The 23 Best Restaurants in Tulum, Mexico

The 23 Best Restaurants in Tulum, Mexico

In the early ’90s, Tulum was a sleepy pueblo on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, a day trip from a hotel in Playa del Carmen or Cancún to see the ruins and stroll downtown. But by the end of the 20th century, Tulum was about to become a global destination, first for hippies seeking yoga and meditation retreats, then for celebrities, and then for developers. International investors, hoteliers, restaurant groups from Mexico City, and chefs from around the world followed, eventually creating an expensive tropical playground by the sea.

These days, you can walk a stone’s throw from your hotel and hit a stylish outdoor restaurant set in decomposed granite with a wood-fired oven cooking local, foraged ingredients — exactly the kind of restaurant that what you would expect from a place with Tulum’s reputation. But in the past few years, new chefs from all over Mexico (often encouraged by Mexico City’s restaurant groups) have increased the competition and brought other regional cuisines and specialties to town. And there are still some affordable stalwarts of old Tulum that have survived the area’s economic evolution.

However, dining in Tulum is pretty expensive, and if you’re going to drop more than $300 on dinner and drinks for two, you better make sure your meal is worth it. The best restaurants deliver all the magic, romance, and aesthetic that a beach destination promises. They serve foods raised by local flora and fauna and cook using methods inherited from the Maya; which often include recaudos (colorful herbal marinades), especially grilled octopus in a recaudo negro, a dish made iconic by chef Jose Luis Hinostroza’s Arca.

Bill Esparza is an LA native, James Beard Award-winning food writer, author of LA Mexicanand a featured journalist at Netflix Street Food USA.

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