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Oaxaca, Six Days in the footsteps of RST?

In 2003,RST--who I like to think of as the B. F. Traven ('Treasure of the Sierra Madre') of the Chowhound universe--posted an epic Oaxaca entry which can be found here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/262553

RST's report focused on markets, tlayudas, fondas and such, not on high end or mid-range restaurants.

Fast forward to 2012. We find ourselves after nine and a half days in Mexico City with the luxury of six days in Oaxaca. To that end, we've compiled the below list.

Our focus is less on alta cucina and more on the elemental flavors of the area. That said, it cannot be ignored that one of us has a preference for good restrooms in addition to an appropriately discerning palate.

Fonda Mexicana
La Teca
Mercado 20 Noviembre Fondas/ Comedor Maria Theresa
Sunday Tlacolula and/or Friday Ocotlan?
Central de Abastos
Mercado Sanchez Pascuas

La Olla
La Escondida Sunday afternoon buffet / OR / LA CAPILLA –Sunday afternoon after Mt. Alban
El Biche Pobre
La Coronita
Las Quince Letras
Los Huamuches on the way back from Ocotlan
Mercado Organico
Marco Polo in el llano
La Gran Torta

La Briznaga
Other, light suppers/drinks/antojitos?


Chocolate Mayordomo

Ice Cream?

Tlayuderia Las Reliquias Morelos 402
Tlayuda/Memelita Stand at Fiallo and Guerro
Tlayuda/Quesadilla Stand at Bustamante and Mina

All and any recent reports and experiences with these and allied chow choices would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks in advance!

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  1. All of RSTs posts are epic!

    I was in Oaxaca in April of this year. I was, unfortunately, traveling with a group friends in which only 1 or 2 others were super food oriented. That said, I've been to Oaxaca many times with food people so...

    La Olla needs to go into your definite group. Chef Pilar is turning out some of the best food in Oaxaca these days. They've turned the 3rd floor roof into a delightful terrace. We tried to get onto the rooftop terrace of Casa Oaxaca by Santo Domingo and were turned away because we didn't have reservations. La Olla welcomed us with open arms, great drinks and delicious food. The comida corrida is $80 (pesos, about $6.25 USD) which is higher than many other places in town but, oh, so, worth it.

    I like both the market in Ocotlan and the one in Tlacalula. My preference is Ocotlan. If your intent is to sample food while working your way through the market, Octolan is a better (i.e. safer) bet. The food safety and santitation at Tlacalula was better this time than last, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. I have a pretty cast-iron stomach and market and I have no fear of market or street food, but even I will err on the side of food safety at Tlacalula. That said, I have purchased wonderful pan dulces and balls of fresh quesillo at the Tlacalula market and not suffered any ill effects.

    Ocotlan also has a lot of other things to see other than the market. It is the home town of the late Mexican artist Rudolfo Morales. He orchestrated a lot of restoration and preservation projects in Ocotlan when he returned from years in Europe. Many of them - such as the municipal building, chuch and convent are within a few yards of the market. His home is only a block or so from the market on the main road into town and is open to the public. There is a small gallery of his works on the 2nd floor, along with the art school he started for locals to encourage their talent. And finally, the homes of the famous Aguilar sisters are just a few blocks before you reach the market. If you have any interest in clay work, all of them are considered grand masters and they'll open their workshops for you. You can't miss 'em, Josefina has a big sign that says Josefina Aguilar, and another one has a sign on her door saying Arte es Vida...a sentiment with which I whole heartedly agree :-). They don't always like each other, or get along, but 3 of the sisters live side-by-side and the other across the street. So, for me Ocotlan is a more interesting place than just the market.

    On the way back from Ocotlan I would stop at Azucena Zapoteca, which is at the "T" intersection with the road to San Martin Tilcajete. Read about it here - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/843498 or here - http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant...

    If you're in the area around Las Qunce Letras, you can stop in, I certainly wouldn't make a special trip for it. Friends I travel with love it, I am a lot less enamorned of it. However...if you walk towards the back of the restaurant, off to one side is a very nice vine and plant enshrouded patio that is unfailingly pleasant at comida. I have had an exceptional version of sopa de tortilla there, and their house mole was excellent one time. Service can be a bit brusque. The other thing they get brownie points on is the fact they are open late.

    I would definitely do La Capilla over La Escondida. I love La Capilla. The food isn't always knock your socks off good, but the setting, ambiance, and barbacoa are. Their barbacoa, which is available almost everyday, and almost always on the weekends, is very good as are their black beans with hierba conejo. The tlayuda is also good. If you go, be sure to take a stroll into the main kitchen where you can go right up to the counters and see what's in all the pots. Sometimes they'll let you take pictures, sometimes not.

    We tried Maria Bonita this past trip. It is a block or 2 further beyond the Santo Domingo church on the street that fronts the church. (I think the street runs East, but I am not sure). The food was good, the service okay, a bit slow.

    My friend David LOVES the nieve vendors on the plaza to the side of the Basilica de la Soledad. It's cheap, it's sweet, it's cold and it comes in a million flavors. I tend to like La Chaguita in the Benito Juarez market. I think La Chaguita gets better depth of flavor in their nieves than do the basilica vendors, but either way, it's always nieve time in Oaxaca.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      +1 La Olla.

      +1 La Chiguita for nieves. We're staying near Santo Domingo Church, so about a 20 minute walk. Grilled meat for me, ices for her. Then we'll switch.

