If you ask people (or Google) for restaurant recommendations in Tulum, you’re almost guaranteed to get Hartwood listed as the top restaurant. The place is so hyped, you will find it in basically every guide to the Quintana Roo region, including my map of where to eat in Tulum. But should you believe this immense hype? Can a simple jungle eatery stand out so much in the crowd? Admittedly, the story of Hartwood is intriguing. Eric Werner and his wife Mya Henry moved from New York to the Mexican beach paradise of Tulum in 2010 to open Hartwood. They had an idea about sustainable cooking and making food from local Yucatán ingredients. In this al fresco restaurant, framed by palm trees, everything is cooked over an open fire. Expect vibrantly colored dishes with fresh Mayan flavors served in a lush environment with a relaxed vibe. There’s only one problem: you can’t book a table.
Hartwood Does Not Reply to E-mail Reservations
Getting a table at Hartwood is almost impossible. Friends advised us to show up early at the door and get on the waiting list. However, on Hartwood’s website, we could read that they finally accepted online bookings as well! Thus, I sent them the first e-mail several months before our arrival. Weeks passed by with no reply. Another request mailed a few weeks before traveling went unanswered as well. Telling me to stop sending requests and get in line would have been better than having no idea whether or not the place was fully booked throughout May already. It was to no avail. Since Hartwood was recommended in New York Times, it seems they won’t need any more publicity for a good while.
Hartwood Encourages People to Queue for Hours
As we arrived in Tulum, on the first evening, I sent one final e-mail asking for a table the next day (assuming, perhaps, they only accepted next-day bookings). To no surprise, though, Hartwood ignored that one too. Thus, at 5.30 PM the following day (when the restaurant opened), we showed up at the door – only to find an already packed restaurant. Clearly, someone knew the unofficial opening hours (which meant lining up hours prior). “I don’t have any space,” said the man at the door with a stern face. That was rather obvious, though. “Can you put us on the waiting list, please?” I asked. “There won’t be any free tables today,” he replied with the same uniform voice. At least he made it clear that there was no point in hanging out and hoping for an opening. “Ok then, when is the next opportunity for a reservation?” I asked. “Friday,” he said after a glance at his list. Today was Sunday, and next Friday would be our last evening in Tulum. “Fine, put us down for two seats, please.” I couldn’t believe that a restaurant in a warm, humid climate like Tulum would want to encourage people to queue for hours to get a table. Why not just sort out a booking system that allows their customers to relax on the beach during the day, and prepare for dinner in the evening? To me, that is part of the dining experience as well. Queuing works for street food in Taipei, where you wait maybe thirty minutes for a quick bite, but not so much for sit-down meals.
Hartwood’s Flawed Booking System Causes Arguments with Guests
Almost a week later, we arrived at Hartwood for our reservation and the last meal of the holiday. An Australian man was arguing with the girl working the door this night. I didn’t listen to their full conversation, but it all ended with the man yelling; “you arrogant asswipes,” before he got into a taxi and slammed the door. His behavior was indefensible, but clearly, Hartwood is annoying many customers through their inability to cope with their own success (i.e. to get a working booking system). At least, unlike the stoneface we met last Sunday, our waiter this night was very friendly and welcoming. He showed us to our table, brought out the Hartwood menu written on a big wooden board, and explained each dish. We kicked off our meal with a ceviche de Yucatan. It looked tempting, but, unfortunately, it was way too salty (and that’s coming from someone who loves salt) and lacked spice. We found several fish scales floating in the Leche de Tigre, which didn’t help with the appetite.
Simple and Tasty Grilled Food
Empanadas de Lechon were much better! They looked delicious, with a crispy crust and tender, juicy pork meat inside. Served with spicy mayo, grilled pineapple, papaya, and squash. Salty, fatty, and sweet flavors at the same time. Since we were seated close to the bar, we could watch the bartenders as they mixed refreshing-looking cocktails. The bright colors of the natural ingredients were alluring. We placed an order for The Hartwood and a daily special. Unfortunately, the bartenders this night failed to balance the flavors properly. Our cocktails lacked acidity and were too sweet. We agreed that both Mur Mur and Restaurare made better drinks and decided to go with local beers instead.
One Short Hour in the Jungle Paradise
Our main course of grilled Amberjack was juicy with a firm texture. It came with a side of Mexican spinach, grilled pineapple, radishes, and a grilled sweet potato that would have been even better with more salt. For desserts, we ordered a lime tart and house-made ice cream. I wanted only one scoop of ice cream, but was told I would be charged for two anyway. Ultimately, I ordered two scoops but was served a third one complimentary of the house. I couldn’t help to wonder: if the waiter had the opportunity to give me a third for free, couldn’t he also have been flexible on letting me order just one? Sadly, the corn ice cream was crystallized but had a mild, sweet flavor. Both the cinnamon and queso fresco were tasty with a creamy consistency. Apart from a slightly dry base, the lime tart had a nice sour flavor. One hour had passed since we sat down. Our short time at Hartwood was over. We decided to leave instead of hanging out and gave up our seats to some hopeful ones in the crowd outside.
The Lesson for Guests at Hartwood
If you are spending only a week in Tulum, make sure to show up at the door of Hartwood on the first day of your stay and reserve a table before you have to leave for home again. Hartwood is an overall good restaurant, but it’s not a must-visit kind of experience in Tulum. If you can’t be bothered to go through the stress of getting a booking here, check out all the other great spots on my map of Tulum.
The Lesson for Hartwood
Fix your online booking or remove it completely. Write down accurate descriptions of your booking procedures online. Put up a sign by the door stating that all tables are booked – with no waiting list the same evening. That should relieve stress from the poor doorman/woman, who probably gets yelled at daily. Also, ask your staff not to talk negatively about the neighboring restaurant, Mur Mur. That is such an unflattering thing to do. Tulum is a small community. Help lift each other up instead.
Did you go to Hartwood? Was it worth the hype or not? Let me know what you think in a comment below.