Cenzontle means “Mockingbird”.
“It’s small and aggressive,” said Ivan Angeles, owner of Cenzontle. “It is not afraid to get involved with the big birds.”
Cenzontle has only been open since 2013 and already it is a powerhouse in Tulum Beach’s restaurant scene. Like most restaurants in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, it is an open-air experience.
Entering Cenzontle feels like walking into a secret garden designed by an eccentric aunt — the one who wears one too many resin bracelets wears. A spray of wildflowers sits in a green and white vase. An empty birdcage dangles from a nearby tree. The lamps don’t match, but they somehow visually flow.
“The energy has to be easy,” said Angeles, who built the dining tables and the palapa roof that covers the bar. “You don’t have to dress up. You feel like you can relax.”
Its seasonal menu features unique twists on regional, Mexican favorites such as its hibiscus empanadas and piquillo peppers coupled with its secret garden atmosphere makes it popular among the thousands of visitors who come to the boho beach town each year.
“Right now, we don’t have a chef,” said Angeles, who is originally from Baja California. “We have a creative, culinary team. Every 15 days we get together and talk about food. We try things and decide what to put on the menu.”
That’s how the piquillo peppers got on the menu. Angeles wasn’t sure at first. But after a barbecue Angeles hosted at his home at which his staff made a batch for him, he became a believer. Piquillo peppers are now a “chef’s selection” on Cenzontle’s menu. It’s made with goat cheese, jocoque, chipotle perfume, avocado mousse, sprouts, seed bread, and cranberry.
Pork tacos and a tamale may be new additions to the menu, Angeles said.
“They (the staff) presented a tamale with cheese and agua santa chile with green sauce,” he said. “It was moist. I hate it when a tamale is dry or doughy. We balanced it with the green sauce and acidity. We’ve been testing it with different creams.”
Cenzontle is one restaurant in Angeles’ growing empire. The restaurant also makes its own craft beer, which Angeles said was a first for Tulum. He opened Clan-Destino, a boutique hamburger joint that boasts a cenote, a jukebox, and char-grilled hamburgers from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Angeles recently opened a wine bar just a two-minute walk from Cenzontle.
“We are in constant evolution,” Angeles said.
I have dined at Cenzontle three times so far. Each time I have discovered something new and flavorful. However, these are my favorites.
“Bewitching” Cocktail: The Ella Fitzgerald
Jalapenos are game changers. It’s not just about adding spice, jalapenos add an extra dimension of flavor. In the case of Cenzontle’s Ella Fitzgerald, the jalapeno adds a contrasting dimension to what would otherwise be a sweet, tropical cocktail.
To say that the Ella Fitzgerald cocktail has a “kick” to it is an understatement. It may be a kick in the pants or getting a kick out of life. But the utter splendidness of the cocktail left me “bewitched, bewildered and bothered” in the most delightful way.
Appetizer: Hibiscus Empanadas
This may be a seasonal item, so it’s best to get it while it’s available. Like Angeles’ recommendations for tamales, the dough isn’t too dry or doughy. Cenzontle uses olive oil in the dough. The result is a moist outer shell folding over a surprising, flavorful hibiscus center. This is a great appetizer or something light to nosh on while drinking cocktails.
Main Course: Organic Papantla
I have fallen in love with pork ribs since moving to the Riviera Maya almost two years ago. Cenzontle serves its pork ribs with an organic Papantla. This creation came as a collaboration between the restaurant’s first chef and its ongoing staff. They wanted to sweeten the pork and tried vanilla before deciding on the chile pasilla sauce and peach compote with cinnamon.
Cenzontle • Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila 7.3 km Tulum, México • Tel: 01 55 8421 8961 • Cash Only • Paid parking available next door