Away from the resorts and fancy boutiques in the town of Tulum is where you will find the best mescal bars, hole in the wall taco vendors, coffee and affordable eateries. At the beginning of my trip, I was staying just off the main strip in a charming little boutique hotel, just a sparrows fly away from the action.
Howlita Hotel is a little gem in downtown (Tulum Pueblo) nestled amongst the charming little houses of locals, just off the main strip. Only a 5 minute walk from the action, it was the perfect place to get immersed in local culture. Offering only a very basic cereal and toast breakfast offering, (not even fruit) it certainly wasn’t the food winning me over but the terrace and hammocks in the poolside area.
We were also right on the doorstep of the best eateries, serving authentic Yucatan specialties like cochinita pibil and taquitos with homemade fresh corn tacos…
One of the classic dishes of the Yucatan region is cochinita pibil. A rich, slow cooked pork dish marinated in achiote – a locally grown seed that is used as a base to many meat marinade pastes. It’s not spicy dish, but it has a uniquely sweet, earthy aroma imparted by bitter oranges, charred garlic, and a number of other spices. It’s often served wrapped in a banana leaf, but can also be eaten shredded in soft corn tacos.
In town there is only one place for this, Taqueria Honorio. They also serve poc chuc (a leaner, diced pork steak) and black bean and avocado tacos. Open from 9am to no later than 2pm its one of the most popular haunts of locals and tourists in the know. Typically tacos are a breakfast/ lunch dish and here and so its best to go early, whilst the meat is fresh and the tacos hot off the grill.
…and if mescal or tequila is your jam, Viva Zapata is a place to stock up for the mini bar. Produced in different areas of the region, these are liquors as similar as wine and port. Both made from cactus in different regions of mexico, Tequila is only legally its namesake when made from the blue agave variety, whereas mescal has the choice of 30 other types of agave to qualify.For me, the smoky, more exotic tastes of mescal trumps a purer, more refined tequila. Like gin, mescal production has a boutique value, with lots of suppliers pursuing authentic method of production. The old school methods beginning with cooking the cactus pines, or ‘pinas’ in an underground, earthen pit lined with volcanic rock and wood, creating a hot underground ‘oven’ to roast, caramelise and smoke the pine. It is this that gives the drink its robust and smokey taste, before it is ground down on a stone wheel, or tahona, to extract the liquid gold honey nectar.
At Viva Zapata there are a number of garage favourites ranging in colour and depth according to your preference. For safety sake a tasting is always suggested, if you can persuade the staff you are in it to buy.
If you have had your fill of tacos and want a quick stop point there is Burrito Amor. A street side pit stop, in what looks like an old gas station. With everything from shimp aquachili salads, green juices with mayan spinach, or goumet vegan / ribeye or cheese and bean burritos its is bound to have an affordable and tasty option for any diner. I was a big fan of their iced coffee, beautiful fruit salads and their eggs with nopal (cactus). They also do a killer superberry smoothie with acai and have a number of good options for wine and beer too.
Another top spot for a midday snack, yoghurt pot or juice is Del Cielo a fab little bistro just off the main street. Right in the heart of the action, it was here I chose for my birthday breakfast (after a magical yoga class at Yoga Ditra.) All of their breads are freshly made and their produce fresh. I chose a Mexican inspired open sandwich on santano bread, with black beans, avocado and radishes. A lovely, if slightly bland option when compared with Emma’s exotic looking fruit and yoghurt granola parfait. Coffee and kombutcha however were on point…. The kombutcha lightly fermented and pleasingly not too sweet. I recommend this spot highly!