Julian Medina is the chef-owner of six restaurants in New York City including Toloache, Yerba Buena Avenue A, Yerba Buena Perry, Toloache Taqueria, Coppelia, and most recently, Toloache 82. He travels to his native Mexico once or twice a year to visit family and he always comes back with new ideas for his menus, especially for his Mexican concepts, Toloache and Toloache 82. Julian is from Mexico City, but loves Oaxaca, especially for its market and street food that inspire his cooking. Here are some of his favorite spots from a recent trip.
Hotel Misión de los Angeles
“I like to stay here because the grounds are beautiful and they know how to make a great Oaxacan breakfast. In Oaxaca, their traditional breakfast is hearty, and full of color and flavor. Huevos al Albanil, eggs in tomatillo salsa, is a favorite of mine. At the hotel they serve it with beans and cochinita, a pork marinated in achiote. Achiote has a vibrant red color that comes from the anato seed, and gives the pork a tangy flavor. It is added to a marinade with cumin, oregano, sour orange, and vinegar, and the pork cooks for hours in the liquid to infuse a vibrant red color throughout. The cochinita served here comes with pickled red onions and habanero, so it was a bright meal, full of heat and the perfect start to my day.” Porifio Díaz 102, 52/951-502-0100, misiondelosangeles.com
“I like the contemporary take on Mexican cuisine at Los Danzantes, which is near the Santo Domingo de Guzman church. I came here in the afternoon for a michelada—a Mexican beer prepared with lime juice, tomato juice, hot sauce and spices. It’s the best midday pick-me-up. It should be made with light beer, such as Pacifico. There are many variations on them, and I got one here with a shot of mezcal.” Macedonio Alcala 403 , 52/951-501-1184, losdanzantes.com
Casa Oaxaca Cafe
“For lunch, I went to Casa Oaxaca Café in an area of town that gets few tourists called Reforma. When in Oaxaca, you must try chapulines (grasshoppers, shown) and the city’s famous queso fresco called queso Oaxaca. I ordered these, plus the botana platter, which came with guacamole, chorizo and chicharron. I grew up eating chapulines as a snack—I call them Mexican popcorn because they are crunchy, salty, and delicious. You can buy them everywhere. I serve them at Toloache. I see people daring each other to eat the grasshopper tacos, but they wind up loving them; I sautée them with garlic, olive oil, chiles, so what’s not to love.” Jazmines 518, 52/951-502-6017, casaoaxacacafe.com
Mercado Benito Juarez
“I like to sample as much as I can on my trips to Mexico, so a botana platter is a great option—it means “snack” and is really just a sampler platter, so I get to have my favorite foods all in one place. I shared one for dinner at the market, el Mercado Benito Juarez—a required destination when visiting Oaxaca. The market is near the zócalo, which is the main square and the heart of the city of Oaxaca. This botana platter included cecina. There are two types of cecina. One version is a cured beef—thin sheets of beef that are marinated and laid to dry in the sun. The other preparation is thinly pounded strips of pork that are coated with chili pepper. This is called cecina enchilada or carne enchilada.
I also had tlayuda here, which is traditional street food in Oaxaca. You normally find tlayudas served with black beans, queso Oaxaca, avocado, tomato, and whatever meat you’d like. This one was topped carne enchilada, and I was inspired to put one on Toloache’s Passover menu. I make it kosher-style with fresh, handmade Matzo meal tortillas—I don’t use pork or cheese on this version. Instead, I top it with striped bass marinated with guajillo chiles, avocado salad, and a salsa made with roasted tomato and Oaxacan pasilla chiles. I was so full when I left the market, but the best kind of full.” Miguel Cabrera, 52/951-516-2352