The "Tulum-Inspired" LA Restaurant Power Rankings
Don't forget your kaftan.
We have no ill will towards Tulum. The stunning coastal Mexican town turned rich kid playground is, by all accounts, a paradise. And a culturally significant one at that. We wish we were there right now sucking on crystals and dancing in the moonlight with a shaman named Paul. But the proliferation of "Tulum-inspired" restaurants in LA has gotten out of hand. We’re down for some thatched light fixtures and hanging vines, but we don’t need them in every restaurant. On the same street. Directly next door to each other. We’re looking at you, Venice.
But in the event you woke up feeling particularly Tuluminous today, or simply want to have a splashy dinner where palo santo pumps through the air vents, these are the places for you, ranked.
photo credit: Krystal Thompson
Gran Blanco is technically a dinner restaurant, but once the DJ shows up and the tequila cocktails start flowing, this bar becomes the toughest spot to get into on the Venice Boardwalk. Owned by the people behind Great White across the street, Gran Blanco looks like a bleached white surf lodge on the Mexican coast, but one with fewer hippie caravans and more dudes who work in sales at Oracle pounding mezcal at the bar. The lights are dimmed, disco tracks are spinning, and a crowd of hot people can be seen eating more-delicious-than-they-need-to-be things at the bar, like a gingery kanpachi ceviche and charred octopus over romesco sauce. If all you want is a strong cocktail that tastes good, few restaurants on the Westside do it better. Gran Blanco’s charred pineapple and cinnamon-infused Otra Vez is a particular highlight.
photo credit: Michael Mundy
From the thatched arch entrance to the ethereal club music thumping over the loudspeakers, Ka’Teen has a lot going on. But if you’re looking to get dressed up and have an over-the-top night out in a setting that feels like a tropical members-only beach club, Ka’Teen is the place to be in Hollywood. The sprawling, mostly-outdoor space is great for big groups, there’s a $495 bottle of Dom Perignon on the drink list (if that’s your thing), and the menu of Yucatan dishes is filled with bright spots. The ceviches and aguachiles are fresh and citrusy, the mushrooms in mole verde have a rich, spicy kick, and the lamb barbacoa is the perfect thing to put on the table for everyone to build their own taco. Sure, this place is loud, crowded, and clubby, but it’s also filled with people who like it that way.
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photo credit: Wonho Frank Lee
Chulita looks like a tiny beach bar you’d walk up to and order a margarita to numb a sunburn that’s ruining your vacation. Instead, you’re across the street from a Jeni’s Ice Cream and a whole lot of condos. The bohemian beach bum vibes are still in full effect at this Venice spot, though: booths are separated by painted cinder blocks, wicker lamps dangle over a tiled bar serving cucumber-infused margaritas, and you can cozy up against tasseled pillows that belong in a Tulum pool party that rents out hookahs. The larger dishes on the menu are skippable for the most part, but there are decent small bites that go hand-in-hand with a drink, like chunky guacamole with blue corn tostadas, charred esquites with chipotle butter, and saucy barbacoa tacos that drip down your forearms.
Listen, we have nothing against juxtaposing the beauty of nature (by way of basket lanterns) with a little oonts-oonts and “contemporary art.” Which is why we recommend Fig Tree in earnest to anyone looking for a premium Venice experience. This South American restaurant is literally on the Boardwalk, but somehow the tourists haven’t taken over (yet). Instead, you’ll find Venetians in silly hats—likely purchased in Tulum—drinking cocktails made with very good fruit juice. While this place is open from 8am-9pm daily, it’s best at Happy Hour when you can pick at fried mariscos and ceviche while the sun sets.
Casa Madera is a massive, clubby restaurant on the Sunset Strip, hailing from one of the world’s great epicenters of Yucatan culture…Toronto. Jokes aside, this place is totally serviceable, and if you’re looking to put on a risque outfit and get a little wild with friends on a Friday night, it’s great. Serving as the ground-floor restaurant of The Mondrian, Casa Madera’s patio is undeniably beautiful with white wood accents, hanging flowers, and very impressive views of the city. The food is fairly average clubstaurant-type food (save for a flavorless burger, which is just plain bad), so we recommend keeping it simple and sticking to ceviches and tacos. And then load up on the real reason you’re probably here: margaritas. Which thankfully are quite good.
photo credit: Ashley Randall
De Buena Planta
With locations in both Venice and Silver Lake, De Buena Planta has graced both sides of town with its over-the-top beach vibes and profoundly mediocre plant-based Mexican food. And when we say over-the-top, we mean it—the Venice location is one red tide warning away from being an actual beach and the Silver Lake space (which reopens on Cinco De Mayo) looks as if Jurassic Park hosted the Barbie movie wrap party. If that’s the energy you’re looking for though, you won’t find a better setting to pretend vacation. Get one of the cocktails from the "booze + juice" section of the menu and lean in.
photo credit: Stan Lee
There's a good chance Paloma didn't intend to look like a Mexican boutique hotel. After all, it's not a Mexican restaurant, and instead a mediocre (and pricey) French-Italian spot with a gorgeous patio. And like every scene-y restaurant in Tulum, Paloma is so dark it's a borderline safety hazard. The minimal light from candles and woven lanterns is the only thing stopping you from publicly wiping out, but it’s still dark enough not to realize that the bougainvilleas framing the patio are actually fake. Overall, the romantic space is undeniably pleasant, but probably not enough to forgive the bland $24 penne pomodoro.
Like 9am meetings getting canceled and Tom Hanks, dinner at Jonah's Kitchen sounds pleasing to just about everyone. But in reality, this Mexican spot on Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica is best reserved for Happy Hour (and that’s about it). This foliage-filled restaurant bills itself as a "Latin and Caribbean" spot, but the food tastes more like the stuff you'd get from a tourist trap in Cozumel. Sure, you'll sit under faux bougainvilleas and wicker pendant lights, but you'll be subjected to flavorless cochinita pibil, chewy fish ceviche, and dry shrimp tacos. Consider this a solid third choice dinner spot for when you just want to dine out somewhere pleasant that won't offend your picky aunt who finds onions too spicy.
Toca Madera is a “modern Mexican steakhouse” on W. 3rd Street that’s packed to the gills every night with people who clearly love hanging plants and food that tastes like nothing—because that’s all you’ll find here. We’re at peace eating lackluster food at clubstaurants (we expect it, actually) but Toca Madera doesn’t have any other fun elements in play to distract you from the fact that you just spent $16 on one scoop of sour guacamole or $22 on an al pastor taco with a tortilla that crumbles when you pick it up. If you want to meet someone for a quick margarita at the bar, this place will suffice. Otherwise, there’s no reason to come here.
photo credit: Meteora
If you want to get technical, Meteroa is not so much a Tulum-inspired restaurant as it is, per its website, "a holistic experience that takes diners on a multi-sensory journey through nature, creativity, and discovery." Nevertheless, most people who opt for the (mandatory) $95 tasting menu at this deeply bizarre, prehistoric jungle fine dining spot on Melrose are going to come away talking about "Tulum vibes." There's dense tropical foliage, a record-setting amount of macrame, and more sandstone than Fred Flintstone's house. The food here could best be described as ayahuasca chic, but know that most of it is simply not enjoyable to eat. There are far better places to waste your money than emo Rainforest Cafe.