Typical winter foods just aren’t my thing. I respect the fervor with which fans baste their roasts, whip their potatoes, and twirl their pasta. When the weather turns cold, I think about one thing: Tulum.
This winter will be my fourth trip there, and each time I pull into this groovy Mexican beach town on the edge of the Riviera Maya, I find another restaurant that makes me swoon.
Here are five that are musts for me every time:
This casual restaurant and fish market sits next to the highway on the far side of town. It doesn’t look like much (expect dust-covered plastic chairs and wobbly tables), but there are few places I’d rather dine.
From the fresh fish tacos to spicy ceviches and, my favorite, tender stewed octopus, El Camello serves outrageously fresh seafood at prices so reasonable that it’s okay to order almost the entire menu. You can also pick up takeaway or snag the freshest bits of daily catch to cook up at home from the attached shop.
Hartwood, owned by two New York expats, offers a very different scene than that at El Camello. Here, it’s as much about the cool cocktails and stylish crowd as it is the excellent food.
This open-air eatery on the jungle side of the beach road has no electrical appliances–only a massive wood-burning oven and open grill–but the fish I ate there topped meals I’ve eaten anywhere. Service can be slow, so bring a group of friends (and a bottle of mosquito repellent) and settle in for the evening. The margaritas and good vibes make the wait for a table inconsequential.
Another food-lover’s favorite tucked into the jungle is El Tábano. The menu includes more traditional Mexican flavors than you’ll find at Hartwood, but all are a serious step up the gourmet ladder from the area’s chips-and-guac outlets. Shrimp with habanero butter, cold avocado soup, and truffled poblano crepes are a few favorites, although I’ve never experienced anything less than delicious here.
During the day, choose a table under the thatched roof next to the open-air kitchen. At night, the sprawling patio takes on a lounge-like atmosphere and is the place to be.
Most visitors to Tulum aren’t looking for Thai food. But for those spending more than a couple of days in town, the change of culinary pace can be quite welcome.
Mezzanine sits on stilts overlooking a particularly wide stretch of the beach, away from the main hotel zone and closer to the area’s famous ruins. Light curries, crisp dumplings and spicy salads taste even better with a cold michelada, and the views are splendid.
The restaurant is also a hot spot at dinner, though I find Tulum winds strong at night and prefer to eat here in the day (followed by a nap on the beach). For those seeking a home base in this quieter part of town, Mezzanine is also a hotel.
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This rustic Italian gem isn’t a secret anymore, but that doesn’t make it any less alluring. The concise menu features homemade pastas, fresh vegetables, and charcuterie, and the white-washed patio is basically an invitation to spend hours sipping wine. My kids love Posada for its gentle Golden Retriever Blanca, an aged grande dame who graciously naps while toddlers swoon over her.
The owners, a cool young Italian couple, also have a chic boutique that’s a great place to pick up stylish, artisanal jewelry or a pretty cover-up. If you can’t pry yourself away, just book a room; Posada Margarita is also a hotel.
New York-based travel writer Henley Vazquez has lived on three continents, but she’s happiest when she’s hitting the road with her husband and two kids. Follow her story on Twitter @HenleyVQ.