On Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun, there are a surprising number of top-notch restaurants. Foodies can dig into homemade pasta, impossibly fresh ceviche, inventive fusion fare, and, of course, mouth-watering Mexican standards cooked with love by grandmothers and church ladies, at taco stands and in the town square.
But the best dinner in town is not in a restaurant as such. Instead, it’s hidden away in a quiet courtyard, where Lolo Lorena, a Belgian national who’s lived on the island so long she’s considered a local, hosts guests for sumptuous five-course feasts at a shared table in the supper-club style that’s sweeping major cities.
On this tiny island, you don’t have to know a secret handshake or have an in to get a seat at this most coveted table though you do have to book in advance (by November, Valentine’s Day is sold out). You just have to give Lolo a call.
What makes Lolo’s table special is the feeling that one is not a customer, but a guest. Chatting through a three-hour meal with up to 15 strangers in Lolo’s courtyard decked with fairy lights, exotic plants, and treasured items from her travels around the world is a way to make quick island friends.
The night I find myself at Lolo’s, there are 13 of us at the table: six Canadians, five Americans, and two Brits. What we all have in common is a love of Isla Mujeres, and a sense of excitement about the food we are about to consume. With two options for each course, no one is disappointed. Lolo has even created a special menu for me, a vegetarian. After weeks of Mexican rice and black beans, I am treated to rich flavors in a custom green bean, tomato, potato appetizer, three exquisite gnocchi (served with a tiny fork), tart and spicy Thai salad, and vegetable terrine, while others feast on lobster tail and crab legs, or decadent moussaka. For dessert, an embarrassment of riches: sorbet, candied nuts, an apple tart, meringue with cream and, for each of us, a delicate lollipop, made of a hard-candy-coated fresh grape.
As each course emerges from Lolo’s tiny kitchen, the conversation stops for a moment as the group oohs and ahhs in unison. Then, as each person takes a first tiny bite, the looks of shared pleasure cross the table, everyone smiles, and we dig in.
If you go: Lolo Lorena’s courtyard supper table is located on Rueda Medina on Isla Mujeres. It can be a bit tricky to find from the downtown tourist area, but you’ll need to contact Lolo to book your reservation, and she can give you detailed directions. You can reach Lolo by e-mail at email@example.com, and find her online at lololorena.com. Five-course meals are $30USD-$40USD per person (yes, really, for five courses!). To-die-for mojitos are $5, and you can bring your own wine.