Quintana Roo is the southeastern state of Mexico and is home to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Cancun. The eastern side of the state runs along the beautiful caribbean sea making it clearly a desirable destination. But, what if you don’t want to stay in the overcrowded city of Cancun? Just south to the city of Tulum! Tulum is a slice of paradise full of hippy shops, juice stands, pristine beaches and Mayan ruins but also incredibly tasty local cuisine if you know where to look.
Tulum is part of the Yucatán peninsula that was home to the Mayans. The cuisine of the state is influenced by the ingredients growing in the dense jungles as well as the caribbean coast which provides a wide variety of seafood. It can be difficult to find traditional food in a land of hotels and tourists, even in the smaller town like resort town like Tulum. But with a little research on what the traditional dishes of the region are, Ash and I were able to find some of the best places to eat local in Tulum and now we get to share them with you!
Eat Local in Tulum
Antojitos La Chiapaneca
Antojitos la Chiapaneca is one of those places that’s hard to pass on the street. When we first arrived to the restaurant it was packed to the gills with locals and tourists. Two long lines greeted us along with the smell of grilled meat on a spit. The line on the right is for people waiting for a seat. The one on the left is for ordering food to go. Two very large spits grilling meat can be seen from the street and they are the reason why everybody comes here. Antojitos la Chiapaneca is considered the best al pastor in all of Tulum.
Let talk first about what al pastor is. Al pastor originates from Central Mexico and is simply spit grilled meat similar to shawarma or döner kebab. Al pastor was brought over by the Lebanese in the 1700s. From that moment on, it has become a popular dish, especially served as tacos and tortas. The pork is marinated with chiles, spices, and pineapple traditionally, with minor variation depending on who is preparing it. It’s cooked slowly on a vertical spit called a trompo with a gas flame. Then slices are shaved off and served to hungry patrons.
The best part about Antojitos la Chiapaneca is not only how good it is but how cheap it is. It is 7 pesos for a taco and 15 pesos for a torta with nothing costing over 20 pesos. To put that in perspective, nothing cost over one dollar. The tacos are .33 cents. Can’t beat that deal when it comes to eating!
If al pastor is not your cup of tea, they do offer pollo (chicken) and asada (steak) and even a veggie option. I would make sure to try the al pastor though because it is what they are known for and after its only 33cents! They also serve sopes, panuchos, salbutes, tostadas, empanadas and gringas. All of them come with al pastor unless pollo or asada is specified.
We suggest trying the panuchos or the salbutes as they are both traditional dishes in the region. Panuchos is a refried tortilla filled with refried black beans, topped with chopped cabbage, pickled red onion, pulled chicken or turkey (traditionally), tomatoes, avocado, and sometimes pickled jalapeño peppers. Salbutes is a puffed deep fried tortilla topped with pulled chicken or turkey (traditionally), tomatoes, cabbage, pickled red onion, avocado, and sometimes pickled jalapeño peppers. Antojitos La Chiapanecha does its own twist by topping them with al pastor.
The service is quick and when the food arrives they have a salsa bar with different salsas, lime, cabbage, and cilantro and onions. Antojitos La Chiapanecha is a must stop when visiting Tulum and is probably the best spot to eat local in Tulum.
Boca Paila Road Kilometer 7.6
As much as cheap hole in the walls are great when traveling, every now and then we just want to sit down for a nice dinner. Ashley and I like to dress to the nines and eat some high end treats every now and then. It’s fun to explore the unrefined as well as the refined cuisine of a culture. That is why when our friend and fellow blogger Adriana Kröller asked us to check out Hartwood we could not resist.
Hartwood is a restaurant that was opened by a couple from New York on the jungle side of the Tulum Beach Road. It is an open air restaurant that has about 20 to 25 tables with a mix of four and two tops including a bar with seats amongst the jungle and just across the road from the beach.
What is so unique about this place and what makes it an Eat Local spot is the fact that everything is sourced fresh from the region. The menu changes daily depending on what ingredients they are able to get that day. They also regularly forge for a lot of the ingredients from the surrounding jungle and local Mayan farms. Plus a lot of their dishes take inspiration from the Mayan people making it truly local eating.
All of the food here is cooked on open flame, and gives a unique and flavorful char to the ingredients, except for the ceviche which it is cooked in citrus. They also have a wonderful and unique cocktail list based on mezcal and their wine list is primarily from Mexico with a few wines from South America. This whole place not only celebrates the Yucatán Peninsula but it also celebrates Mexico as a whole!
