Mexico City-based writer Anais Martinez, a.k.a. the Curious Mexican, eats for a living and offers us seven must-try spots for dining and drinking in Oaxaca. Warning: You are about to become seriously hungry.
This intimate Oaxaca market isn’t overwhelming in size, and it’s a great spot to start off your day. Walk right to the middle of the building, until you find the unmistakable sign of a flower on a wall signed with black markers.
Take a seat at one of the communal tables and start with a chocolate de agua (chocolate infused in water) and a pan de yema (egg yolk bread); and as dictated by Oaxacan laws, tear chunks of bread and dip in the sweet, warm drink right before eating it.
Then continue with enfrijoladas or entomatadas, made with the traditional over-sized tortillas and soaked in a black bean sauce or a tomato sauce respectively. Protein choices are tasajo (cured, air-dried beef) or cecina (thinly sliced pork, rubbed with chilies and spices); you’ll get it on a different plate so you can decide if you want to add to your main dish. Most days you’ll find musicians around, who are there to cheer up the atmosphere.
Inside La Merced Market, Nicolás del Puerto
Established back in 2011, Origen is run by young chef Rodolfo Castellanos, who comes from a family involved with the food industry. It puts a creative and modern twist on traditional Oaxaca recipes, resulting in delicious and beautifully executed food. With a fun, young decor and an amazing attention to detail which transmutes into every meal.
Start by choosing a drink from their beverages menu, with great selection of wines, Oaxacan craft beers, and mezcal-based cocktails. Then go for a taste-bud refreshing dish, like the ceviche, with its crisp subtle taste and its beautiful and colorful decoration. For deeper, more intricate flavors go for the barbacoa (slow cooked beef) served with homemade pasta and topped with a poached egg.
Miguel Hidalgo 820, Centro
The variety of the beloved local spirit offered at this mezcalería is breathtaking – and could even be overwhelming. The best thing to do is to let owners Ulises Torrentera and wife Sandra take you on a journey through their favorite choices.
Whether you’re just getting started in the mezcal world or you’re a complete connoisseur, sit down at the bar, go with the flow and try whatever the couple serves, as they will most likely feel free to share the origin of each bottle, the story of the producers and maybe even the methods. Do come here right after lunch, as the place closes down at 11pm, unlike most bars in town.
In Situ Mezcalería
Av. Morelos #511, Centro
Enrique Olvera, one of the most famous chefs in Mexico, opened this spot to offer his Oaxaca-inspired creations. You enter through the kitchen, where you take a quick glance at the dishes being beautifully plated, and then walk by the comal (flat, rounded griddle) station, with the amazing smell of the corn masa cooking over wood fire.
At that point you’ll be in an outdoor patio with big tables and inviting chairs. If there during morning time you’ll get to choose from a different small dishes you can easily share, such as the tamal, and the tetela. If instead you choose to go for lunch, get ready to be surprised over the seven courses in the tasting menu, with ingredients that are mostly locally sourced and seasonal and that keep changing on a daily basis.
They have a wonderful mezcal menu so you can start (and finish) your meal while sipping slowly on it and if you’re lucky you might be able to peek into the private courtyard located at the back of the restaurant.
Francisco I. Madero 129, Centro.
Yes this is the least traditional Mexican spot on the list, but a visit to Oaxaca without going to the city’s best (and hippest) bakery is like never having been there at all. The patio vibe and the timeless decoration, paper chandeliers included, will make you feel at complete ease as soon as you arrive.
Arrive early to avoid waiting in line, get a coffee and a pastry such as the cardamom roll or the incredibly delicious tarragon puff, with a hint of tea and honey, not too sweet and just enough crunch to make you crave for the next bite. Or enjoy some molletes, made with sourdough bread, a smudge of refried black beans, grated cheese and fresh pico de gallo.
Calle Porfirio Díaz 207, Centro
The 20 de Noviembre is Oaxaca’s most legendary market. Inside you’ll find piles of artesanías, embroidered dresses, earrings and leather sandals. Go past them to track down this spot, at the stand with the number 30, where tejate has been served for half a century.
Sit at the bar to try one of Oaxaca’s most ubiquitous beverages (non-alcoholic anyway). It’s made from a mix of maize, cacao, cinnamon, sugar and flor de cacao, which is an aromatic flower that might not make the drink look appealing due to its creamy, oily, floating foam, but it certainly makes it very aromatic and flavorful. Opt for the traditional corn-based tejate or its newer counterpart, the coconut one. Let the vendor know how sweet you want it, right before they pour the drink into a a beautifully decorated gourd that serves as your cup. Delicious!
Flor de Huayapam
20 de Noviembre market Las Casas #218, Centro
This is a perfect evening stop either if you spent the day walking around or after a night of mezcal. Set on a brightly lit street, this simple street cart offers a soft, perfectly cooked, tender and juicy suckling pig. Try it as a taco, on a crispy tostada, or inside a warm bun in the form of a torta sandwich.
Either standing next to the wall or sitting on one of their two small benches, have a Mexican coke, order your food preferably with no salsa, so you can add to your own taste, squeeze some lime juice, add a pinch of salt and be aware of the salsa especial as it is made with tons of heat and it will have you spitting fire in one bite. It’s Oaxaca at its most simple, classic and tasty.
El Lechoncito de Oro
Corner of Calle de los Libres & Murguía