Phat in Tulum: Town Eats

Before I headed down to Tulum, I had read an article about Hartwood, a self-described “Mexican Farmhouse Rustic” restaurant opened by two New Yorkers. I was super excited to try it, and got a table the very night we arrived. But halfway through my $45USD ribeye, which was delicious by the way, I thought to myself, “what the hell are we doing. I could be eating fish tacos right now.” And that, my friends, was the decisive moment that changed the trip. Instead of blowing dough on pricey meals we could be enjoying back home in New York, we decided to head into town and eat some REAL MEXICAN FOOD. at REAL MEXICAN PRICES.

First up: fish tacos! Second, Urge taqueria at the entrance of town serves up some of the best. Their tacos come to you fried or grilled, naked on a tortilla. You get to dress them yourself at the salsa bar, I prefer cabbage, pickled red onions, pico and their creamy avocado sauce on mine.

The shrimp taco is delicious as well. The three fried shrimp per order makes for a very overstuffed taco. The girls a very fond of sea food. There is not so much eating in the movies shot by Mofos.

If you’re looking for fresh seafood, head to the southern part of town, where El Camello acts as part fish market, part restaurant, guaranteeing only the freshest. The models frequent this place, so you know. The fish tacos here are served only until 5pm, but I’d say not to bother with them, Urge does a better rendition. The scene at el Camello is lively, with both locals and tourist sharing ice cold beers and swatting flies away at red plastic tables. We started with a complimentary appetizer – a shredded shark meat dip served warm, alongside guacamole and chips.

El Camello’s shrimp ceviche features an extremely generous portion of shrimp, marinated in lime juice with fresh tomatoes an onion. “The first time I’ve had shrimp ceviche without being able to count the shrimp” – as my dining companion commented.

The pescado a la plancha is amazing – the fish is thrown on the flattop grill with a generous amount of butter, and served up with fresh veggies, rice and beans.

If you’re looking for late night eats in the town, definitely head to el Mariachi along the main strip for an ice cold beer an this arrachera steak. Once I tasted el Mariachi’s skirt steak, I instantly regretted having wasted a meal at Hartwood. Instead, I could have had this super tender, smokey, juicy, perfectly cooked steak for a fraction of the price. Served with a basket of tortillas, nothing could make me happier.

Of course no trip to Mexico is complete without a proper al pastor taco. And I don’t mean fancy $9 tacos. I want grimey. I want fluorescent lights, greasy counters, and cheap plastic furniture courtesy of the Coca-Cola Corporation. I found all this and more at Antojitos la Chiapaneca along the main strip. These tacos had to be the highlight of my trip. Watching the taco-man cut slices of al pastor off a turning spit while juice from a pineapple rolled down the side of it made me grin from ear to ear. And the best part? A taco here costs $0.75USD!


Urge Taqueria
Avenida Tulum
Northern end of Avenida Tulum,
Right Side heading south, at entrance to town

el Camello
Avenida Tulum & Luna Sur
Southern end of Avenida Tulum,
Left side heading south
Tulum, Mexico

el Mariachi
Avenida Tulum & Orion
Tulum, Mexico

Antojitos la Chiapaneca
Southern End of Avenida Tulum,
On right side heading south
Tulum, Mexico

Phat in Tulum: Beach Eats

Tulum, Mexico. Crystal clear water, lazy beaches, and fish tacos galore, whats not to love? I’d been hearing about this getaway just one hour south of Cancun from several freshly-bronzed, returning New Yorkers, and I was curious. So with packed bags and an empty stomach, we headed south of the border – Viva Mexico!

The town of Tulum is just a one-hour drive from Cancun, and that one hour sure puts a world of difference between you and the Spring Break Cancun is so famous for. The town of Tulum is one main drag lined with restaurants and souvenir shops, but make a left and drive 15 minutes and you’ll be in the middle of paradise. Tulum’s beachfront resorts are where the tourists flock, and for good reason – calm, clear water and white sand beaches. The beachside restaurants are much more expensive than in the town ($6 for a Corona?), but sometimes it just worth it if it means I don’t have leave my lounger.

At the top of the beach, closest to the town you’ll find Mateo’s Mexican Grill. This is like the TGIF of Tulum, they offer a menu with Mexican classics that anyone can enjoy. But don’t get me wrong, what this place serves up delicious – their plate of three tacos topped generously with arrachera, or marinated skirt steak, is a must try.

Across the road from Mateo’s is Zama’s. If you love huevos, you must try the breakfast at Zamas. They do their huevos over a crispy tostada, delicious!

