly rooted in the Seattle community (Ivar’s). And it’s got to have that quirky, eclectic vibe that attracts hipsters, intellectuals and weirdos alike (King’s Hardware or, on the fancier end, anything tied to Ethan Stowell).

The absolute hippest in restaurants, bars and shops rarely endures–especially in Capitol Hill!–but Seattle institutions like these seem to infuse the right amount of hip with something classic. At King’s Hardware, you get the same old beer but you get to play Skee-Ball while you drink it. At Molly Moon’s, you can opt for good ol’ vanilla ice cream–or you can try a scoop of honey lavender.

Maybe that’s why I think Douglas’ restaurant Serious Pie, our chosen lunch spot today, can endure. It takes a classic favorite–brick oven pizza–and places it in a modern industrial setting with appetizers involving kale, pine nuts and carnation sunchokes.

So you want Thai food? Narrow that down.

Yesterday I drove to Bellingham for an assignment–more on that this weekend when the story gets published–and it gave me perspective on my new city life. Before now, I used to take day trips to the city–San Francisco, Portland–and come home to a comparatively sleepier place–Santa Cruz, Eugene. Now, counterintuitively, I visit smaller towns and come home to skyscrapers and the perpetual sound of sirens.

It’s one of the many things about city life that I still haven’t quite gotten used to. I’m still on sensory overload, trying to process all the ways my new lifestyle differs from run-of-the-mill suburban life.

Listmaking always helps.

  • Traffic. Ah, the traffic. I live about half a mile away from the Times office, yet it can take me up to 30 minutes to get home at the end of the day. Cars coming from downtown, Belltown and the Central District seem to converge on Denny Way, which bridges Interstate 5 and access to neighborhoods such as Ballard and Fremont. And it’s far from the only place that’s in total gridlock every single afternoon. It’s just as bad as, if not worse than, the traffic I braved in Silicon Valley the summer I worked at Palo Alto Weekly.
  • “LOOK! FREE PARKING!” Never have I been so excited to see these words. In downtown Seattle, free parking spaces are only slightly more common than unicorns or UFOs. They’re so thin on the ground that even veteran locals don’t know of any secret alleys or hidden lots. Rather than spending hours driving around trying to steal free spots, most locals will grin and bear it with a paid spot, taking care to get the most bang for their buck by running as many errands in a five-block radius as possible.
  • Too many options! As previously stated, if you say you want to grab Thai food near my apartment, you’re going to  have to narrow that down. I’ll probably never visit every single restaurant and shop on Queen Anne Avenue.