Ashley and I wanted to order everything on the menu and it took a great amount of restraint not to. We started out with a couple cocktails before we even thought about what to order. For dinner we managed to contain ourselves to just three appetizers of slightly charred empanadas stuffed with slow cooked lechon or pork, fresh traditional fish ceviche with jalapeños, avocado, radishes, and then large mayan prawns cooked whole on the grill. There was char, spice, and sweetness to all the dishes and it was fantastic. We of course order a bottle of wine from Mexico to go along with all of these wonderful dishes.
For our main dishes, Ashley enjoyed the fish of the day which was hake and I had the pork ribs glazed with honey and agave and slow cooked for 14 hours which is a staple on their menu. We finished off with homemade corn and cheese ice cream (which was delicious and not weird at all) and a shot of coffee infused mezcal from Oaxaca. We were stuffed happy and just delighted by our experience. For this upscale meal it only cost us 3,050 pesos or 142 U.S. dollars including tip. In all honesty, for a high end restaurant and to get all of that for less than 150 is remarkable. Ashley and I will definitely be coming back here the next time when we are in Tulum!
The place is cash only!
The service is fast paced and a little chaotic so just relax and go with the flow.
Make reservations before your trip. Email them at [email protected] We had heard that it takes about six months to get a reservation but we were able to get one within a couple days of requesting so just keep that in mind when planning your trip, especially if you have a specific date in mind.
Las Quekas is a small chain restaurant that was started just north of Tulum in Cancun and the complete opposite of Hartwood. I know what you are thinking, how can this be eating local in Tulum?
Las Quekas as far as we could tell was a local spot for a quick lunch. Also all the ingredients are fresh, and the tortillas are made and cooked to order. This is not the typical fast food joint and we have a hard time even calling it one. Las Quekas is known for two things: quesadillas for 13 pesos and sopes for 15 pesos. Actually that is all they serve although they have different toppings and fillings depending on what they have fresh that day.
When Ashley and I stopped in one for lunch they were freshly out of sopes but they were able to cook us up a couple of cheap and delicious quesadillas. We ordered a rojas poblanas and papas e chorizo quesadillas, one with peppers and the other with potato and chorizo. It cost a total of 26 pesos which is just over one U.S. dollar and it was fantastic. It hit the spot for a quick bite to eat.
If you are in Tulum and you are starting to get hangry, just pop into a Las Quekas and believe me you won’t regret this cheap but delicious eat.
Note: They make everything to order and it seems that whatever ingredients they get in that day is all they are going to have. So they might not have the full menu. Plus once they run out they run out.
Taqueria El Paisa
The Corner of Avenidas Orion & Sol
As Ashley and I were researching Tulum I decided to look into the traditional dishes that Quintana Roo is known for. To my pleasant surprise this region of Mexico is known for cochinita pibil. Cochinita pibil is slow roasted pork marinated in citrus juice and seasoned with annatto seed all wrapped up in banana leaves. It can be served in tacos, tortas, or just on its own. My sister and I actually grew up eating homemade cochinita pibil from my father, so to say the least I was excited to be able to eat it in the region that is known for it.
Ashley and I were walking around downtown Tulum when we walked passed Taqueria El Paisa. It is a small hole in the wall place on the corner with the menu painted outside on the wall under the name. I walked up to the door and asked if they still had cochinita. They said yes and ushered me into this makeshift restaurant. We seemed to be the only customers as the rest of people seemed to be family or friends with a couple people working. I felt as if I was just in someone’s kitchen.
I order a couple of tacos with cochinita and they were prepared quickly. The small little street tacos were set in front of me and I devoured them. They were so tasty and exactly what I was looking for. I left satisfied and was smiling from ear to ear that I was able to find such great cochinita. We found out later that this place is known for bringing in their pigs daily and cooking them underground so that fresh cochinita is ready every day!
Satélite Sur Tulum
Ashley and I just happened upon this restaurant after leaving Taqueria El Paisa. We saw that they had a bunch of food cooking on their patio while with many people not just eating there but taking it to go. Cars were pulling up and walking away with big to go bags of food so we had to take a look. The menu was painted on the back wall and what caught my eye was poc-chuc which is another traditional dish of the region. Poc-chuc is grilled pork steaks marinated in a bitter orange sauce.