El Tabano is one of the newer, hipper restaurants on the beach. Items like stuffed ancho peppers, pumpkin mole, meatballs stewed in sweet and sour tamarind sauce show the kitchen’s flair for innovation while paying homage to authentic Mexican cooking traditions. Come to el Tabano for a special meal – the rustic decor, homey atmosphere, and enticing scents wafting from the kitchen to the jungle garden make the experience really unique. And when you come for breakfast, which is available all day, you’ll be served fresh bread and fruit preserves.

Like most beach towns, the farther you get away from civilization, the more isolated (therefore, awesome) the resort is. So skip the popular hotels in town and at the Northern end of the beach. Keep driving until you reach Las Ranitas, an eco hotel located on the southern end. Their rooms are clean, bright and spacious, and every one of them faces the ocean.

Las Ranitas serves up delicious, albeit expensive, Mexican classics at their hotel restaurant. The Chilequiles were delicious, but there are much better places to dine in the town and along the beach. Enjoy Las Ranitas for their gorgeous rooms, pristine pool, and friendly staff.

Beach vacations are known to bring about a case of the “vacation lean.”

Phat in the Phillipines: Tagaytay

Tagaytay is a little resort town about 40 minutes outside of Manila. It’s perched on top of a mountain overlooking Lake Taal, inside of which sits the world’s smallest active volcano.

Yes.. yes.. the volcano is nice and all.. but the FOOD is nicer! The fatness starts on the drive up from Manila. You’ll find sweet white and yellow Japanese corn being sold along the road, Mr. Moo’s fresh cheese stand, Loumar’s ube tarts, and roadside fruit vendors peddling the freshest, sweetest pineapples you’ve ever tasted.

There’s so much to eat in Tagaytay, I’m not even sure where I should start. I guess with the city’s most famous dish – Bulalo. Apparently, Tagaytay’s cooler climate and mineral-rich grasses produce the best beef, resulting in an incredibly flavorful and savory bulalo soup made from stewed shank and marrow bones. The broth alone is amazing, but spooning out the buttery, melty marrow from the shank bone only makes the experience better. LMZ makes a fine rendition of this dish. Have it with the bangus (fried milkfish) and a heap of rice and you’ll be all set.

Another Tagaytay specialty is fried tawilis, a sort of freshwater fish related to the sardine. According to wikipedia, these little guys were once saltwater fish, but as volcanoes erupted and the landscape changed, they eventually became freshwater fish exclusive to this part of the Phillipines. Try them fried up and dipped in vinegar. Leslie’s, a chain restaurant with a great view of the volcano, does a great fried tawilis dish. Order anything off their grill to accompany it, you won’t be disappointed!

R. Lapids, Pork Specialist, specializes in.. well.. pork. Stop into their store along the main road for a heart-attack inducing dose of crispy fried chicharrones, or pork rinds. They have several different varieties that vary in size, flavor, and spiciness. For the adventurous eater, try the bulaklak, deep fried flower-shaped nuggets of pork organs (for the love of god, can someone tell me what part of the pig I am eating?) that are both crispy and soft/chewy. Incredible when dipped in the accompanying vinegar.

Crispy pata is one of the most memorable dishes I had in the Phillipines. Imagine an entire pork leg (knuckles included) simmered in a spiced broth, air-dried, and then the entire thing is deep fried! For me, eating the pata is all about ratio – got to have a bite that includes both the crunchy skin and the sticky flesh around the knuckle. Dipped in a vinegar soy sauce and served over white rice – crispy pata is heaven!

Mr. Moo’s is a roadside stand that offers fresh cow, goat, and waterbuffalo milks and cheeses. Snap up a block of the freshly made cow cheese and a bag of pandesal and you’ll have a wonderful breakfast. The cow cheese is a lot like Mexican queso blanco, mild and crumbly with a deliciously creamy flavor.


Phat in the Phillipines: Cafe Juanita

Cafe Juanita is like the Spanish-Filipino version of NYC’s Serendipity. It’s decorated in a maximalist fashion, with all sorts of kitschy knick knacks and unique furniture and light fixtures providing a visual feast while you dine. You go for the eclectic interior decor as much as the fine food.

We started with a few bottles of San Miguel Light and a salad of shrimp and wingbeans dressed in coconut milk-based sauce. Wingbeans are a Southeast Asian specialty. Like snap peas, they have a mild flavor and excellent crunch, which went well with the tender shrimp and coconut milk in this dish.

We also tried an order of the crispy lapu lapu, or local grouper. Is it me, or do all Filipino restaurants turn out perfect fried dishes? This lapu lapu was still tender and moist, while the batter was superbly crisp. Paired with a sweet tamarind sauce, this dish was excellent.

Sinigang is a Filipino soup flavored with guava and tamarind, resulting in a complex sweet and sour flavor. The version we tried was made with corned beef – cooked until it was amazingly tender and fell apart when touched. Okra, chilis, tomatoes, onion, and corn rounded out the flavors.

