The restaurant scene in the Tulum beach zone is surprisingly diverse considering the reasonably small number of places available - you can find everything from tacos and wood-fired steaks to handmade pastas and crafty cocktails. But for the more intrepid palates, head into Tulum town proper for a taste of authentic Yucatecan and Mexican eats, the way the locals like it - El Camello and Honorio are absolutely not to be missed. Aside from Honorio (which is only open for breakfast), best time to graze is at night when everything is open for business following the afternoon siesta.
By the beach
Our favourite beach-side restaurant - family run, excellent handmade pastas, we had a shrimp zucchini fettucine that was out of this world (normally they do with lobster, but the seas had been so rough, they didn't have any that day), and they bake all their bread on site, the foccaccia was just about the best we'd had anywhere. They give you a HUGE complimentary platter of various types just while you're waiting for food. The other house dish is the whole snapper cooked in sea water (aquapazza) - excellent stuff and enormous portion!
The best bet for tacos near the beach...this was our first meal after arriving and it was a great way to start things off. And because it's owned by an expat, it definitely is a lot cleaner and tourist-friendly than the more authentic, tho in my opinion tastier, local options in town...it even has a little sports bar area with soccer on the tellie. It's known for tacos (which are good), but the chef himself said the best dish is the Tex Mex burger.
Opened by former Peasant and Vinegar Hill chef, the whole deal is they cook everything in this large outdoor oven filled with hardwood. To be honest, we were underwhelmed by our meal here. The lentil salad was just eh, and this pork "ribs" dish didn't have any ribs (and the waiter couldn't have cared less when we brought it up). We did have an excellent grilled steak though and the rustic, open-air spot is lovely. Definitley the place to be down here.
In the swamp across the road from Hemingways, this Barcelona-born chef has been getting rave reviews for her modern takes on classic Mexican cuisine.
Another universally recommended spot on the swamp side of the road, it's a Mexican/Argentine steakhouse where grilled steaks and seafood get equal praise.
This was highly recommended by many local expats we came across, for its quaint beach-side setting and its signature handmade tagliatelle with seafood for 2, which is just one of a few items on the menu that is entirely recited by the waiter in a heavy Italian accent. While the pasta was beautifully made (by a very rugged Italian chef) and tossed in a deeply rich sauce with TONS of mostly-local seafood (clams, mussels, small crabs, giant prawns and local lobster), there was something a bit sloppy about the execution (crabs still had gills intact).
This hotel restaurant does Thai-infused Mexican fare, and apparently does it well, with elevated front-line ocean views to boot. Sister hotel/restaurants El Pez and La Zebra also get great reviews for their simple menus of ceviche, local seafood dishes and refined Mexican classics like Cochinita pibil (roast pork) and chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers)
Another recommended spot that we just didn't have time to check out - the menu is a mix of Mexican and international dishes.
In town (the "local" stuff!)
DO NOT MISS THIS PLACE!! It's amazing - seafood is the focus here, and their specialities are the complimentary shark dip and the whole fried fish, which you can watch them prepare in the adjacent fish market (where you'll also see locals bringing their catch to be cooked in the giant woks). They also do excellent ceviches and really grand, layered seafood cocktails, and even tacos - portion are HUGE, so order accordingly. Everything is very good here and it's packed with locals, taxi drivers and just a few in-the-know tourists. Their shark dip is so good, we had it again in Grand Electric Muskoka in Canada!
Open Tues-Sun 6-11am. Satellite Sur, cnr of Calle Sol (across the street from La Parrilla de Chava)
The best place for breakfast tacos washed down with a cane sugar Coke...it's just a little cart with a handful of stools and plastic tables. Order one of each - chicken, beef and my favorite, the l'echon, which is crispy suckling pig - which come on a plastic lined paper plate, a flour tortilla and topped with marinated onions.
Probably the best local taco place in town - they specialize in fried fish and shrimp tacos, there's a small condiments bar right there so you can load up on all the pickled red onion and salsas that you like. Ceviches are good here too.
Avda. Tulum at Avda. Palenque
Another local favorite for tacos, though we ran out of time before we could try.
Flor de Michoacan
Avenida Tulum, betw Calles Alfa and Jupiter
This paleteria (popsicle place) also sells fresh squeezed juice and gelato, but the main reason to come here is for the all-natural, uniquely flavored popsicles, which include chile mango or chocolate and shredded coconut.
Antojitos La Chiapaneca
Tacos el pastor (sliced meat stacked on a turning metal sword, like kebab-style, with a pineapple on top) is the speciality here with lots of homemade salsas to try.
Apparently THE best place to get the local speciality roast chicken...it's right next to Altamar (where we did the cooking lesson, see below), but alas we just didn't have enough hours in the day to try it.
The most upscale restaurant in town, Claudia Perez Rivas is a celebrity chef, and this is your best bet if you want to try (refined) classics like chiles en nogada and mole.
Unsurprisingly for the most spiffy hotel in town, the hotel's bar/lounge is a chic spot to sip a pricey cocktail.
Once again, hard to beat those elevated ocean views and sea breezes while sipping an exotic cocktail, but it's also apparently the place to go on Friday nights, when they have live DJs spinning house music.
It's on the jungle side so bring bug repellent as the mosquitoes are fierce, but it's got a funky layout and unique cocktails (like hibiscus grapefruit mint) served in clay mugs. The restaurant itself gets very mixed reviews.
Batey Mojito and Guerapo Bar (in town)
Noone even mentioned this place when we visited in August 2012 - maybe because it's in town - but it's apparently THE place for a fruity mojito and live music. It would be a perfect stop when coming to town to get a taste of all the local joints like El Camello and La Chiapaneca.
A popular spot for the monthly full moon parties, it's a busy late night spot with house music.
Where to Eat: Tulum
Posada Margherita. The homemade pre-dinner bread selection - hard to save room for the pasta!
Posada Margherita. Excellent Italian on the beach with superb focaccia and handmade pastas
Posada Margherita's signature handmade pasta with shrimp
Mateo's roadside taco bar
Fish acqua pazza ("crazy water") which is just cooking in olive oil, water and lemon juice
Mateo's signature Tex Mex burger
Mateo's, a Tulum institution. It may not be the most authentic or the best Mexican around, but it's a great spot for lunch or smoothie regardless
El Camello's signature spicy shark dip - free with your meal
El Camello's speciality dish - whole fried local fish with beans and rice
El Camello's fish market - and fry station
EL Camello draws a local crowd
Best breakfast tacos: Taqueria Honorio
Breakfast on the street: Taqueria Honorio
Taqueria Honorio toppings
Urge Taqueria - simple fish and shrimp tacos
L'echon on the left (amazing crackling skin!) and the chicken on the right - simplicity at its best!
Urge's selection of condiments
Hemingway's seafood tagliatelle for 2