After a few days in Tulum, Robert and I headed south to the sleepy village of Xcalak. Just north of the Belize border, Xcalak is slowly being discovered as an ecological tourist destination. The second largest barrier reef in the world sits just offshore making Xcalak an ideal spot for fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. This pristine area has been designated a Mexican national park. Despite its beauty and recreation opportunities, environmental restrictions limit development in this area so it is unlikely Xcalak will ever experience the large scale tourism of such places as Playa del Carmen and Tulum. There also isn’t much beach in Xcalak (the barrier reef keeps the waters around Xcalak fairly still). If you like long, sandy beaches and crashing waves, stick with the more populous northern Yucatan. If, on the other hand, your idea of fun includes chilling out in a hammock surrounded by unspoiled wilderness and the clearest turquoise water you’ve ever seen, then Xcalak might just be the place for you! It takes about three hours to get from Tulum to Xcalak. The drive is long, but enjoyable. At times, it feels as if you are in the middle of nowhere; nothing but green jungle for miles and miles. We even spotted a jaguar with cubs on the side of the road!

We stayed at a cute, four-room hotel called Casa Carolina. The owners, Bob and Caroline, are lots of fun. Caroline makes delicious muffins for breakfast every day, and Bob will entertain you with stories and his magical margaritas in the afternoons. They are very helpful in arranging any tours or activities you may be interested in. We took a boat tour one day to Chetumal Bay and Bird Island, home to a wide variety of nesting birds. We snorkeled among the coral heads near the reef, kayaked, biked and spent plenty of time relaxing. We also met the most wonderful group of people during our trip. We became fast friends with the other guests staying at Casa Carolina and would meet up with them for breakfast in the morning and again for drinks in the afternoon. It was like summer camp. Another surprise was all of the fantastic food! Unlikely as it seems, a small foodie movement is sprouting in Xcalak. Delicious food in the middle of the jungle – could there be a more perfect vacation for me?

The biggest surprise was Porfirio’s Clubhouse. I do plenty of restaurant research before any vacation, but this place did not show up on my radar. The Clubhouse highlights organic, locally sourced ingredients. It is open Sunday through Tuesday only and is located 9 kilometers up the beach road from Xcalak (look for the sign with the skull and cross bones). The Clubhouse has a great ambiance. It is dark and intimate with only five tables and a few more seats at the bar. It seems fancy at first, but this is Xcalak so of course there was a dog running around the restaurant and another perched on top of the bar. We started off with the Tortilla Española and a delicious heirloom tomato and goat cheese napoleon. For our entrée, we split the Paella Yucateca, a delectable dish of rice and locally caught shrimp. Delicious food aside, the most exciting part of the meal was the mescal tasting! The owners, Jamison and Jennifer, have collected a variety of fine mescals from the Oaxaca Valley. I was served three samples. First up, tobalá: a small batch mescal made from wild agave that is distilled as soon as it’s picked to preserve its fresh flavor. It tasted like new bicycle tires, in a good way. Next, I sampled a pechuga. This unusual mescal is distilled with fruit and a raw turkey breast. Yep, raw turkey breast (hey, it’s better than a worm…I think). The turkey breast is said to give the mescal a richer mouth feel. We joked with Jamison that it tasted like Thanksgiving. Finally, I tried an añejo which had been aged for seven years. I liked this one the best; it tasted like a fine scotch. I’m going on the record with a prediction that mescal is going to be the next big thing.

It didn’t take long for our next surprise to arrive. While we were relaxing and enjoying our ocean view, Caroline came running up the steps announcing, “The tamale truck is here! Fresh, homemade chicken tamales for 12 pesos each!” I knew there was a grocery truck that came by several times a week, but I did not expect a tamale truck! There was also a dessert truck later that same day which lead me to wonder what other trucks there might be (A shrimp ceviche truck, perhaps? Oooh, or how about a fresh coconut ice cream truck?) We picked up four tamales and a little baggie of homemade salsa. Although we wanted to devour them on the spot, we actually saved our tamales for the lunch the following day. I steamed the tamales and then served them with the salsa and an avocado I had brought with me from Tulum. Golden masa filled with moist shredded chicken all wrapped up in a banana leaf – simple and delicious! Robert has always said that tamales are the perfect food. In this case, I think he was right.

The foremost foodie restaurant in Xcalak has got to be Leaky Palapa. I had heard wonderful things about this place before our visit so I knew I wanted to check it out. In fact, I made sure to plan our trip so that we would be in Xcalak during the days that Leaky Palapa is open (Thursday – Sunday). Two of the other couples staying at Casa Carolina were planning on going to Leaky Palapa the same night we were, and Caroline called to merge our reservations with theirs so that we could all eat together. This worked out perfectly! Since there were six of us, we basically ordered everything on the menu and shared it all. Robert loves eating family-style, and I love getting to try as many different dishes as possible! Leaky Palapa’s menu rotates depending on what is fresh that week. Not surprisingly, the menu relies heavily on seafood and tropical ingredients. We started off with appetizers and a Caesar salad that was served attractively in a baked Parmesan cheese ring. Our entrées ranged from pork tenderloin crusted with huitlacoche to grouper with a tequila-lime glaze to “seafood a la nage” (mixed seafood simmered in a rich coconut broth). We finished the meal with bread pudding, mango and lime sorbet and a Oaxacan chocolate torte. Everything was very fresh and expertly prepared. The food all went so amazingly together that I really can’t name a single standout dish. Prices at Leaky Palapa aren’t particularly cheap, but sharing fantastic food with such great people made it worth every penny!

On our last night in Xcalak, a bunch of us piled into a car and headed to Toby’s Restaurant for taco night! Toby’s taco night occurs every Friday and is a popular event in Xcalak. Toby is a friendly local who will come over to your table to introduce himself, tell a few jokes and explain how taco night works. It is simple: you have a choice between homemade flour or corn tortillas and a variety of fillings including beef, pork, chicken, fish and shrimp. If you can’t make up your mind, order mixto: one of each. Once you get your tacos, be sure to visit Toby’s salsa bar which offers up many different salsas as well as fresh sliced radishes and roasted onions. I ordered two shrimp tacos and two fish tacos. The food was all very tasty. The fish in particular was incredible; moist and super fresh. We had a blast at Toby’s. Not wanting the fun to end there, we decided to pick up some extra cervezas to take back to Casa Carolina with us. We sat out on the dock for hours, drinking beers with our new friends and watching the bioluminescent glow worms sparkle in the water below us. It was a perfect final night in Xcalak!

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment