Out of the Office: Tulum

Saveur’s Allie Wist finds roadside tacos and impressive dining on a trip to the low-key beach town

By Allie Wist

Published on September 3, 2015

Even though it’s become a chic beach haunt in recent years, Tulum’s lack of tourist traps and fussiness makes the town still feel remarkably unadulterated—especially when it comes to the food. Next door to Tulum’s famous Mayan ruins there’s no shortage of breezy outdoor dining where you can experience a fresh kind of Mexican cooking that doesn’t always stick to classic Mexican recipes or tropes. At places like Burrito Amor and Hartwood, chefs play with regional ingredients like Mayan spinach, Xcatic peppers and tropical fruits like papaya to showcase flavors native to the Yucatán peninsula. If that's not enough, there's also plenty of tequila cocktails. The food is so intriguing, it’s enough to distract you from the balmy beaches for a while. Here’s proof in 14 photographs from my recent trip to Tulum town.

Burrito Amor, Tulum
Burrito Amor

This open-air restaurant on the main road in Tulum looked like it was dropped right out of Brooklyn onto the streets of Mexico—but I’m glad that didn’t keep us away. Their burritos, with local ingredients like Mayan spinach, which is stronger tasting and more nutritious than regular spinach, were an excellent breakfast more than once.

Tulum Ruins
Tulum Ruins

Just north of Tulum town, visitors can stroll through Mayan ruins dating to the 13th century. Structures like this one sits along a beachside cliff, where they once comprised a crucial seaport for trading turquoise and jade.

While many visitors spend sunset on the beach, a walk through the residential streets of Tulum at dusk shows off the town's personality.
Hot Dog Street Cart in Tulum
Hot Dog Street Cart

Late night street carts in Tulum are not to be missed—a mother and son duo at this stand not only made us tasty hot dogs, but sliced up potatoes on the spot for fresh french fries.

While there are certainly posh bungalows and beach-side resorts, Tulum is characterized by a noticably laid-back, unpretentious vibe. You can jump on the beach at one of several public beaches, alongside backpackers and road trippers, or lay under umbrellas at a hotel beach with some cocktails from their bar.
Pollería in Tulum

Prior to the early 2000s, Tulum was still a sleepy town, boasting only a few cabanas and souvenir shops which catered to visitors of the nearby ruins. Now, the coastline boasts a tourist scene replete with cocktail bars, yoga studios, and independent boutiques. But the town of Tulum retains its pragmatic charm with painted store fronts like that of this poultry shop.

Hartwood Restaurant Tulum
Hartwood Restaurant

Around 2:00 each day, the line for dinner reservations at Hartwood is already winding down the street. Expat Eric Werner has built the acclaimed restaurant around local product and ancient ingredients, creating a sort of jungle version of farm-to-table dining. Werner’s inventive dishes are all cooked in their lush open-air kitchen, entirely in the wood-fired oven or on the grill. The atmosphere at Hartwood exemplifies much of Tulum—mellow and rustic, but elegant.

Papaya Empanadas at Hartwood Restaurant in Tulum
Papaya Empanadas at Hartwood

The first course at Hartwood included papaya empanadas—a smoky and sweet dish that paired well with the spice of our tequila cocktails. Although the Mexican papaya is not quite as sweet as a common papaya, its natural sweetness coaxed out by a few drizzles of honey.

Octopus at Hartwood Restaurant, Tulum
Grilled Octopus at Hartwood

All of Werner’s food comes from the dock that day—this tender, crispy octopus included. The dish, flavored with coriander, purple basil, chili, and mustard, included tart pickled onions and crispy potatoes.

El Camello Jr. fish restaurant in Tulum
El Camello Jr.

This roadside joint has some of Tulum’s best food, and a seemingly constant stream of locals fill large wooden tables to enjoy ceviche and tacos. The owner (also the restaurants’ fishmonger) works next to the kitchen cleaning fish, squid, scallops, and octopus to be served alongside freshly made tortilla chips and spicy micheladas. Carretera Chetumal-Cancun Locales 1 y 2 Lte 3 Mza 40, Centro, Tulum, Q.R.

Octopus Tacos from El Camello Jr. in Tulum
Octopus Tacos

These octopus tacos from El Camello Jr. were no-frills and super fresh—boiled octopus was topped with avocado, greens, carrots, bell peppers and a dose of bright orange chili sauce.

El Nero Taquera in Tulum
El Nero Taquera

El Nero Taquera, along the main road in Tulum, doesn’t disappoint with it’s el pastor tacos. A blend of spices, onions, and cilantro give them their complex flavor.

Street cart in Tulum
Street cart

A family takes their time closing their roadside food cart, where they had spent the day serving spicy street dogs and tacos.

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