tulum, mexico :: places we went

Just one more post about Tulum. We gotta talk a few deets: Places to go! Things to see!

It was our first visit, and we were only there a week, so we are obviously the farthest people from experts on the area. Nevertheless, there were several places we really enjoyed during our trip, and I want to share them. Some are places I found before our trip through online research, while others we stumbled upon while there.

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PLAYA MAMBO ECO CABAÑAS
There are lots of hotels in Tulum, and all of them are small and locally-owned. No big resorts. But there are lots of choices. We wanted to be right on the beach, and somewhere that was more rustic, so Playa Mambo sounded like a good choice from what I’d read online. It was.

We reserved through booking.com and rented a bungalow with ocean view. There are two of these available. Both have the beach and ocean as their front yard. They are also a bit bigger than “cottage” options because they have a sleeping loft. I thought this would be a good option for the kids. It was a small loft with a window, accessible by ladder. It worked out well for Cameron; he slept up there in his travel crib and it was good for naps because we could go in and out of the cabana without disturbing him. Willa was freaked out. She slept on a mattress by our bed.

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Pros:

  • Location. Playa Mambo’s beach was beautiful. They had a small number of beach chairs/beds with umbrellas. There were several good restaurants nearby, as well as a mini-mart just outside the gate for cheaper beers and other snacks.
  • The hotel provided breakfast to guests. Coffee, fruit, and pastries. Eggs and such were available at an additional cost.
  • The staff were efficient and friendly. Our room was cleaned daily. The staff offered the kids beach toys on our first day.
  • Overall, Playa Mambo had a great vibe. It was laid back and casual while still being stylish and well kept. It seemed to attract friendly people; we enjoyed interacting with many of the other guests staying there at the same time.

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Cons:

  • No fridge. No cold drinks. No way to store perishable food.
  • Breakfast. We wanted to enjoy it because it was part what we were paying for, but it wasn’t quite enough. It was our first breakfast and then we’d go find a second breakfast.
  • Cash only. I alluded to this in a previous post. It is absurd that a place that charges what Playa Mambo does per night would not take a credit card. Or at least PayPal or some other electronic option. This was really to their detriment though; we would have bought many more piña coladas if we could have paid with plastic.
  • Value. While we really enjoyed our stay at Playa Mambo, it didn’t feel like a great deal. It was “eco-chic” which, in some ways, just meant “budget.” There was no air conditioning. The shower was a trickle. We only got new towels every few days. All of this was totally fine for us, but I’m not sure it matched the price point.

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RINCÓN POBLANO
I didn’t want to spend a week in Tulum and only be at the beach. (However, the beach was really nice!) We ventured into town one of our first days to check things out. The town definitely had a less tourist-focused vibe.

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My favorite thing to do when I travel is to do everyday activities like locals would, so it was nice to just walk into this random restaurant off the main street and have lunch. It ended up being a great choice. It was relatively empty; just us and one Mexican family eating lunch. The man working was quite friendly and the food was delicious. We ordered taquitos and a mole. And beers. And a smoothie. Willa got quite into smoothies on vacation!

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LA OÑDA
A few doors down from Playa Mambo, this place advertised “Best Pizza on Earth.” Now, I’d have to disagree with that bold statement, but the pizza really was quite good. The service was friendly and the beers were cold.

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BOLAS DE POSTRE (Balls of Dessert)
Being on vacation was no different than real life; the words “if you X, you can have ice cream” somehow at some point were uttered by some parent. That was much easier said than done however. On Tulum’s beach road, everything is run by generator, so freezers are few and far between. Willa was a good sport about it, but we did feel compelled to find ice cream at least once during the week.

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We’d seen an ice cream cart when we were driving to and from town, so on one of our last afternoons, we finally decided to walk down the road to find it. It was a bit of a walk; Willa was asleep in the stroller by the time we arrived, but it was so worth it!

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They called it “superfood ice cream” and all the flavors we tasted were divine. The Vegan Papaya Almond Bliss was my favorite, but the Cacao was also good and the Tamarind Jamaica was really delightful and refreshing. Willa initially said “yucky” when the chocolate came out (3 year olds!) but I think she was just thrown off by the nuts and other textures. She ended up devouring it. As did Cam.

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There were no real cons about this place for us, but my only somewhat negative thought was that all the soymilk they were using might not fly in a trendy American city, but that was no problem for me (tofu foreva!).

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ZAMAS
The New York Times told me to go to Zamas in the morning for the view and the huevos rancheros. So that’s what we did. And, unsurprisingly, NYT was right. The service was great, the food delicious, and the location on the beach was fantastic. This breakfast is a really happy memory for me; I’m so glad we went. (Notably, Cam cried through most of the meal. See, another vote for traveling with kids! Even when they cry it’s still a happy memory!)

