Where to Eat in Oaxaca

20 de Noviembre 512, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
The 20 de Noviembre market has a variety of food stalls where you can sample many Oaxacan specialties, but carnivores flock to the one corridor that’s known as “El Pasillo de las Carnes Asadas” (the grilled meats aisle). Follow your nose to find it: smoke and the smell of meat grilling are thick in the air. You can select the raw meat that looks best to you and have it grilled to your specifications as you watch on. Find a spot at one of the long tables with benches and order salsa and guacamole to accompany your feast. Buy some tortillas from one of the passing vendors, and enjoy!
104 Calle Pueblos Unidos
Inside the main market in Ocotlan de Morelos there is a food stall called La Cocina de Frida (“Frida’s Kitchen”), and standing behind the counter is none other than Frida Kahlo herself, or at least a reasonable facsimile. Owner Beatriz Vázquez Gómez likes to play up her resemblance to the famous Mexican artist. She greets visitors warmly and serves up excellent chiles rellenos, mole, enchiladas, and other local specialties. This is a great choice for breakfast or lunch on a day trip to Ocotlan.
Calle Macedonio Alcalá 403, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Los Danzantes is a hip restaurant offering contemporary Mexican cuisine. It’s located on Alcalá street, in the same building that houses the Oro de Monte Alban jewelry store. It’s in a large partially covered patio space, with adobe walls and a koi pond on one side, and a bar made of recycled materials. Many of the items on the menu are made with traditional Mexican ingredients, but combined in new and interesting ways, and presented artfully. If you’re not feeling adventurous, there are also a number of pasta dishes to choose from. For dessert, the cascada de chocolate (fondant cake), served with vanilla ice cream will satisfy any chocolate cravings you may have—but order it in advance because it takes about 20 minutes to prepare.
512 Calle de Manuel García Vigil
Mexican food is extremely varied, and even just considering the cuisine of the state of Oaxaca, there is great diversity. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is where the land thins to the narrowest strip between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Here the weather is hot and sultry and the food has its own distinct flavors. Zandunga restaurant in Oaxaca city serves specialties from the Isthmus region, including some seafood dishes, and a few kinds of mole. You’ll also find an impressive list of over 60 types of mezcal. All meals begin with complimentary totopos (the regional tortilla chips) and minilla (spicy fishmeal), and salsa. Then take your pick of items from the menu. Maybe some molotes de platano or garnachas to start, and then the enchiladas with two types of mole for the main course. It’s all muy sabroso.
Av Belisario Domínguez 513, Reforma, 68050 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Its name means “flower of the corn” and this little eatery in Oaxaca‘s Colonia Reforma offers local snacks and dishes prepared with a few different varieties of organic heirloom corn. Besides the ubiquitous quesadillas, tacos and memelas, Itanoni serves a few dishes that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. My favorite: the “tetela” a triangular tortilla turnover with your choice of fillings (try the mushroom, cheese and cream - delicious!), The “de ese” is an Itanoni specialty, a tortilla toasted with a whole hoja santa leaf, smeared with bean paste and rolled up. Accompany your meal with atole, a hot corn-based drink, or try the agua de limon con hierbabuena, a refreshing limeade with fresh mint. Choose a spot in the front near the big clay comal to watch the cooks at work, or head to the back patio where you can sit and enjoy your meal surrounded by greenery.
Calle de Los Libres 212, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
These large, thick tortillas are called “tlayudas” and they’re a Oaxaca specialty that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in the country. They’re prepared by spreading pork fat and bean paste on the tortilla, then the Oaxaca string cheese called quesillo is added in, plus some shredded lettuce or cabbage to add a little crunch. It’s folded over and toasted on a grill until it’s crispy and the cheese inside melts, and served with your choice of meat. If you want yours without the pork fat, just ask for it “sin aciento.” Tlayudas are served in many places in Oaxaca. In restaurants they’re usually served open-faced, which is perhaps more attractive, but when you have it folded over like this, the cheese melts more and combined with the crisp tortilla, it’s really delicious. Tlayudas Libres opens at 9 pm nightly and closes at 3 or 4 am. They have grills set up on the street so you can watch how they’re prepared. This is a popular late-night stop after an evening of partying.
20 de Noviembre Loc. 39, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Inside the Mercado 20 de Noviembre you’ll find many food stalls to choose from. The Comedor Maria Teresa (Local #38) is a good bet. They have excellent mole, which you can enjoy with chicken and rice, or in enchiladas, as pictured above. A full Oaxacan breakfast starts with a chocolate de leche and pan de yema. The chocolate is served in a bowl to make it more convenient for dunking your bread. Later in the day choose a tlayuda or caldo de pollo. You really can’t go wrong!
