Beyond Just a Restaurant


There are many things that set ‘Unico’ apart. We have been in Tulum for about 8 days or so and have a few left. So why am I sitting at my laptop writing a review for a restaurant the same night I ate there and just a few minutes before going to bed? And with still days of vacation left? Because this place is beyond just a restaurant; it was an experience.

We are staying in the beach section of Tulum, fairly deep into it and in the area surrounded by all kinds of eco-resort hotels and restaurants. Naturally, it is this area which is a bit over-priced compared to the ‘centro’ of Tulum. The ‘centro’ of Tulum sits on the strip of highway that runs to Cancun in one direction and then down the rest of the Riviera Maya in the other. It’s not the prettiest strip in the world and I imagine that’s why it’s not as densely visited as the beach strip. But after eating on this strip tonight I feel it is by far more valuable and more wonderful than the beach strip.

We had looked on TripAdvisor for the best restaurants because we had grown tired of what had started to feel like all the same food at all the beach restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, the beach strip is simply beautiful. But it’s aimed at tourists in that aggressive way that just gets tiresome after a bit. Luckily, ‘Unico’ popped up as #2. 

We were only the second group of dinner guests to arrive, but we were greeted warmly by Gilberto, actually a cook at the restaurant who had stepped in to help serve because the regular waiter had been sick. We sat at a cute table nestled by the tiny palm trees on the front patio. Gilberto promptly brought us our drinks (and arguably the best iced coffee I’ve had in Tulum) and we all entered into a warm conversation about his brief stay in the US and his wife and young son here in Tulum. Just a lovely person, kind and witty.

Now we get into the food. Holy cow, the foccacia and chipote humus? OUTSTANDING. Very creamy, but not heavy humus. And the foccacia was as good as if not better than the freshest breads we ate in Italy. Amazing.

Our friend with us ordered the Vegetable lasagna and proceeded to rave about it. I wanted to try it, but I had already filled myself so much with the amazing foccacia that I feared I would not be able to eat my steak when it came. My girlfriend got the mussels and the Unico Salad and also proceeded to rave. And my steak? A creamy pepper brandy sauce lightly drizzled on top, with pureed potatoes and a red pepper/tomato warm salad. Unreal. The steak, even medium rare, melted in my mouth and I found my mouth dancing with the various spices. Outstanding.

But the food, believe it or not, is NOT why I chose to write this review now versus waiting until we get back to Brooklyn in a few days. After our plates had been cleared a young girl of about 8 (Claudia) came with her baby brother (2 years old; Max) and asked if we would like to buy a handmade necklace. Now, I’ve seen this sort of thing before, of course. But these were DEFINITELY handmade and, in all honesty, not that great and nothing we really wanted. But something about how shy the little girl was and the way she and her little brother were nervous about stepping out of the palms and actually coming up onto the patio made me want to help. I looked at the necklaces, but said I wanted to make an investment in her company instead and gave her some money. Then it started to pour. So we told her to step in and stay dry. She nervously did so. But what amazed me was that not one single person from the restaurant minded at all. They were kind and pleased to allow us to have our temporary friends.

Then showed up a soaking boy of 6 (Angel), shoeless and having run through through the streets to find her siblings. After chatting with them we discovered that Angel didn’t have shoes anymore because his sandals had broken. So I left my girlfriend and friend with Claudia and Max and walked around the street trying to see where we could find him some new sandals. In the end, we were out of luck at that hour. But we did wind up getting a bunch of extra diapers for baby Max (at Angel’s request) and some waters for them to take on their 75 km bus ride home. 

We had ordered some food for the kids to take with them (their shoeless mother waited at a bus stop in pure darkness) and then helped walk them back to their mother. 

When I came back I was introduced to Brian (who met the little kids while I was off with Angel and apparently was incredibly friendly and kind to them), the owner of the the restaurant. Turns out he’s from New York, as well. And what a great guy. I complemented him on the incredible food and the incredible service. But what everyone reading this needs to know? This place is BEYOND just a restaurant. It is a place of kindness and acceptance, of warmth and immeasurable culinary expertise. Most places would shoo ‘vagabonds’ away and get annoyed with guests who entertained it. They see it as a nuisance, a scourge that gets in the way of good business. But Brian and Gilberto showed that good food is not exclusive of warmth and love and kindness. A true dining experience comes from the heart. Brian (owner and exquisite chef) and Gilberto (cook and amazing temporary waiter) go far and beyond. The food was amazing, the people were amazing. But, most of all, the SOUL was amazing. May the world be filled with more wonderful people like this. (And, God, please may the world continue to be filled with food as continually amazing, too!)