Where to Eat in Tulum, Mexico: Part 1

Where to Eat in Tulum, Mexico: Part 1

Ah, Tulum. Sun, sand, and selfies: it’s the perfect getaway to really boost your Instagram presence. Seriously. The whole town looks good enough to eat, except for the food, which mostly looks too good to eat. Through great personal sacrifice though, I’ve discovered which food is just as delicious as it is photogenic. What follows is a diary of everything I ate on my recent trip to Tulum. It’s also functions as a guide for where to eat in Tulum, so take notes.

Since the sheer number of options for truly delicious food in Tulum is overwhelming, I’ve split this guide into two parts. Up first: cheap but delicious. All these restaurants have amazing, budget-friendly menus.

Where to Eat Like a Local in Tulum

I’m not going to pretend that Tulum is an untapped paradise of local cuisine. Maybe it used to be. But now it’s touristy, plain and simple. It’s a resort town for people who don’t want to feel like they went to a resort. The number of Italian restaurants along Tulum Playa’s main drag are proof enough of that (Italian food… in Mexico??).

Despite the Instagram filter that's been slapped over Tulum, there are still places where you can enjoy cheap, authentic regional food. Click To Tweet

Naj Tacos & Tortas

Serves: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly:

Price Range: $2 – 10 USD

Oh, Naj. Shall I compare thee to a Taco Bell? No, for thou art actually Mexican food and also way cheaper.

The tacos I had at Naj were the first thing I ate in Tulum. Chris and I had been traveling all day and were starving by the time we checked into our Airbnb. After dropping our bags in the room, we headed out into the pouring rain to forage. Fortunately, Naj was just across the street, so we only got mildly soaked.

I’d spent the months leading up to our trip researching what and where to eat in Tulum. The conclusion? I needed to try cochinita pibil, a pork dish similar to carnitas, slow-cooked with orange juice and achiote. And there it was, on Naj’s menu. So we ordered three cochinita pibil tacos apiece and spent less than $10USD.

Eating tacos and laughing at Naj
That moment when you just want to eat the damn taco, but you have to fake laugh for a picture. (Image courtesy of Chris Mougey)

These were easily the best tacos I’ve ever eaten. In fact, we loved it so much that we hit Naj up for both breakfast and lunch a couple days later. Our devoted patronage earned us a few odd looks from the staff, but we didn’t mind.

Naj only has a few options for breakfast, but they’re delicious. The owner, Vladimir, told us that the chef is his roommate and the breakfast menu is just the food he would normally be cooking up at home. Doesn’t get much more local than that.

I tried the chilequiles while Chris opted for an omelette. Another incredible meal for under $10.

I Scream Bar

Serves: Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol, Ice Cream (Vegan)

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly: ☙ ☙ ☙

Price Range: $5 – 15 USD

From the scrap metal car parts aesthetic to the eclectic selection of live music every night, I give this place five out of five stars just for atmosphere. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures to document the rad vibes because I’m a bad Instagrammer but there’s plenty of evidence elsewhere online.

The food was pretty phenomenal, too. Chris and I ate here for dinner our first night in Tulum. We’d planned for dinner at Gitano, but they were booked solid and the drinks were expensive, so we bounced. Luckily for us, I Scream Bar was literally just outside our Airbnb’s front door.

Even though we’d just had tacos for lunch at Naj, we got tacos again. No regrets.

Batey: Mojito & Guarapo Bar

Serves: Bar Snacks Dinner, Alcohol

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly: ☙ ☙ ☙

Price Range: $2 – 7 USD

I know, I know. It’s far from revolutionary for me to tell you “You gotta go to Batey.” But seriously: you gotta go to Batey.

Unlike Naj and I Scream Bar, Batey is in Tulum Pueblo, not along the beach strip. Don’t let that discourage you, though, if you’re staying in Tulum Playa like we were. It’s not that far between the two and taxis are cheap. Bonus points if you rent a bike instead. Better for the environment and your Instagram.

Batey’s claim to fame is their Mojito bar, aka an old-school VW bug painted in brilliant colors and retrofitted with a sugar cane press (batey is Spanish for sugar refinery, so…). It’s that freshly pressed sugar cane juice that makes the mojitos and guarapos – the virgin option – so delicious. Best part? The mojitos at Batey are around $5USD, which is much cheaper than what you’ll find at the bars along the beach strip.

