Everything Worth Eating at ARCA, Tulum’s Best Restaurant

I dream about every meal I’ve eaten at ARCA Tulum. Seriously, flavors from the earthy, chic restaurant in Tulum live in my head rent-free, coming into my thoughts on lackluster days in the office and while daydreaming on flights. I’ve visited the restaurant multiple times on different trips to Tulum, yet still haven’t satisfied my craving for it.

Conceptualized by Chef Jose Luis Hinostroza, the open-air restaurant brings seasonally-relevant local produce and flavors to discerning guests. Since opening in 2015, ARCA has become the disputable pinnacle of gastronomy in a beach destination known more for its raucous partying, image-obsessed influencer and celebrity crowds, and drug-fueled wellness “retreats” than its dining scene.

Yet, ARCA isn’t any of that. It’s thoughtful, highly considered, and pays homage to everything Quintana Roo is and can be. With ARCA, you get what you pay for—not the name or status, like many of the best beach clubs in Tulum—and what you pay for is pretty damn exceptional.

Chefs working in an exposed wood-fire kitchen at ARCA Tulum.

What makes ARCA special?

I knew ARCA was different the minute I stepped through its entrance, framed naturally by lush greenery. The restaurant emulates bohemian chic Tulum with contemporary wooden palapas and sleek furniture complimented by dim rattan lighting that creates a romantic, sexy feel that isn’t uptight in the slightest.

The surrounding jungle makes ARCA feel secluded and intimate even though it’s on one of the busiest roads in Tulum. It’s the flora and fauna of this jungle, along with Chef Hinstroza’s upbringing in Tijuana, that inspires the culinary team at ARCA, who leverages locally sourced ingredients for a microseasonal menu of small plates, many of which are made over open fire.

I’m not alone in thinking this restaurant is one-of-a-kind. World’s 50 Best has named ARCA as 29 on its list of LATAM’s 50 Best Restaurants and 37 of North America’s 50 Best Bars

ARCA Tulum menu for dinner.
ARCA’s current, seasonally-rotating menu. Image: ARCA Tulum

ARCA Tulum Menu

Don’t get too attached—ARCA’s menu changes course a few times throughout the year. While some items, like the El Solar cocktail have been on it since the restaurant opened, others, such as the softshell crab taco (amaranth and mezcal tempura, hoja santa emulsion, fermented habanero, and xoconostle salsa) are newer additions.

Guests can order à la carte or opt for the chef’s tasting menu. This prix fixe menu fluctuates like the main menu, often consisting of nine to 12 small plates. It needs to be booked in advance, so make note when booking your reservation.

You don’t need to splurge on the tasting for a phenomenal meal here—the à la carte menu is impressive on its own. Usually consisting of 20 or fewer small plates (sometimes as few as 12 or 14), ARCA’s à la carte menu turns plates as simple as grilled bread and local butter into sensations.

Creations such as crab esquites (heirloom corn, crab meat, coconut crab bisque, charred heirloom tomato, and chives) are examples of how ARCA combines typical street foods with regional cuisine for an elevated approach to Mexican cuisine.

Chairs at the entrance to ARCA Tulum.
Thriving vegetation makes ARCA feel intimate and romantic, establishing it as one of the best date night restaurants in Tulum.

ARCA Tulum Prices

Much to my chagrin, ARCA’s prices have crept up over the years. The restaurant is still well-priced for its outstanding quality, but you will pay more at ARCA than at several other restaurants in Tulum.

Expect to pay 300 to 900 pesos ($17.50 to $53 USD) per plate. Cocktails are 350 pesos on average ($20.50 USD). Once upon a time, cocktails were just 250 pesos. Those were the days.

How to Get an ARCA Reservation

ARCA prefers that reservations be made online via OpenTable or WhatsApp, but you can also make them by calling the restaurant at +52-1-984-177-2231.

In my experience, as long as you plan your visit at least a week in advance, ARCA reservations are not difficult to come by, but you should make one. The restaurant fills up quickly during popular times, such as on weekends and during peak tourism season in Tulum, which makes walking in tricky.

El Solar cocktail at ARCA Tulum garnished with a grasshopper.
The El Solar cocktail is not for the weak of mind or stomach, garnished with a chapulín salt rim and whole roasted grasshopper.

What to Eat at ARCA: Food Review

El Solar Cocktail

As mentioned earlier, ARCA’s bar program is nearly as well regarded as its dinner menu. El Solar, mixed with mezcal, Jamaica, piloncillo and chipotle syrup, lemon, is finished with a salt rim and chapulín (grasshopper) garnish, which, if I’m being honest, was part of my motivation for trying it. The cocktail has been on the restaurant’s menu since it opened its doors, and still remains today, despite many new creations being rotated in and out since.

Even if you ask for the grasshopper to be left off (which I probably will next time), this zesty drink (along with ARCA’s others) is far better than most others on Tulum’s beach.

Roasted red pepper tartare with pulque sourdough bread at ARCA Tulum.

Roasted Red Pepper Tartare with Pulque Sourdough Bread

ARCA’s Roasted Red Pepper Tartare with Pulque Sourdough Bread is hands-down my boyfriend’s and I’s favorite dish at the restaurant. You should’ve seen the look on our faces when we ordered it for the first time and saw the carefully placed slivered almonds decorating the top of the starter.

Three different types of locally sourced red peppers go into the dish, which are grilled, smoked, and dehydrated to mimic a tartare texture.

Three or four people could share this dish as an appetizer, but you’ll be fighting over who gets the last bite even when sharing with just one.

