A Taco Crawl in Tulum, Mexico
Words can barely describe how much I love tacos. To me, tacos are food perfection, a holy trinity of filling, spicy salsa, and a small soft tortilla that holds everything together. Made with recipes often handed down for centuries and prepared and cooked for hours, just to be eaten within a few seconds. But those seconds, when you are finally holding the taco in your hand, sauce dripping down your fingers, and you take that first bite, it is pure comfort filling your body and soul. That’s what makes a taco into something more than just a dish to eat. For me, it’s history, it’s knowledge, it’s people, it’s Mexico. I just had to come here at some point in my life and eat as many tacos as I could.
As I also wanted to do some diving while in Mexico I decided to stay at the Riviera Maya, and that’s what brought me to Tulum. The idea to do a Taco Crawl here came to me on my first night out in town. I was sitting in a restaurant, and while the night fell, I could watch through the window as one taco vendor after another was setting up their stand on Avenida Satélite until the whole street had turned into one big open-air restaurant. It looked like a taco lover`s dream, I instantly knew what I wanted to do as long as I was here: eat as many tacos as I could.
List of places:
- Taqueria Honorio, Satélite Sur 19, Tulum Centro, Villas Huracanes, 77760 Tulum
- El Capitan, Av. Coba entre asteroides y mercurio, Tulum Centro, Col Huracanes, 77760 Tulum
- El Rincón Chiapaneco, C. Júpiter Sur, Tulum Centro, 77760 Tulum
- Mil Amores, Avenida satelite mza 15 lote 2 Sanitario sur Centro, 77760 Tulum
- Avenida Satélite, Av. Satélite, Tulum Centro
The Taco Cochinita Pibil – Taqueria Honorio
Every person I asked where to eat the best tacos in Tulum had the same answer: Taqueria Honorio. Even before I came to Mexico I heard of this famous Taqueria and their taco Cochinita. As Honorio is a very popular taqueria the place is usually packed, and you should be prepared to stand in line before you get to taste one of their famous tacos. So, if you’re not afraid to have one savory breakfast I would recommend getting there as early as you can, but even when you come here later in the day and have to wait a bit before you can taste one of the delicious tacos, you know the wait was worth it the moment you take your first bite. And you better enjoy that bite, because you may have eaten a taco Cochinita in under a minute but its preparation took an average of a day to a day and a half.
The Cochinita Pibil is a Mayan pit-roasted pork dish that takes time and knowledge to make, and in some places, its making is like a sacred ritual. Before the meat gets roasted, traditionally in an underground pit and wrapped in banana leaves, it is marinated for at least 10 hours in a special sauce made from achiote, bitter orange, and other spices. The marinade and the slow roasting make the pork into some juicy delicacy. Served with pickled red onions and habanero salsa this taco is truly some Yucatan magic.
In difference to other tacos, the Cochinita is an endemic taco, which means it’s very local and very regional to the Yucatán area. Every place has its own recipe but each one of them is made to perfection, and truly something you should not miss eating while in Yucatán.
The Fish Taco – El Capitan
Let me start with this: I have never eaten better fish tacos than the ones at El Capitan!
That said, El Capitan restaurant is also one of the better-known restaurants in Tulum, with a wide-ranging menu that will probably satisfy everyone. So, yes, you can have your spaghetti or burgers here, but as you may have guessed, I would recommend not doing so, and ordering something from the local section of the menu, you won’t regret it. The tacos that I still dream about and that led to several facial outbursts of happiness when I ate them were the battered and deep-fried fish and shrimp tacos with salsa Mexicana. Another recommendation, if you’re not that into deep-fried food, are the tacos Piratas with grilled shrimp and spinach. Those tacos combined with a glass of freshly made horchata or a cold bottle of Dos Equis makes one excellent taco lunch.
The Vegetarian Break – El Rincón Chiapaneco
As tacos are an all-day everyday food you can get a good taco on basically every corner for just a few pesos. So, in search of my next delicious taco, I just wandered around Tulum with no specific destination in mind and found numerous taco places on the side roads around the main street. The only difficulty was to decide where to finally sit down. I settled with the colorful little taqueria El Rincón Chiapaneco, and after a quiet meat-, and fish-heavy first part of the day ordered some simple vegetarian tacos with beans, rice, vegetables, and, of course, queso. Simple in the components, but none at all basic in taste and once again proof, that sometimes it does need nothing more than the combination of a few good ingredients to make a good meal. It was indeed the best choice for a quick taco snack on a hot Mexican afternoon.
If I had been able to, I would have loved to eat a taco at every taqueria I passed, but while I have a certain talent for eating above average, even though I sometimes reach my limits and can’t eat everything that comes my way, not even if it’s tacos. But I’m pretty sure no matter what place I would have chosen on that afternoon, the tacos would have been fantastic.
Tacos and Drinks – Mil Amores
As I mentioned before, you can eat tacos really all day long. For breakfast, lunch, or as a snack in between, a taco is always a good idea. But a taco combined with a cool drink after the sun has set and the heat of the day slowly eases is just something else. The taco is truly a king of the night, the perfect dish to have on the table while you have a drink or two.
The ideal choice to do so in Tulum is the small restaurant, Mil Amores. In addition to a large selection of drinks, the menu also offers all kinds of Mexican delicacies for a big or small appetite, but because this was the day of tacos, I ordered a few tacos Arrachera to soak up my Margarita. At this point, I already had eaten quite a few tacos, but there was still room for one last one.
Tacos for everyone and the Al Pastor – Avenida Satélite
As I was telling you in the beginning, the trigger for my decision to do a Taco Crawl here in Tulum was the numerous taco vendors at Avenida Satélite. So, after a long day of only eating tacos, I came back to the place where everything started, because there was still one taco on my list I hadn’t eaten yet: the al pastor. The taco al pastor may be THE taco of Mexico City but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good al pastor somewhere else in Mexico, and it is the perfect taco to sober up after a night out and finish your day before you go to bed. Also, I was very curious about that specific taco, not only about the taste but also about how a taco made from kebab became one of the original Mexican tacos.
And as so often when it comes to the origins of good food, this story also began with people who emigrated and brought their culture with them to their new homes. With the culture came the food, and within the food came the old recipes, which over time adapted to more regional ingredients, resulting in something new and beautiful. In the case of the taco al pastor, it was the Lebanese people, who brought the tradition of making shawarma to Mexico and evolved the taco al pastor out of the al árabes by replacing the traditional lamb with pork, starting to marinating the meat, and then put it with salsa on a soft tortilla instead of pita bread.
You can spot an al pastor place very easily by looking out for those big skewers of layered meat. The meat is usually grilled with coal on that trompo until it’s a little bit crispy on the outside and still soft and juicy on the inside. To get that special juiciness and to make the al pastor the al pastor the meat is marinated in a secret mix of seasoning, that always contains chili, achiote, vinegar, and orange juice to make the meat super tender. Finished with chipotle salsa, pineapple, onions, and cilantro it is pure magic when it touches your palate. As with probably every taco, it’s best to eat the al pastor hot and right away, don’t even bother sitting down in a restaurant, and just get one from one of the carritos right here.
At the end of the day, I did what I came here to do. I threw myself into a day full of tacos and enjoyed every bite to the last. Of course, this was just a tiny glimpse into the world of tacos, but the thing with tacos is, the next one is already waiting around the corner. Tacos are the heart of Mexican cuisine, but they are also known and loved all around the world, so no matter where you are, you can get a good taco almost everywhere. So hold it, fold it and enjoy it.