Macedonio Alcalá s/n, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
On a walk through Oaxaca‘s Centro Historico any evening, you’ll come across carts selling steaming corn. Order an elote and you’ll get the corn on the cob on a wooden stick. If you request it “con todo,” the vendor will squeeze some lime juice on it, slather it with mayonnaise, and add crumbled cheese and chile powder. If you prefer your corn in a cup, ask for an “esquite” and you’ll be served a cup of corn with the broth it was cooked in, and the garnishings will be added on top for you to mix in. Any way you like it, this makes a great snack to eat while you’re enjoying the street scene.
Domicilioiconocido s/n, San Sebastián de las flores, 68259 San Pablo Etla, Oax., Mexico
This huge buffet restaurant, designed to look like an old hacienda, offers more than 120 dishes every day. Hacienda Santa Martha has extensive grounds with play areas for kids, an artificial pond with pedal boats, and even movies for kids projected inside an old DC-4 airplane. Sample seven different kinds of mole, have meats and seafood grilled to your liking, and fill up on soups, salads and almost any Oaxacan dish you can imagine. It’s a great option for families and picky eaters because you can choose what looks tastiest - or try a bit of everything until you find something you like. Hacienda Santa Martha is open from 1:30 to 6:30 pm daily except Monday.
Barrio de Jalatlaco, Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
Throughout Mexico in the many colorful markets there are lots of interesting items for sale, from live animals and produce to clothing and all sorts of knickknacks. Food is also plentiful and varied. But nothing seems to have registered more with me than the women in the Oaxacan markets screaming “Chapulines! Chapulines!” A quick peek at the giant baskets they carry and you’ll readily notice that insects are on display. Grasshoppers to be exact. Chapulines are very popular in this region and locals buy them by the bagful and munch on them as afternoon snacks. They are only collected at certain times of the year, and after a thorough cleaning and washing, they are toasted with garlic, lime juice, chili and salt. Skeptical as I was, I just had to see what all the fuss was about. So, I bought a small bagful. I reached in, grabbed one and got completely grossed out. Antennae, eyes, wings - everything was still visible. I took a tiny nibble on a wing. Not bad tasting really, but I just didn’t have the stomach to bite through to the center of the critter. I gave the rest of the bag away to a gentleman who was more than thrilled with my offer.
253 Francisco Javier Mina
As you approach Mina street, just south of the 20 de Noviembre market in Oaxaca, the smell of chocolate fills the air. There are several chocolate grinding shops along this street. One of the most popular is Chocolate Mayordomo, where you can almost always see cocoa beans being ground to make the Oaxacan chocolate that is frequently consumed here. The shop attendant puts the cocoa beans along with some cinnamon sticks and almonds in the top of the machine and out the bottom comes a thick, rich paste, which he mixes with sugar. This is the very simple process by which Mexican chocolate is made. It creates a somewhat gritty product which is more suited to making hot chocolate than to consuming on its own, but since they’re giving out free samples, you may as well have a few pieces while you decide what kind you want to purchase to take home with you.
Gral. Manuel, Calle de Manuel García Vigil 512, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
We hung out at La Biznaga Restaurant a few times while in Oaxaca. We ate dinner there twice—the main courses were a bit too big, so I’d steer anyone who’s asking toward the delicious appetizers. They’re also open all afternoon and they have interesting beer on tap and a good selection of mezcals. They make a crazy spicy michelada. They’re on García Vigil 512, near Santo Domingo.
Calle de Ignacio Allende 107, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
The rooftop terrace of Casa Crespo restaurant affords this view of Santo Domingo church. It’s a great place to watch the sunset or while away the evening with dinner or drinks. The menu is varied and includes some local specialties such as mole and “stone soup,” a seafood soup that is cooked with hot rocks at your table. For appetizers, try the stuffed squash blossoms. They’re stuffed with cheese and deep fried - delectable but caloric. A 15% service charge is automatically added to your bill, so no need to tip extra.
Calle de Manuel García Vigil 105, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Most of Oaxaca‘s better restaurants are quite new, but La Catedral has been around since 1976. It is a Oaxaca institution, and besides reliably tasty food, you can also expect a lovely atmosphere and seamless service. You can pick a spot in one of the indoor dining areas, or in the lovely back courtyard next to the fountain. The menu at La Catedral is extensive and includes Oaxacan specialties such as mole negro and mole amarillo, as well as chiles rellenos and sopa de guias (soup made with zucchini shoots), but my favorite dish is the huitlacoche crepes. They also offer a buffet on Sundays from 2 to 7 pm that is popular with well-to-do Oaxacan families.
Avenida Miguel Hidalgo 616, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
La Casa de La Abuela is a Oaxaca mainstay, on the corner between the Zocalo and the Alameda, Oaxaca’s two central squares. Find the entrance on Hidalgo street, and climb the steps up to the second floor. As soon as you enter you’ll see a big clay comal and a woman making fresh tortillas, the sign that this is the real deal: authentic Oaxacan food. They serve local specialties including four kinds of mole (almendrado, coloradito, amarillo and mole negro). Choose a spot by the window to enjoy your meal while you watch the action in the square below.
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