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LA EUFEMIA
While Tulum was overall a great travel destination, and we really enjoyed our time there, there’s no getting around the fact it’s quite touristy. Perhaps it was once off the beaten path, but beach road is now the path. It’s full of folks from Brooklyn or London (or Denver), looking for some tasty tacos. Luckily, just a few places down from our hotel, was La Eufemia. It ticked all the boxes for me: casual, fun, delicious food, good drinks, reasonable prices, and an authentic vibe. It was the only place we went twice. It was also the only place we spotted the young, hip staff from our hotel eating after they clocked out.

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They had a 2×1 drink special the first night we were there, and we didn’t really think it through before Dan ordered a piña colada and I ordered a mojito. So when 4 drinks came to the table, we were like, “hey, I guess we’re having a big night!” The second time we went, we were ready and just ordered one piña colada. Although I don’t judge anyone who enjoys multiple. They were good!

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LAGUANA KAAN LUUM
The morning I did my paddle boarding + yoga outing, they took us to this public lagoon. SUP Tulum has their own private lagoon, but it was quite windy that day, and Kaan Luum was smaller therefore less wind.

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It was beautiful. When we arrived at 9:45am we were the first ones there. By the time our class was over, around 11:30, there were probably 20-30 locals there swimming. The sandy bottom of the lagoon was pretty squishy, which took some getting used to, but the water was gorgeous and a perfect temperature.

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SOL
Not a place, but I feel compelled to note that while on the beach, the refreshing taste of Sol made it my preferred cerveza.

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Salud, amigos!

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reflections on our week in tulum, mexico

We’re just back from a trip to Tulum, Mexico. As Denverites, we feel a to need to get ourselves to a large body of water from time to time, and all the better if it’s in a tropical locale. We somewhat spontaneously booked this trip a few months ago, and were so excited to take the whole family south for a week.

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Traveling with the kids is challenging for sure, but I think it’s only by getting out of your comfort zone that you learn and grow. That goes for both the little ones and the adults. The challenges are part of what make it fun and memorable. (They’re also what can make it momentarily miserable, but you do your best to just move forward, right?!) Making memories and having experiences together as a family always outweighs the inherent difficulties of embarking on an adventure with little ones in tow. (If it sounds like I’m giving myself a pep talk here, that might be somewhat the case.)

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When Willa was 20 months old, we traveled to Costa Rica. After that trip, I wrote a “things we learned” post. Looking back at it now, all those things are still true, and definitely applied to our trip to Tulum. But with this trip fresh in my mind, here are a few reflections I want to remember:

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Just because you travel well with kids doesn’t mean your kids travel well. That might be a bit harsher than I really mean, because, actually, I think our kids do travel pretty well. But what I sometimes need to remind myself is that I can’t control my kids or their feelings. It is possible that they won’t like traveling. They might not like sand (Cameron). They might miss Denver way more than I do (Willa). I can’t make them have fun. I can give them the opportunity and guide and teach them to the best of my abilities, but that’s it.

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Do you really want to eat out for every meal? Some people like to. I don’t. Even before kids, I don’t enjoy eating all my meals in a restaurant environment. Most days we ate the continental breakfast at the hotel and went out to dinner. We went to the grocery store and bought fresh fruit and snacks to eat throughout the day. However, our cabana didn’t have a fridge, so our options were limited. (This also resulted in some beers consumed earlier and faster than necessary after purchase since we lacked refrigeration.) We know we like having a kitchen, but there were a few reasons it didn’t work out this trip. We need to make sure it works out next time.

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Strollers can be great. I’ve been known to be a bit anti-stroller. For a long time, I didn’t travel with one. But, now that we have two kids and Willa is older but not a solid long-distance walker, it’s often really helpful to have a stroller. We used it in the airport on our travel days, for exploring Mayan ruins, and for walks down the main roads in Tulum. Willa enjoyed a nap or two in it, and Cam occasionally took a turn rolling.

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Baby carriers are the best. At the last minute, I packed my beloved Solly Baby Wrap. (Actually, I put it on as a scarf on our way to the airport.) It was so nice to have a lightweight wrap to wear Cam in the heat, and we were happy to have two carriers so we could walk along the beach with both kids. Perhaps we’re doing a disservice to them by not mandating marching, but we enjoyed covering some ground with the sand between our toes and the waves crashing against our legs.

