What I Ate: Tulum, Mexico

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Tulum has an amazing food scene. Of course, Mexico more generally has a culinary background that might rival countries like Thailand and Italy, but Tulum has a nice cluster of delicious options to choose from along one nicely compact row.

Casa Banana
Casa Banana offers traditional Argentinian cooking with a Mexican ingredient flair. We started our dinner off with an order of local fried calamari and a chimichurri dipping sauce. The sauce was out of this world, so flavorful, bright and light all at once. It really bought our the flavors of the ocean in the calamari. For my entree, I was allured by the Argentinian lamb shank risotto, while Sam opted for grilled rump steak. A few weeks ago, if you had told me that I would eat the best risotto of my life in Mexico, I would have laughed. Risotto, in Mexico? No joke though, best of my life. The lamb was so incredibly tender and flavorful, it just melted in your mouth. What made the risotto really excellent though, was that it was cooked in the au jus of the roasted lamb. Usually risotto is creamy and filled with butter and cheese, but this one packed a meaty punch accented with notes of red wine, oregano and mushrooms. The cheese, rather than being in the risotto, was served as a Parmesan fritto on top of the rice, so you could break off the salty bits as you like and adds a nice textural element.

El Pez
The airy and homey feel of this restaurant is invitation enough to come to El Pez, but the food and live music is enough to keep you there. Situated on the corner of Turtle Cove, the restaurant overlooks a beautiful shoreline and rocky outcropping. Sam and I came here for a Sunday brunch after scoping out their menu. It has an upscale feel but non-pretentious and approachable menu. I ordered a classic eggs benedict and Sam, unusual for his normal breakfast choice, ordered fruit crepes. My benedict came out as imagined, with a creamy, perfectly whipped hollandaise and expertly poached, runny yolk eggs. The highlight of the bennie was definitely the bread, a hearty housemade wholewheat oatmeal bread. Sam’s crepes were the winner of brunch though. Hitting the right balance of chewy & doughy, the crepes were well executed, and topped with a mango & strawberry fruit salad. What really stood out though was the bright orange caramel. It packed a tart yet sweet punch that was really a surprise to the taste buds. The crepes were also served alongside a bitter dark chocolate ganache and unsweetened freshly whipped cream.

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Zamas

A cozy spot for brunch, lunch or dinner, Zamas has an inviting and laid back vibe that will make it easy for any visitor to waste the day away. Apparently it gets quite crowded at night, so we stopped in for a brunch to avoid the rush of people. When we arrived at 10:30am, we were the only people in the place, so we got our first choice of table, right along the breaking waves below their patio. Their menu appears small at first glance, but their simple taste on classic breakfast favorites left us more than impressed. Sam & I both opted for “fancy toast” which basically consists of mashed avocado on toast with some goat cheese. Boring right? Anything but. The avocados were ripe to perfection and tastefully salted, packing in a lot of delicious flavor into each bite. The bread was clearly house made and quite hearty, just what I wanted after my morning yoga class. Along side our fancy toast, both of us ordered a fresh juice, which for me, was the highlight (and for only $2.50!). Mine juice was local spinach, celery, apple, lime, habenero and melon blended together into a tart and awakening sip. Sam opted for a more tropical drink, mixing pineapple, orange, banana and carrot. I loved mine so much, I got a second round of healthy goodness.

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Charlies
Having eaten a few more upscale, non-traditional meals since arriving in Mexico, we decided that our last meal in Tulum should be truly Mexican. On our way out of town, we stopped a charming spot just near the bus station, Charlies. When you walk in, you’ll notice the hand tiled walls and floor, funky Mexican decor and bright yellow walls. It’s laid out so cozy, so you feel like you’re entering someone’s home. Our friendly waiter greeted us with fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee to sip while we perused the menu. I settled on a classic, Chiliquiles, while Sam ventured into the unknown, ordering Cazuela, a traditional Mexican breakfast. Although I haven’t eaten many Chiliquiles in my life, these were pretty exceptional. The tortilla chips were the perfect blend of crispy & soggy, the eggs were beautifully runny and the salsa verde was sweet, spicy and tangy all at once. Sam’s dish arrived in a bubbling clay pot, and both of us stared in delight and wonder. Apparently, Cazuela is eggs poached in salsa verde with cheese broiled on top, and served with fresh flour tortillas to scoop it all up. A huge mess they may be, but the eggs were filled with love and tradition. You can tell this was a dish that the chef had learned from his grandmother.

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Hartwood

Now waiting in line to make a reservation was about the last thing I wanted to do with my precious time in Tulum, but after all I heard about Hartwood, I decided it was worth it. You have to put your name in the day of and they start accepting reservations at 3:00pm, so you better be in line by 2:30 or else you ain’t eating at Hartwood that night. We successfully got ourselves a seating at 6:30pm, and anxiously returned for an amazing meal. The heart of Hartwood’s specialness is the seasonality and freshness of their dishes. They change their menu almost daily depending on what’s available, with a few fan favorite remaining. There are limited amounts and we saw two of the dishes we ordered get quickly crossed off only minutes after we ordered them. Starting our dinner with a light citrus ceviche, the flavors of the snapper, lime, cucumber, mezcal and avocado were a refreshing way to begin the meal. Next on the docket was my personal favorite, a jicama salad. Jicama was tossed with a berry compote, basil cream dressing and pepitas, creating a complex mix of fresh flavors, a combination of ingredients I hadn’t tasted before. Our final starter was a papaya and Chihuahua cheese empanada in a housemade corn tortilla topped with fresh watermelon and cilantro. In keeping with the beach theme, I went for a grilled Sierra fish for my entree, while Sam went for their signature dish, the slow braised pork ribs. While I loved my dish, Sam’s was definitely the standout. The fat from the pork was perfectly rendered, making it buttery melty, while the crispy charred outsides packed in a punch of flavor. After how outstanding their savory dishes were, we elected to also order dessert, despite how full we were. Plus, housemade gelato was on the menu so there was no way Sam, Mr. Ice cream maker himself, could turn that down. Toasted cinnamon and cheesecake were the two flavors that arrived in a cute little clay bowl and we both dug in feverishly. The cheesecake had little chunks of fresh queso fresco in it while the cinnamon offered a rich and decadent flavor. The texture of both were perfect and we walked away with happy full bellies. This place is certainly not to be missed.

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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