Mojitos at Batey
Pro tip: when no one’s looking, take the sugar cane garnish out and crunch on it. SO sweet.

I ordered the Tricolor Mojito, a refreshing-sounding mix of watermelon, lemon, and mint. Chris was a little bit braver and tried the Azteca – prickly pear, cactus, and lemon. Both were delightful, especially after walking around Tulum Pueblo in the heat of the day.

Batey also serves food, a variety of snacks and tapas, all between $2USD and $7USD. While I can’t vouch for any of it personally, since we were too full from the massive burritos we’d had earlier to order food (more on that in a moment), the ratio of locals to tourists was telling enough.

Where to Eat Clean in Tulum

These next two restaurants are great for all my veggie and vegan friends out there (notice the five out of five leaves ratings), or really anyone who wants to eat cleaner and greener.

They’re also inexpensive, delicious, and totally Instagrammable.

Burrito Amor

Serves: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly: ☙ ☙ ☙ ☙ ☙

Price Range: $2 – 7 USD

Owned by Aussie ex-pats Cameron and Paula Davis, Burrito Amor is a super popular spot in Tulum Pueblo. And for good reason, too. The trendy burrito bar emphasizes the owners’ concept of “Clean Eating” by celebrating the amazing flavors and fresh, local ingredients of Mexico within a menu that’s accessible to anyone, regardless of dietary restrictions. They’re also committed to reducing restaurant waste, like take-away packaging and plastic straws.

In other words, they make kick-ass burritos that you can feel good about eating. Oh, and did I mention that nothing on the menu is more than $7USD?

Where to eat burritos in Tulum
Loving the utility and eco-friendliness of banana leaf wrappers.

Chris and I both ordered the smoked pork and pineapple burritos, which came wrapped in piping hot banana leaves. I honestly don’t know why we don’t use banana leaves for more in the U.S. They worked better than aluminum foil would have to keep those burritos hot enough to burn the ever-loving eff out of my mouth.

(Chipotle, I have a business proposition for you.)

The only complaint I have is that I didn’t get to come back to try something else off the menu. The nopales and Mayan spinach burrito looked amazing.

Raw Love Tulum

Serves: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Coffee & Tea

Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly: ☙ ☙ ☙ ☙ ☙

Price Range: $2 – 10 USD

We didn’t eat at Raw Love Tulum until the our last day in Tulum. Of course, I’d seen it all over Instagram; I knew it was only a five minute walk from our Airbnb; I’d been dying to go since I planned the trip.

I’d avoided it for two main reasons: 1) I didn’t think my carnivore boyfriend would be down for a raw vegan cafe. That’s right. Raw. As in, not cooked. And 2) I assumed it would be expensive as hell, given its Instagram fame.

Well, I was wrong on both counts.

The prices at Raw Love Tulum are genuinely affordable, which was shocking given that it looks like the love child of Pinterest, Instagram, and a Boho beach designer warehouse (in the best way).

Where to eat vegan in Tulum
Almost too pretty to eat… almost.

It didn’t take any convincing to get Chris to eat there,either. After three days of eating basically nothing but tacos, we were both more than ready for a change of pace. We hit up Raw Love in the early afternoon, after a workout at Tulum Jungle Gym (10 out of 10, definitely recommend, by the way).

It was the perfect time of day. The cafe was nearly empty and the temperature was too high to want a hot lunch anyways. Smoothies were the perfect meal.

Chris had the Acai Berry smoothie and I had the Tropical Kiss smoothie bowl, which was full of papaya, passion fruit, mango and other goodies. It was nearly too beautiful to eat and yes I did spend at least ten minutes taking pictures of it. Sometimes I’m good at my job, ok?

That’s it for my favorite cheap place to eat in Tulum.

Next up, some pricier options that I think are worth the extra pesos. Keep reading to find out what they are.

Have you been to any of theses restaurants? Or do you have other favorite place to eat in Tulum? Let me know in the comments; I’m always looking for recommendations!

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(Image courtesy of Chris Mougey)

Note: I’ve provided the price range for each restaurant in U.S. dollars, based on the conversion rate today as I’m writing this. These rates fluctuate constantly. The best way to stretch your money no matter where you eat in Tulum is to carry Mexican pesos and pay only with those.

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