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Research how you’ll pay for things at your destination. Duh, right? Tulum was totally “cash only.” I knew many of the smaller restaurants would be, but we were surprised how many places, including our hotel, wouldn’t take credit cards. Even the large gas stations on the highway back to the Cancun airport were cash only (or so the attendants said!?). We failed to plan ahead for this as much as we should have, and it caused a few wrinkles in our trip. Lesson learned.

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Plan some adventures. But not too many. Before we left for the trip, I booked myself a morning outing to stand up paddle board. I knew if I didn’t have it scheduled, I’d probably not end up going. It was a great decision; SUPing was fantastic and easily doable during our week-long stay. Likewise, Dan spent a morning golfing. As a family, we took a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Coba.  But otherwise, we mostly stayed at the beach. I often feel compelled to do a bunch of side trips and outings when we’re in a place where there’s “so much to do” but then I remind myself that staying in a hotel right on the beach is an outing in and of itself. It’s always important to balance relaxation with activities, and that balance likely shifts on each trip for a variety of factors. But for us, it’s been important to just “be” on vacation.

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burmatown, california

Last month, I went on a trip ALL BY MYSELF to California. I was there for some work stuff, but also as a mini vacation and a chance to spend time with family.  And I was so lucky: they really made sure I had a fun and restful stay.

On my first night there, they took me to Burmatown in Corte Madera.

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Obviously, I love an Asian restaurant! And San Francisco boasts numerous exceptional ones. During a previous visit, we went to Burma Superstar in the city, but I dare say Burmatown was better. It was sensational. From the ambiance to the food, everything was divine. The service was exceptional too. And the tea leaf salad! Who doesn’t love tea leaf salad? Well if you haven’t had one, you probably don’t know you love it…But you should try it. Preferable this one. (Although I imagine one in Burma would probably be pretty darn good too…)

Anyway! Everything about Burmatown was delightful. Perhaps I was influenced by the profound enjoyment of dining without little kids to wrangle. But, it doesn’t really matter. A fantastic eating experienced is colored by several factors, and the stars all aligned that night. Thanks so much R + B for such a wonderful dinner and visit!

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spicy pork lettuce wraps

There are many, MANY reasons why I am not and could not be a food blogger. One of them is that I never remember to take pictures of food while I’m making it. Sometimes I strike upon a great dinner by chance/luck/skills and I’m like, “man, if only I’d taken pictures, I could blog about this!” But then again, since my blog has no real specific direction, I can blog about whatever the heck I feel like, pictures or not. Right? Right.

A week or so ago, I made the best (BEST!) pork lettuce cups. I often make some version of stir-fried ground meat with Asian seasonings and serve it in lettuce leaves. But, for years, I’ve never really had a go-to recipe. I’ve made different ones, or just improvised, but I’ve never found a go-to, staple recipe. The wait is over. This one is it. A keeper. It was so good. Easy to make, yet super flavorful. Pretty much what we’re all striving for in the dinner department, no?

And then, icing on the cake, I made it again the other day and remembered to take pictures. So, basically, I am a food blogger?

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Spicy Pork Lettuce Wraps
Serves 2-3. Easily doubled.

1lb ground pork
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1c shredded or sliced carrots
2 garlic cloves, minced
2T minced peeled ginger
1t Siracha
1t sugar
2T fish sauce
2t sesame oil
2T plus 1T grapeseed oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2T oyster sauce
1/4c (large handful) mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/4c (large handful) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4c (large handful) fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
24 Boston or iceberg lettuce leaves

1. Mix the pork, red bell pepper, carrots, garlic, ginger, siracha, sugar, fish sauce, sesame oil, and 2T grapeseed oil in a bowl.

2. Heat remaining 1T grapeseed oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the bowl of meat, vegertables and seasonings. Stir-fry until the pork is cooked through. Don’t stir constantly; allow the pork to brown in spots.

3. Remove from heat, and add the oyster sauce, scallions, mint, basil, and cilantro. Stir to combine. (Alternatively, allow meat to cool to room temperature, and then add the herbs. This will keep them from wilting as much.)

4. Serve alongside lettuce leaves, with additional Siracha if desired.

frikadelle + other fun

FRIKADELLE!!!! That’s German for “meat patty.” Apparently, during the industrial revolution, German immigrants in NYC needed a way to eat them faster and on-the-go, so they put the frikadelle between two slices of bread, and the hamburger was born.

We had frikadelle a week or so ago, thanks to my friend Marret who was visiting for a few weeks last month. She’s from Hamburg, Germany, and was an exchange student with my parents 10 years ago (what!? 10 years!?). It was so fun to have her here to spend time with us. We were able to reconnect, have a lot of laughs, and eat a lot of good food. And it was amazing to watch her get to know the kids. (The day we took her to the airport, as I was getting Willa ready for her nap, she suggested we take “a lot of planes” to Germany “next weekend.” Melted my heart.)

