I drank fire the first time I visited Cetli Restaurant in Tulum in 2016.
Cetli specializes in gourmet, Mexican cuisine and is beloved by locals and visitors for its innovative take on traditional dishes, eclectic décor, and warm atmosphere. I had been living in Mexico for only six weeks when a writer friend who frequently vacationed in the Riviera Maya decided dinner at Cetli was a treat I shouldn’t miss.
The blue flame shimmered from the dark liquid. I approached it with fear and trepidation as my friends and the smiling waiter, who must have witnessed frightened gringos a million times before, looked on.
In many ways, the drink reflected my complicated relationship with Mexico. I moved to the Riviera Maya for a complex cocktail of reasons. Each day amid the turquoise water, powdery sand, lush jungle, driving on unlit highways, and language I struggled to understand was filled with the strange beauty and inevitable frustration that comes with immersing one’s self in a new culture.
Finally, I stopped staring at the flame, stuck my straw in the drink, and slurped it until it disappeared. I looked up and smiled at my friends and the waiter, heady and exhilarated.
Much has changed at Cetli since that first, flaming drink three years ago. Here’s what you should know.
Cetli has moved from the Tulum Pueblo to an expansive property on the edge of town on the highway towards Coba. The new address is Carretera Tulum-Coba, Km 2.5, Tulum, 77780, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Drive or take a taxi if you are staying in Tulum.
Its new location has afforded the owner even more opportunities to amplify Cetli’s vintage charm. Away from the boho-beach clubs and pulsating nightlife, Cetli transports you to a storybook Mexico of soft violins, silver crosses, and playful shadows dancing on candlelit archways.
A cavernous restaurant features cozy nooks to display Mexican handicrafts, Virgin of Guadeloupe art, Yucatecan books, and souvenirs. A table by the open kitchen allows you to glimpse at the everyday magic that goes into preparing each meal. The spacious courtyard invites the possibility of romantic al fresco dining.
If Tita, the protagonist of Laura Esquivel’s popular novel Like Water for Chocolate, it would be Cetli.
Its specialty, even at the previous location, is mole, a chili-pepper based sauce made in several varieties, from white to deep chocolate. Chef Claudia Perez Rivas hails from Puebla, one of the two Mexican states claiming to be the birthplace of mole. Perez Rivas prepares the moles of varying spiciness in-house on her great-grandmother’s cooking stone.
Decorative, wooden spoons containing samples of red peanut, green almond, Chaya (spinach), and black mole sauce are offered to taste. Choose your favorite mole and a chicken or fish pairing. Wrapped in a corn husk, white rice is served with the mole dishes.
Lobster tail is available in season and is prepared in a mango and coriander sauce, spicy red pepper, lime juice, and sour cream. Savor the decadent appetizer plate, featuring a cheese sampling and orange slices topped with spicy grasshoppers
The Nimbe, a marble cake stuffed with ice cream, mezcal sauce, and topped with red berries coulis and dark, chocolate sauce is orgasmic. I didn’t try any flaming drinks this time. However, Cetli has a wonderful wine list.
Cetli is now serving breakfast and is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
I have not tried the breakfast yet. However, Cetli consistently uses fresh, high-quality ingredients and has a playful take on traditional, Mexican recipes visitors are sure to enjoy.
Start your day with breakfast at Cetli or return for dinner after exploring the Coba ruins, nexus of the largest network of stone causeways in the Mesoamerican world. Cetli is also a beautiful setting for a romantic evening in Tulum.
Reservations are preferred. Cetli uses a Facebook page (@cetlitulum) instead of a website. They reply within an hour or two. You can make reservations via Facebook or call the restaurant at +52 984 108 0681. Some sites still list Cetli’s hours as 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., as of the publication of this article. It’s best to call first to make sure.
Tulum has a growing reputation as a world-class gastronomic town, with lots of interesting, eclectic and innovative places like Cetli to seduce your taste buds. Check out our blog for more suggestions on where to eat. Need a place to stay while you’re enjoying all this yummy goodness? Our reservations team can help.