Ashley and I were on our way back to our hotel so I order a poc-chuc torta to go and it was the best decision of the day. First off we found out that they make the bread for the torta in house so it was fresh. Then when we arrived back to the hotel I opened it up and dove in. This just might have been the best torta I have ever had and immediately told Ashley that Taqueria Honorio had to make the list for our Eat Local in Tulum guide. This is a must eat while vacationing down in Tulum!
Taquerias El Ñero
Taqueria El Ñero is located on the main strip of Tulum. It was a place that we walked passed as we were heading to Antojitos our first night. As we passed by it I noticed that it was filled with locals and had one of my favorite style of tacos, taco lengua or beef tongue tacos, and when it is done right they are just scrumptious. I made a mental note that I would have to come back the next day and try them out.
I am really glad that Ashley and I came back to this small local spot on the main strip. The lengua was tender and delicious and served on corn tortillas with just the simple topping of cilantro and onions plus some hot salsa. Ashley had the al pastor taco which was equally as good but couldn’t handle even the mildest of salsa there.
This place was busy while we were there and filled with mostly locals which is always a great sign when you are about to eat at a place. Taquerias El Ñero is a must if you are looking for a nice divey taco joint.
Mexico is known for its street food and Tulum has its fair share. We found a bunch of street food stands on Calle Osiris Sur Street. The carts started to set up in the evening and were out well into the late evening. I suggest stopping by the guy grilling tamales because they were amazing but there were so many options you could just create a tacos hop from stand to stand!
Drink Local in Tulum
This place had every warning sign of a place not to go to. It is filled with flashing lights, karaoke, and beer bucket deals. It should had been a tourist trap but it wasn’t. Our first afternoon in town we were hungry and tired so decided to give this place a shot as it was filled with locals having beer and tacos in the middle of the afternoon. We enjoyed a decent lunch with cheap beer and were pleasantly surprised. At night we saw it in its full glory of flashing lights and karaoke. Instead of being filled to the brim with tourists though it was still locals having dinner, drinking beer, watching soccer, and singing karaoke from their tables.
So if you want a cheap beer to cool off Ash and I give our stamp of approval for Kahlua as the place to enjoy beers.
Beach Road Km. 7
We went to Gitano after our dinner at Hartwood and were greeted with a very fashionable and stylish cocktail bar and restaurant. This place gave off the vibe that it was the place to be. It is known for its mezcal cocktails and chic vibe.
We ended sitting up at the bar and enjoyed watching our very talented bartender. We stayed for a few cocktails and enjoyed them all. Their cocktails are refreshing and simply delightful and well crafted. If you want to go to the it place then come to Gitano. The best part it is just a couple doors down from Hartwood.
Live Local in Tulum
Carretera Boca Paila Tulum Ruinas, Km 2.5
Diamante K was our little slice of paradise while we stayed in Tulum. There are hostels in town but Ashley and I wanted a little more luxury for this trip. Diamante K was the perfect spot for us as it was right on the beach and just an easy bike ride into town as well as really close to the mayan ruins. The hotel is what I picture Jimmy Buffet’s island, Margaritaville, would look like. The rooms are beautiful and comfortable thatched huts that made you feel as if you were deep in the jungle.
The “resort” is more of an eco-resort. There are several self contained thatched huts with limited electricity (mainly at night) and shared bathrooms or small self contained rooms. There are also larger much more resort like rooms with views of the oceans and balconies and the like.We stayed in one of the smaller rooms and were extremely happy with our accommodations. We probably could have just moved in! Diamante K is one of the smaller resorts and is very dedicated to being an eco lodge since the area around Tulum is a national park.
The restaurant and bar were an open air building and were very relaxed and beachy with sea views all around. The cocktails and beer were not much more than in town and the food was decent. Diamante K had its own little beach cove that you could spread out on beach chairs, hammocks and cabanas with a wonderful staff that took care of all our needs. Ash and I were in heaven and dreamed how we could build a home like this slice of paradise.
The best part was that it was a small hotel so you never felt like it was crowded. You felt like you could enjoy some good old fashion me time. We would definitely stay here again if we got a chance!
Tulum is such an amazing little developing beach town with so much to offer! There’s great food, beautiful beaches, and a wonderful and friendly local population. It has a relaxing hippie vibe to it and it was perfect for a little R & R. We know for a fact that we will come back and visit this wonderful town soon.
Heading to Tulum soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance! Sure you may not use it but its always good to have. We recommend World Nomads which we have been using for years and have always made us feel secure as we travel around the world!
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