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May 18, 2008 07:14 PM

Oaxaca Restaurants

I will be in Oaxaca City in July and hope to become familiar with traditional Oaxacan food. I hope you CHs will give me your recommendations for places to go. Looking at the archives, I have seen several mentions of La Biznaga, which I definitely want to try, and Casa Oaxaca gets lots of mentions here and elsewhere. But, neither of these places seems to be traditional. Where have you found the best traditional foods in a pleasant (definitely need not be fancy) setting in the general area? (I should mention here that Nancy C mentioned Alejandra's in 20 de Nov market for "AMAZING" tamales, and I won't miss that, but I am travelling with 3 other women who may not like eating in markets like I do!) Your help will be appreciated! BTW, I am registering for a class with Susanna Trilling's school and am looking forward to that. I first tried to register with Pilar Cabrera, but she wasn't responding to my msgs so I gave up. The trip is being planned by the driver of the car, and she needed a date in order to accomodate my desire to cook in Oaxaca. Thanks, Dee

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  1. How about la Olla? It's Pilar Cabrera's restaurant. It's right next to Casa de las Bugambilias, a B&B operated by Pilar. My friends and I enjoyed a lot her food.

    One more thing. Do not miss the 20 de noviembre market. We loved there so much that we ate there three times during our short stay in Oaxaca.

    Have a nice etrip.

    1. This website has excellent information about Oaxaca in general, and here it posts the results of a dining survey taken among readers:

      1. Casa Oaxaca really lived up to expectations in terms of food

        Casa de la Abuela - traditional old school Oaxacan cooking. right on the zocalo

        La Biznaga seems nice but more modern global food than Oaxaca-authentic

        the tlayudas place Dona Martha is very good but a looong wait - worth it though! tlayudas are tortillas as big as pizzas grilled, folded and filled with meat, beans & cheese - delicious stuff. whole families come out so it can be slow - just be patient.

        enjoy your trip-so much wonderful food in Oaxaca

        1 Reply
        1. re: nuxvomica

          Thanks for all the good suggestions. Planeta has a lot of info besides just the restaurants and I will be spending more time on that site. Just found out the cooking class I signed up for (Susana Trilling) was cancelled! Hope I can get into another one, hopefully Pilar Cabrera. I am so looking forward to this trip...

        2. In addition to La Olla, try Las Quince Letras on Abosolo (great sopa de azteca and stuffed avocado), El Topil (in a small artist's plaza close to Santo Domingo--authentic traditional Oaxacan--good place to try tamale de mole negro; can't remember if she has tlayudas), EMPANADAS LE GUERA (the best empanadas-- in the market Merced), Marco Polo (the one by the Llano, not the one downtown) for good Mexican seafood, Malena's (a nieves stand in the plaza in front of the basilica), Casilda's in the old market (great agua frescas and horchata), Itanoni (they specialize in indigenous corn dishes), and La Gran Torta (little hole in the wall across the street from the square immediately north of the zocalo--can't remembe rits name) for good licuados and three delicious types of pozole, as well as other Mexican traditional antojitos. Many other traditional foods can be found in the market Merced and other neighborhood markets. I've found that the hygiene in middle class neighborhood markets--and there are many-- is pretty good. On the upper end scale, also try Los Danzantes.

          4 Replies
          1. re: PAO

            Lots of great suggestions! Thanks a lot.

            1. re: MazDee

              Hi MazDee, I'll second the rec for the Marco Polo branch by Llano Park. It's quite a pleasant place to eat and they do fish well. Most preparations are cooked in a beehive adobe oven that is supposed to have salt from the isthmus de Tehuantepec between some of the layers of the oven walls. Wether this is true or not, the fish coming out of the ovenis delicious and moist. They also do one of my favorite desserts in Mexico in the oven by splitting open a plantain, roasting it in the oven until caramelized and then serving it with turbinado sugar, crema and ropope.

              1. re: DiningDiva

                The portions at Marco Polo near the Llano are also gigantic. You have to be a big eater to eat anymore besides an entree. What we sometimes do is split an entree so we can also have an appetizer or a dessert. The dining area is outdoors but with lots of shade.

                1. re: PAO

                  Yep, we generally split one of their whole fish options and leave stuffed.

          2. Weather will be awesome (especially if you are coming from Texas). Highs will be in the 80's and lows about in the 50's-60 depending if it rains during the afternoon/early evening. This is the rainy season but not like monsoon rains. We just got back on the 27th of June!.