DSC06991^^There’s the frikadelle. On greens with roasted butternut squash and potatoes. It was delicious. Marret made the disclaimer that it wasn’t really a “German dinner” that she made us. But, I say, she’s German and she made a dinner that she would make at home, so that’s pretty much a German dinner. No? Whatever you call it, it was healthy and delicious and it was so nice of her to do the cooking. (Not to mention all the dishes she did while she was visiting!)^^

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IMG_8948^^There was a sunny hike with Willa’s playschool group. And on another day, a trip to the mountains to snowboard!^^

DSC06901^^Falafel was made! ^^

DSC06911^^And a marzipan cake! (Willa is always game to help with baking. She loves to cook and/or knows she’ll get to lick some batter.)^^

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IMG_9078^^We went to Union Station and hit up Zoe Ma Ma for lunch.^^

IMG_9135^^Willa learned where Germany is. Or at least that Germany, is.^^

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IMG_9109^^Pizza salad and gelato at Parisi!^^

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IMG_9127^^Girls’ night out at The Source. Comida tacos of course. Hold the cilantro for Marret. And the avocado thanks to my newly developed intolerance (aka the worst development ever!).^^

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IMG_8894^^Most importantly, chocolates were exchanged.^^

THANK YOU for coming to visit Marret! We loved having you!

great chinese food in denver?

Do you know how hard it is to find a decent Chinese dumpling in the United States? It’s hard. Really hard. And once you’ve had a real deal dumpling, you can never go back. Don’t even try to serve me your thick-skinned, meatball-y center nonsense.

Obviously, there are good dumplings to be had in New York City. In California. In Seattle. There is great Chinese food all over the world. But there’s a lot of really bad Chinese food too.

I’d pretty much given up on the idea that I could get really, REALLY good Chinese food in Denver. I had, however, heard there was a good place in Boulder: Zoe Ma Ma. I kept meaning to get up there to try it out…

But then, a second Zoe Ma Ma opened by Union Station. Score! Last weekend we took the bus down there (yay public transit and no carseats!) for an early dinner.

DSC06814^^fun decor! and yes, it’s empty. but it was also 4pm on a sunday.^^

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It was good. Really good. The owner, Edwin, was welcoming and friendly. His goal with Zoe Ma Ma is to celebrate his mother’s cooking (周妈妈 Zhōu māmā = Mama Zhou!). I gather they have roots in both Taiwan and northern China, and that’s the food they’re serving. Northern Chinese classics and some other crowd pleasers.

DSC06824^^炸酱面 zhá jiàng miàn^^

DSC06826^^红烧牛肉面 Hóngshāo niúròu miàn – Braised Beef Noodles^^

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Zoe Ma Ma nailed it. Homestyle Chinese food with high-quality ingredients. Everything is made to order and tastes fresh and delicious. I can’t wait to go back.

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Oh and the dumplings? Fantastic.

buchi cubano café

Given the recent change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, it seems like a fitting time to talk about Cuban sandwiches! Or, perhaps, it’s a totally inappropriate time? Either way, it’s happening. We went to Buchi Cubano Café recently, and I can’t stop thinking about when I can go back again. Cuban coffee! Pressed sandwiches! Delicious!

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My friend Alli was visiting to meet Cameron, and one night we decided to be super wild and stay up late (10pm) watching the movie Chef. I’d remembered hearing great things about the film, and was really excited to see it. Turns out, the buzz was mostly about the stellar cast and the big-name foodies behind the scenes. It was a fun watch, with especially good music, but really the only takeaway we all had was: we needed a Cuban sandwich STAT. We immediately hatched a plan to walk to Buchi the next morning.

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The weather was relatively mild for December, and given that we had our dog and expensive stroller in tow, we decided to sit outside. It took a few minutes to get service because they were so packed, but the server did not forget about us. She apologetically rushed outside with waters and menus, and then promptly returned to take our order. We all, except Willa, decided to get the Cuban Mix: Cuban roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, onions and mustard. Willa went for the side of beans and rice, obvi.

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They have rich Cuban coffee available with any amount of milk you desire. I had the café con leche this time, but in the past I’ve greatly enjoyed a cortado. Interestingly, they use powdered milk (I found this out when I tried to order a milk for W). I’m not enough of a Cuban coffee expert to know whether or not that’s typical (it probably is, I’d guess?) but it’s delicious.

Walking there and back made me feel justified in having devoured my entire sandwich. Those with more self-control might be satisfied to share one.

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I’ll be back to Buchi soon for sure, but right now I’m going to go make an espresso with eggnog to satisfy my sweet coffee cravings…