Tulum, a New Mexican Dining Oasis, Opens in East Somerville

Showstopping ceviche, hearty cochinita pibil, and tropical décor bring diners to Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

A Mexican clay pot is full of strips of difference meats, plus shrimp and peppers.

Tulum’s molcajete. / Photo by Elisabeth Hadjis

Craving a tropical getaway but don’t want to pay for the airfare? The menu and vibes at Tulum, East Somerville’s newest restaurant, transport you straight to the Mexican Caribbean with a mix of both classic and innovative flavors. A few blocks from the Sullivan Square Orange Line MBTA stop, this new lunch and dinner spot is a year-round oasis, serving up everything from taco deals to fresh ceviche.

A restaurant dining room features jungle wallpaper and a tree trunk with distinctive basket-like lights coming off of the top with fake leaves.

The back dining room at Tulum. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Business partners and best friends Abner Gonzalez and Paul Mongui first met in middle school, while growing up in nearby East Boston, and have been friends for 15 years. Inspired by the food in Tulum, Mexico while separately traveling in Quintana Roo, they decided to come together and bring the sunshine spirit and popular dishes from the Yucatán town, like mole and cochinita pibil, to Boston.

Interior of a dimly lit restaurant with greenery-covered walls and a stairway with carved-wood walls.

At Tulum, a distinctive wooden passageway connects the main dining room to the back. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Mongui, who also owns Orale Mexican Grill in East Cambridge, saw an opportunity to do something different with Tulum. “We brought the birria tacos and tortas [from Orale], but over here we can be more creative because of the bigger kitchen,” Mongui says. The duo brought their restaurant idea to life in Somerville within a matter of months, signing a lease in July 2023 and opening in early January 2024.

The dinner menu is packed with plates for any occasion. There are made-to-share dishes like the lava steak, for example—which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is steak grilled on a lava stone; it’s served with an enchilada, tostones, rice, and beans. There are lighter dishes, too, like the machitos maduros—battered sweet plantains stuffed with Oaxacan cheese, paired with a guava dipping sauce.

A dimly lit restaurant interior has walls covered with fake leaves and neon signage reading "¿Y si nos besamos?"

Tulum. / Photo by Elisabeth Hadjis

“Our signature dish is the molcajete, served in a bowl made of volcanic rock,” Gonzalez says. The meaty platter—a showstopper that can feed several people—boasts steak, grilled chicken, strips of pork, jumbo shrimp, and queso frito, served atop a thick, spicy sauce. Whatever you choose, save room for dessert: The “flan de mama,” made with Gonzalez’s mom’s recipe, is phenomenal, topped with coconut flakes for a bit of Caribbean flair.

Exterior shot of a small, one-story restaurant with signage reading Tulum Mexican Cuisine and a mural of a person covered in greenery.

Tulum. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Tulum also serves lunch, already proving to be a hit with the East Somerville community. “We thought about [all] the people who work around here,” Mongui says. “We sell a lot of burritos and tortas [at lunch] because they want something quick.” Also quick and easy? Tulum’s Taco Tuesday deal: Get six tacos for $21 on Tuesdays, available all day.

A dimly lit restaurant interior features neon angel wings and a halo under neon words reading "Tequila is cheaper than therapy."

“Tequila is cheaper than therapy,” reads Instagrammable signage in Tulum’s main dining room. / Photo by Elisabeth Hadjis

The restaurant’s décor helps evoke the tropical vibes of a sun-soaked stay in the Mexican Caribbean. In the front dining room, a wall of green foliage and running water punctuate the design (which also includes a cheeky LED photo-op). Head through an eye-catching wooden tunnel to the second dining room for more adventure. This moodier backroom, which Gonzalez describes as “very intimate and romantic, more for one-on-one conversation,” feels jungle-like with a giant tree trunk in the middle. Gonzalez and Mongui sourced the trunk from Maine and did the rest of the interior design themselves, too, aiming for an immersive Tulum-esque feel.

A restaurant's dining room features a large tree trunk and a greenery-covered wall.

The back dining room at Tulum. / Photo by Elisabeth Hadjis

A next step for Gonzalez and Mongui is securing a liquor license. The restaurant is currently serving soft drinks and juices (passionfruit juice makes a good pairing for pretty much anything on the menu), but a bar program with ample tequila, mezcal, and cocktail options is in the works. Also planned: a new outdoor space for the upcoming warmer months. Watch for live music, a sandy patio, and margaritas galore—but in the meantime, stop by the already-buzzing restaurant for exceptional birria tacos, ceviche, mole poblano, and lots more.

3 Washington St., East Somerville, 617-764-1608, tulumsomerville.com.