House Pulque Sourdough Bread with Local Amish Butter and Mayan Salt from Celestún

ARCA’s most impressive quality has always been how it turns simple foods into seriously mouthwatering plates. The restaurant’s House Pulque Sourdough Bread with Local Amish Butter is one of the finest examples of this.

Creamy, salty butter glides over fluffy, charred sourdough grilled over a wood fire. On paper, this dish doesn’t sound all that interesting, but trust me when I say that it’s worth every bite.

ARCA’s Roasted Local Squash doesn’t sound like much on paper, but its artistic plating matches the complex, creative approach to the fruit.

Roasted Local Squash (The Whole Squash)

I went 21 years thinking I absolutely hated squash before trying ARCA’s Roasted Local Squash (also known as The Whole Squash). During my first trip to ARCA, this was the only vegetarian plate available that wasn’t bread and butter or the roasted red pepper tartare, so I reluctantly ordered it.

I totally fell in love. The smoky grilled squash is absolutely delicious, served with an airy, crispy cracker and nutty sauce. I haven’t had a plate like it anywhere else, and can’t help but order it every time, even if the mushroom tlayuda is also on the menu now.

Roasted bone marrow at ARCA, a restaurant in Tulum.
Roasted Bone Marrow at ARCA is served smoking on still-glowing coals.

Roasted Bone Marrow

On one of our visits to ARCA, my boyfriend tried the roasted bone marrow and fell in love, declaring it one of the top plates he’s ever eaten.

Bone marrow is rich, which makes the two cuts of this plate, served alongside grilled bread, plenty for one person if eaten as an entrée or enough for two if sharing other small plates.

Service at ARCA

Unlike other nearby restaurants, the staff at ARCA has always made my boyfriend and I feel welcome. While other spots on the beach are filled with mildly condescending or distracted waitstaff, ARCA is the complete opposite.

Service isn’t quite as white glove as what I’ve experienced at comparable fine dining restaurants and bars, such as The Johri in Jaipur or Angel’s Share, one of the best West Village cocktail bars of NYC. You’ll feel attended to, but won’t feel like someone’s stepping in on your meal every five minutes, either.

It could definitely be improved—I’d appreciate feeling a little less rushed and wish the staff was slightly more attentive than they are. If service was improved, such as slowing down to explain how a dish was made or why it’s important, ARCA would be a true culinary force worldwide (though it’s already accomplished that with its food alone).

People sitting in the dining room of ARCA in Tulum.

What to Know Before Dining at ARCA

ARCA Tulum Location

ARCA is located on Tulum’s main beach road. It is past GITANO, RosaNegra, and Hartwood, just before BAL NAK on the side of the road opposite the beach. If you reach La Zebra, you’ve gone way too far.

The restaurant’s address is as follows: km 7.6, Carr. Tulum-Boca Paila, Tulum Beach, 77760 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico.

Restaurant Hours

ARCA is open for dinner from 5 pm to 10:30 pm daily. The restaurant is never open for breakfast or lunch.

ARCA is Outdoor-Only Dining

ARCA’s entire dining room is outdoors. Only a small handful of tables are covered, the rest are fully exposed.

Pay close attention to the weather and dress appropriately. I’ve been at ARCA when it’s raining and while the restaurant didn’t close down, we were huddling under the covered spaces for a good half hour until the rain started to pass.

Prepare for your dinner by spraying down heavily with bug spray. ARCA is on the jungle side of Tulum’s beach road and because it is fully outdoors, mosquitos come out in full strength.

ARCA Dress Code

Officially, ARCA doesn’t have a dress code. However, if you show up in the swimsuit and coverup that you wore to a beach club earlier that day, you might feel a little underdressed.

Generally, ARCA is much more laid back than other high end restaurants and bars in Tulum, but its well-heeled clientele still show up in stylish resortwear. Think bohemian glam when planning your outfit for ARCA.

For women, that might mean a trendy minidress and sandals, an effortlessly chic maxi dress, or a coordinating set with tropical flair. For men, you can’t go wrong with a linen button-down or short-sleeve camp shirt and chinos.

Whatever you do, wear flat shoes. ARCA’s gravely ground is not conducive to heels (speaking as someone who has always worn wedges or 4” sandals to the restaurant). On our first visit the the restaurant, we also saw a decent-sized crab scuttling across the ground, so there’s that.

ARCA Tulum Parking

ARCA does not have parking. Instead, park in one of the lots along the beach. There are two lots near ARCA that we’ve used in the past—Parking Zamna and Akiin Parking. Each of these lots is under five minutes from ARCA walking.

These lots typically charge 200 to 300 pesos ($12 to $18 USD), depending on if you’re just staying a few hours or are parking for the whole day.

Does ARCA accept credit cards?

Previously, ARCA was cash-only. In 2024, ARCA will accept credit cards with no additional processing fee. If you can, bring cash to tip in pesos, not on your card.

The bar at ARCA in Tulum.

The Bottom Line: Is ARCA Tulum Worth It?

For years, I’ve told anyone who will listen that ARCA Tulum is absolutely worth visiting, so I’ll say it again here: ARCA is 100% worth the time and money.

Even if it is slightly pricier than other restaurants in Tulum, it’s still way less expensive than comparable restaurants around the world, like Pujol in Mexico City and Oxomoco in New York.

To put it simply: there isn’t another restaurant in Tulum that begins to compare to this one. I’ve been to several Michelin-starred restaurants that ARCA outpaces by a mile—how it doesn’t already have a star is beyond me.

If you skip it, you’ll be missing out on the best that the town has to offer and a truly memorable meal. I’ve yet to visit another restaurant in the world with an outdoor-only dining room that delivers on such a creative, gastronomic menu.

I think about my meals at ARCA constantly and can’t wait to go back again.

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