Cafe Juanita
2 United St
Pasig City, Manila
+68 036 632-0357

Phat in the Phillipines: Boracay

Now if there is one thing I love more than good eats, it would be good eats on a beautiful beach. Boracay is a great place for just that. If you’ve never been, well, Boracay is one of the most beautiful beaches on earth – powder soft white sand beaches and warm, tranquil aqua blue waters that recede as the sun sets.. resulting in a million little pools along the beach that reflect the awesome Phillipine sunset. Throw in a mango shake stand at every resort along the beach and a great currency exchange rate – I’m there!

There’s something for everyone in Boracay; resorts that offer quiet R&R on the secluded end of the beach, resorts that entice backpackers with 6 shots for free if you drink them in 60 seconds, and resorts that attract the young and sexy crowd with their fancy cocktails and Moby songs blasting out of their speakers. But if there’s anything I’ve learned about beach vacationing – its that you should never book your hotel in advance, and always stay as far away from the airport as possible. As soon as I got to Boracay, I spent an hour walking along the beach and checking out different resorts. Even though it was high season, most places had vacancy and were happy to offer a “walk-in” discount.

Eventually I settled on MR Holiday – a true hidden gem situated next to the Discovery Sands megaresort at Boat Station One. The rooms were super clean, bright, spacious, and had bumpin A/C (so necessary). The staff was wonderfully attentive and really made me feel taken care of. They have beach beds and umbrellas up front along the best part of the beach, and you can order ice cold San Miguel Lights and mango shakes right to your lounger.

Breakfast is included in the price – be sure to have the longsilog! I did… everyday. Sweet Filipino sausage with rice, an egg, dipping vinegar, a slice of mango, and a fresh pineapple juice was the perfect meal to set my day off.

Boracay is the perfect place for sitting around and doing nothing all day. Need a hat? No worries, someone will come down the beach and sell one to you. If you need a hand-carved Jesus crucifix, they’ve got you covered on that, too. Although I would have loved to sit around on my bum all day, I actually decided to go to Boracay to fulfill my lifelong dream of learning to scuba dive! Boracay’s waters are great for scuba – lots of gorgeous reefs and corals to visit, and the best part – instead of spending two days training in a pool, you can walk right into the ocean! If you’re interested in diving in Boracay, I highly recommend Fish Eye Divers, located next to the Starbucks at D’Mall. My instructor, Peter, was awesome. His patient and calm demeanor made learning scuba basics a breeze. Another thing I appreciated was the new and clean equipment at Fish Eye.

Everyday after classroom activities and a dive, I’d still have a couple hours to catch the sun before it disappeared in a purple, gold, and pink blaze. Post-sunset, I’d wander the beach and eat my face off. A lot of the food in Boracay is rather meh.. you’ll encounter the typical tourist offerings ($10 USD pizza… no thanks), but if you dig a little you’ll also find some gems.

Merly’s Longaburger is a cart located just outside of Free Willy Divers near D’Mall. You’ll find her when the sun goes down. At first glance I was not so impressed – longanisa pressed between hamburger buns.. how good could it be? Well, lets just say it was FUCKING GOOD. Merly’s grills the longanisa until its nice and crispy on the outside, slices it up, slathers it with a mysteriously delicious and spicy red sauce, and sandwiches it all between two toasted hamburger buns. So simple, yet ridiculously good. A must try if you are in Boracay.

My friend had tipped me off to the Phillipines’ abundant amount of fresh and inexpensive uni. I wandered into D’Mall and sat down at any ol’ Japanese restaurant and ordered the uni sashimi. For $300 PHP (about $7USD) you’ll get a huge pile of ridiculously fresh, sweet, crisp uni. You can barely get a handroll for that much in NYC.

Here are a couple more tips if you’re planning a trip to Boracay:
– Try the calamansi lime cupcakes at Real Coffee near D’Mall. They are super dense and limey.
– For a really nice dinner, try the buffet at Discovery Sands Resort. It’s a bit pricey, $900PHP per person, but you’ll get to feast on ceviche appetizers, hot food bar, a grilled seafood and lechon station, and even a halo halo station. But if grilled seafood is your main priority, I’d skip this one as the chefs literally grill the clams one by one… kind of ridiculous if you’re trying to feed a hungry crowd. The service is lovely and the tables are right on the sand at the nicest part of the beach.
– For a cheap, crazy seafood buffet, head towards Boat Station Three and look for the $300 all you can eat buffets. The best ones have lots of smoke emitting from their grills and are crowded with huge Filipino families. Two clues that the food is good! I tried the one outside of Victory Divers and nearly ate my weight in grilled clams and oysters.
– The mango shake with milk at Jony’s Shakes at Boat Station One is delicious. A bit pricey – certainly you can find comparable for cheaper, but I really liked this one after a day of diving. They also have a great longsilog.