After a successful first meal in Mexico and a great night’s sleep, I woke up the next day with a spring in my step. It is always a long travel day to get to Tulum, so it’s not until I wake up there that I actually feel like I am on vacation. I sometimes don’t know what I look forward to more while I’m in Mexico: a day at the beach, or my meals! I guess it’s like peanut butter and jelly or peas and carrots– I can’t have one without the other. A vacation without both would leave me feeling unbalanced and unfulfilled.
I spent all day dreaming of last night’s tacos and anticipating tonight’s tacos. The day went something like this: swim, walk, read, tacos, swim, walk, read, tacos until the hour had arrived. Walking up to Taqueria Diaz, it was easy to notice that its location had changed. It was now a little less divey, and the glare of the fluorescent lights was a bit of an ambiance killer. As you can see from the photo, this restaurant is a chain. They haven’t quite learned how to take advantage of the concept of a chain the way we have in the US. It seems that chains in the US give you every opportunity to find them. You can travel to any city, and even if you don’t know anything about the place, you can always find their restaurant and know what to expect. I’m generally not a big chain-goer as I prefer a more unique local experience, but I do think there is a time and a place for everything. It seems like Diaz has missed one key concept: driving happy customers to their other locations. The wait staff seemed to know that others existed, but when we tried to get an address for it in Playa, they had a hard time finding it for us. There were no brochures or website with a map or even an address. Our last trip down there we spent hours on a wild goose chase hunting it down in Playa, but to no avail. This year we asked the waiters again where it was, and still no one seemed to know. This time, we decided there were enough restaurants we love in Playa that we didn’t want to spend any time hunting down a restaurant that made it so difficult to find. As we sat down under those fluorescent lights, we immediately felt the difference in hospitality from El Asadero. The servers were not especially warm and friendly, they just served their purpose.
Upon the arrival of our guacamole, the lights suddenly started giving off a warm glow, and the atmosphere and friendliness of the staff mattered not! My first test in any Mexican restaurant is always an order of guac. When it arrived, it looked like a masterpiece– a sunburst of tortilla chips radiating out of the guacamole. One bite, and I was sold!
Then came the tacos– an order of arracherra and one of pollo. After just one bite, I knew these were the tacos I remembered from years past– delicious! This time, we built up the courage (more on the courage later) to try tacos al pastor. Notice in the photo there is a huge piece of meat on a vertical rotisserie, and a yellow thing on top which is pineapple. Tacos al pastor could possibly be the best tasting taco I have ever eaten. The salty/sweet combo of the well-seasoned pork with a slice of fresh pineapple creates the perfect bite. Guess what I did? In all of my excitement for this food, I scarfed it down and forgot to take any photos! How could I do that? Well, it definitely wasn’t the first or the last time I did that on this trip! Check out this link to a great description and photos of tacos al pastor.
Now for the big question… was Taqueria Diaz better than El Asadero? Remember, I always like to pick favorites when it comes to food. I can honestly say that this was a tough decision for me. They were both outstanding! I felt like the Bachelorette– how is a girl to choose? So here’s how I did it: I had to go with overall experience. The guac at the taqueria was hands-down better, and the tacos al pastor were a big hit. El Asadero didn’t nail the guac, but they made up for it with their unique avocado-tomatillo salsa and a nice pico de gallo. There was however, something about their actual tacos that just felt right. They seemed to be created with a little more love. Ultimately, the service and atmosphere really pushed it over the edge for me. It did take me the whole next day to come to this conclusion, and this was very important because the following night was our last in town. Being our last night, it meant a repeat trip to the winning restaurant. So the next evening we set out for our last dinner in Tulum, full of excitement, to enjoy El Asadero one more time.