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: 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.

Enjoy!