Oaxaca Restaurants

Based on its reputation as the “best food city in Mexico”, we were excitedly anticipating some outstanding meals during our first visit ever to Oaxaca in July 2017. We know from experience that you sometimes have street food - tacos 12 MXNto take flowery prose with a grain of salt but this was a case where we weren’t disappointed.

We’ve never spent any significant time in Mexico City but we have had the chance to eat more than a few meals in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas and in Valladolid in Yucatan and both are also known as good food cities. In our experience, with the variations you see in all foods from tortilla shapes, colors and sizes to the amazing SEVEN different mole sauces that can be found all over the city; the food you can get in Oaxaca takes things to a different level.

Casa Oaxaca El Restaurant ocotopusAt the top of our list of superlatives was the evening meal we enjoyed at Casa Oaxaca. Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo, who has been described as the “Ambassador of Oaxaca’s Cuisine”; not only showed off his skill in the kitchen but also demonstrated his knowledge of how a top quality restaurant should operate.

The roof top terrace overlooking the historic Baroque style Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán) is a stunning setting. Not everyone will get to get this enhancement but on the evening we dined, we were treated to a wonderful concert taking place a few hundred feet away in the courtyard in front of the Santo Domingo with full symphony orchestra and outstanding female vocalist presented as part of the festivities associated with 2017 Guelaguetza.Casa Oaxaca El Restaurant chipalins (grasshoppers)

As if the concert wasn’t enough music; in the downstairs waiting room was a very professional jazz band that I would have paid money to hear entertaining anyone who had to spend time waiting for a table or enjoying a more casual drink and/or snack.

Every member of the staff from the greeter at the ground floor entry; to the waiter who prepared both a fresh salsa and then a guacamole at tableside; to the sommelier who served a reasonably priced Argentinian Malbec; to the waiter who brought four forks and explained the best way to attack the Chocolate Sphere with chocolate mousse we had for dessert; to the young man at the exit that called a taxi for us were friendly, courteous and extremely helpful. That kind of service doesn’t happen by accident. Someone in this restaurant knows the right way to do things and is paying attention to detail.

Our group of four shared an order of the Guacamole with chipaline (fried baby grasshoppers) and quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese) and one of the Grilled vegetables, goat cheese and roasted eggplant dip as appetizers.

We ordered four different entrées and shared tastes of – Turkey breast with black mole, Rabbit leg with yellow mole sauce, Grilled tuna in herb crust and Octopus with garlic. It was the best black mole, the best yellow mole and the best seafood we ate in our entire 4-weeks in Mexico.

In fact, on reflection we felt like with the ambiance, the service and of course the food; it was one of the 5 best dining experiences we have ever had anywhere. Reservations are a must here.

Tr3s 3istro Restaurant & Oyster Bar enjoys a great location on the 2nd floor overlooking the northern end of the Zócalo. Since it was during the weeks of Guelaguetza when Oaxaca is crowded with tourists, we had made a reservation and requested seating on the balcony and after a very short wait in the nicely appointed bar were pleased to be lead to our table next to a large open floor to ceiling window looking out over the square.

As was the case with Casa Oaxaca, you can’t expect this every night but we had the pleasure of enjoying our cocktails while watching a terrific band entertaining a large enthusiastic crowd on a concert quality stage at the end of the Zócalo. But as we ordered our meal, a strong wind blew up and rain began to fall and before too long, it became a crowd-clearing deluge. A few hearty souls tried to stick it out but eventually the wind and rain forced the band to take an early break and the Zócalo, except for a few umbrella vendors, cleared.

Given the name of the place there was an inclination to want to order seafood and while the State of Oaxaca does have a coast line, I think all of us were a little warry of ordering shell fish. In the end, 3 of the 4 in our group ordered more traditional regional specialties but one person did order a salmon dish. Given that it’s a cold water fish I’m assuming it was imported but I did taste it and it was reasonably fresh. Not still-dripping-straight-from-the-ocean fresh but not bad either. But being imported, it did turn out to be the most expensive entrée ordered.

In general the food was good, the service was acceptable, the room is beautiful and as noted above, the location is great.