            I took my cooking classes with Toni Sobel who Rick Bayless (Fronterra Grill and Topolobampo) usually tours around with. Her approach was fresh fruits and vegetables with a definite hands on classes. She gave us a clue of who to buy from and what to look for. Of course since there are very few tourists my wife and I were her only class/tour for the week we were there. As for restaurants I would suggest La Biznaga, eventhough it is not traditional you might get a bit tired of traditional food if you are staying for a while. We had the pear, Roquefort,pistacios and watercress salad; mushroom soup, and red snapper with adobo. All the dishes were excellent and freshly prepared. There are a few "american" restaurants but those are along the Pan American Highway and close to Benito Jaurez Univesirty on the city's south side.

            My wife and I stayed at the Hotel Las Golondrinas which is northwest of the zocalo but about 4 blocks west of La Biznaga, Casa Oaxaca and Santo Domingo.

            A word about the food as I was all hyped about moles also. The black mole is generally reserved for special ocassions but some places serve it everyday. It is the hardest to make and is also the richest in flavor so you can't eat more than a plate full and you are tired of it for a while. Mole Negro is commonly served with chicken and turkey (turkey being the common meat for the locals during events). The Mole Amarillo was probably our least favorite and is usually served with chicken and a hoja santa leaf in the emapanada form. The flavor combinations just weren't our style. If you can find it the Mole Verde was specatcular and was excellent (we made this one in our cooking class and it is thickened with white beans). My wife and I also made Mole Coloradito (red) and it was our second favorite.

            If you are taking cooking classes I would recommend throwing a suggestiong for some simple salads (i.e. nopal cactus salad or a jicama, cucumber and orange salad). You will be come tired of eating corn tortillas and moles real quick. Actually I never saw a flour tortilla anywhere. There are only two types of cheese in Oaxaca, queso fresco and Oaxacan (similar to mozzarella) and both are fresh cows milk cheeses. There are no aged or goats milk cheeses.

            The tamal con frijol or tamal con chepil were our favorites in the tamale category. We stopped in a small market about 3 blocks north on Tinocos Y Palacios from our hotel and about 3 blocks south of the Pan American Highway. One tamal was 8 pesos ($0.80 US) and a bag of salsa at a separate vendor was 5 pesos ($0.50 US). So for $1.30 you can have a filling meal as the tamals are about 3 to 4 times the size we have in Dallas.

            Nieves or Oaxacan style ices were actualyl very tasty and ran $2 US at the palce we got them which was next to City Hall in between Morelos and Independencia off Union basically go west from the Zocalo along Independencia. We ate several times at Nieveria Niagra and never had any worry about unfiltered water. We sampled Zapote Negro (their version of a aqua fresco similar in taste to Dr. Pepper or a soft drink minus the carbonation), Mamey (indigenous fruit excellent if you find it), Beso De Angel (sweetened milk with nuts and raisins), and Leche Quemada with a Tuna scoop on top (basically scorched milk flavor with cactus pear flavor...both excellent).

            A must try in my book would be the chocolate de aqua, chile relleno (using the chile de agua without the batter), chile en nogada, sopa de chepil, if you are going out Mitla way stop in Rancho Zapata and get the sopa de hierbas or the shrimp flambeed in mezcal, at other places the tamal con frijol, empanadas de mole verde, mamey fruit, if any place has it a nopal cactus salad (we made it in our cooking class), also everytime you go somewhere ask for the cacahuates (peanuts) they serve them everywhere but you have to ask. They are addictive (think spanish peanuts tossed with salt, a dried chile de arbol and roasted garlic thrown in) and serve as a better option to chips and salsa. For a change of pace for breakfast you can get great European style pastries at Pan and Co. a few doors down from La Biznaga and I think there is an alternate location in Oaxaca City. They have a great pastry fileld with a vanilla pudding and a slice of mango also the carmellized foccaccia was excellent! We got tired of Pananderia Bamby real quick....the pastries aren't very sweet and are meant to go with coffee or hot chocolate.

            A good rule of thumb is to go where there are a lot of people eating and eat there.

            1 Reply
            1. re: LewisvilleHounder

              Do try chocolate with water, not milk. Like Water for Chocolate! You'll find that water makes the chocolate more intense, while milk masks it. Since Mexican chocolate typically contains almonds, it's plenty rich and thick without using milk.