On a couple days we were looking for a lunch spot to get something light near the hotel and found ourselves at The Italian Coffee Company located on the Zócalo almost directly underneath Tr3s 3istro. This is a chain restaurant primarily featuring coffees and desserts but they have a few salads and sandwiches which we enjoyed while taking advantage of its prime people watching location.

street food - taquitosOaxaca has a well-deserved reputation for great and varied street food. We enjoyed one taco stand in particular under a long canopy leading off of the Zócalo (on an extension of Calle Valerio Trujano) towards our hotel but there are lots and lots of other places in the same general area as well as towards the Benito Juarez Market and really just all over the city.

On another evening it was raining and we just wanted tacos so the hotel desk suggested Roy’s Tacos located right across the street. We liked it so much we ended up going back another night when it wasn’t raining. Over the 2 meals we ordered several different tacos and other dishes from the extensive menu there including tacos al pastor, chuleta con queso and a vegetarian dish and everything was good. We especially liked the nice assortment of salsas and pickled vegetables that were served gratis with the meal as well as a terrific Pan de Elote (Mexican corn bread) for dessert on both nights. This is a very clean and well lighted restaurant with friendly service and reasonable prices. Most of the diners here were locals but we saw a few other international tourists.

Walking down the streets of Centro Oaxaca one afternoon we passed by a pretty storefront that opened into a small courtyard with latticed woodwork on 2nd floor interior windows. We stuck our head in and liked what we were smelling so we made a mental note to possibly come back to La Matatena Pizzeria for a meal. A couple evenings later we were having our last dinner in Oaxaca before moving on the next morning and having been in Mexico at that point for about 3-weeks decided it might be time for pizza.

mezcal characteristicsThere was a pretty stiff breeze in the downstairs area so we climbed the steps to the 2nd floor and a table behind the latticed woodwork we had seen on our scouting trip. The waiter provided several menus including the drink menu that had an extensive list of locally produced mezcals complete with a chart describing taste characteristics of the different agaves as well as a long list of artisanal beer.

We dined family style on a garden salad with quesillo cheese, lasagna, a Margaretta Pizza and a Hawaiano (Ham, Cheese and pineapple) Pizza with caramelized onions. The pizzas were thin crust. Everything was quite good.

With activities planned to begin by 9 AM for most of our days in the city, we took advantage of Hotel Casona Oaxaca’s very nice breakfast buffet on all but one morning we were there. The food was good with decent variety; several entrées, fresh bread (as well as toast), fresh squeezed juice, fruit, yogurt, cereals and unlimited coffee of a good grade.

The one morning we didn’t have breakfast at the hotel we walked about a block and a half to Café Alex. The waiters waved us to walk through the dining room and out to a small garden where there were some large cages with large parrots cackling away.

The menu had all the standards and they served a decent cup of coffee all at a very reasonable price. We would have happily eaten there again.

After a long day of touring atrractions outside the city with Tomás Ramirez, we headed back towards Oaxaca City and made a stop on the highway near Mitla at Rancho Zapata, the house restaurant at the Mezcal Benevá distillery. Benevá makes a decent product but is the largest Mezcal producer in Oaxaca so many of their production techniques are more industrial than the artisanal producers we were more interested in so we didn’t take “the tour” but did enjoy lunch.
Chipolines! at B Juarez Market
We were very comfortable dining outside under a latticed wooden cover. The service was very good and the menu featured all the traditional regional favorites including a (very expensive) appetizer of ant eggs, Chapulines – the salty, spicy fried grasshoppers snack with a crunch and Tlayudas, a loaded crispy corn tortilla the size of and in the same concept of a large pizza. In general the prices were on the high side but the food was good and given the late hour; we were happy to have stopped there for lunch.

Towards the end of our tour of artisanal mezcal makers, we stopped in at the roadside Restaurant El Paso in Santiago Matatlán for a lunch of Oxacan cuisine. It was nothing special but a decent lunch at reasonable prices and we got to enjoy some additional mezcals from (our guide) Alvin’s traveling stash produced in palenques not included in our tour that day.