      1. re: Steve Drucker

        To help you decide on which market, here are a few photos from Ocotlan this past April

    2. Steve, I have bulleted the places we have been to. Below, I'll take them one at a time.

      • La Olla
      La Escondida Sunday afternoon buffet / OR / LA CAPILLA –Sunday afternoon after Mt. Alban
      •El Biche Pobre
      La Coronita
      •Las Quince Letras
      Los Huamuches on the way back from Ocotlan
      Mercado Organico
      •Marco Polo in el llano
      La Gran Torta

      La Briznaga
      Other, light suppers/drinks/antojitos?


      •Chocolate Mayordomo

      Ice Cream?"

      La Olla. We like it very much. Chef Pilar has a deft hand and a clear vision. She distills traditional dishes to clear, unfussy but attractive presentations. Almost everything we have eaten there, oh, 3-3 times over the years, "works" for us.

      El Biche Pobre Dos. A popular and perennial fixture on the dining scene. However, the Botana Surtida para dos has, I think, become a rote exercise, and heavy. Some of it is good, some pedestrian. Check out other things on the menu, such as lengua, if they are offering it, or the enchiladas.

      La Quince Letras. Haven't been in years, but we liked it back in the '90s. I remember some dish prepared with grapefruit or grapefruit peels that was delightful and unusual.

      Marco Polo en el Llano. I really enjoy dining at Marco Polo, despite some overly dressed fish dishes, one of which was smothered in the dreaded queso. Another filete de pescado was less appealing with a mayonnaise dressing. But the "Vitaminas al Vapor", was fantastic; seafood in a mildly spicy tomato sauce, enveloped in foil and baked in the wood oven. Also, pescado a la talla is very good. Inquire in detail before ordering, and you should do fine.

      I recommend going to the Friday tianguis at El Llano and see what they have to offer, Please check out the spectacular dessert stands. We had some good barbacoa at the Tianguis and Agua Fresca de Guanábana. The latter just one of several sabores from which to choose.

      Yes. Chocolate Mayordomo. Go to the store where the chocolate is made, and stock up on different types to take home. The chocolate is truly superior.

      Something else to look into: explore the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Here is an album of Oaxaca food photos from a few years ago. http://tinyurl.com/bqkjclc

      I was tempted to try the grilled meats in the smoky corridor of "Hell", but we went to eat at a comedor instead. http://tinyurl.com/hellfireOaxaca

      3 Replies
      1. re: Anonimo

        The first time I had fish with the thick white sauce treatment was by the seaside north of Manzanillo. The robalo was superb once deconstructed from the goop. Thanks for the heads up.

        Pictures of the Friday tanguis at El Llano are compelling. It's either there, or Ocotlan that morning.

        With an early start, perhaps both the corridor of Hell AND the comedors at Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Or, multi-day visits are in order.

        1. re: Steve Drucker

          Here's some info about the Benito Juárez and 20 de noviembre markets:

          There are a couple of other Oaxaca articles just before and after that one.

          Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

          1. re: cristina

            Thank you Cristina. The La Teca pictures are awesome.

      2. This is very timely for me, as I will be in Oaxaca for 5 days starting next week! Thanks!

        1. Is there a reason you are not going to Casa Oaxaca? Everything I read seems to say that CO should not be missed?

          1. This are my favorites for a nice gourmet dinner.

            Casa Oaxaca. (Try the tasting menu)
            Pitiona (also a good choice for the tasting menu and cheaper than casa oaxaca)
            Los pacos.


            1. Oaxaca Chow
              Best of the trip: (1) Origen, (2) at Tinoco y Palacio entrance to Mercado Sanchez Pascuas the women making quesadillas, taquitos and empanadas, (3) Four more women making the same one block south of Quetzalcoatl and Garcia Virgil in the downhill crook of the repurposed old government building. For both of the latter prime time is 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM.

              Origen was superb. For two drinks, two aguas frescas, two apps, two entrees and two desserts $920 Mxn plus tip. Not cheap, well worth repeating. Every dish was a keeper—chile encrusted pulpo a la plancha, a Peruvian style ceviche, rabbit, rosy centered pork loin, ice creams, sinful chocolate gougeres.

              The quesadilla women were awesome for quesadillas flor de la cabeza, empanadas etc. RST had recommended the first set just inside the Mercado Sanchez Pascuas TYP entrance. The second set on Garcia Virgil south of Quetzalcoatl we found ourselves. Both are a must try.

              Places we went more than once: La Olla, Neptuno, Tacos Alvaro, Museo Nieves (Manolo).
              We went to La Olla several times for a light supper. VG food, nice atmosphere, moderate prices, exc antojitos, salads and tlayudas. Highly recommended although I heard that portion size at Comida could be a concern.

              Neptuno. The 411 on Marco Polo is that the original owner sold it two years ago and went to Brazil, since then it’s not been the same. Neptuno was a nice n’hood marisquirea with exc cocteles, vg ceviches and grilled fish and pescado veracruzana. Complementary mescal and mescal drink for women guests. Handmade spinach infused tortillas. Great shrimp soup with about a pound of 16-20 head on WILD fresh shrimp. Complementary amuse bouche demi-tasse of shrimp consommé. Super late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s jazz—Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderly, Nancy Wilson, Art Blakey and all my favorites piped in from the internet. Décor is mid-century Oaxacan rec-room. We went twice.

              Tacos Alvaro. Porofirio Diaz corner of Quetzalcoatl. We went here to sit down for evening tacos and pozole after large mid-afternoon comidas. Great meaty pozole. Good selection of meat massive tacos, tostadas etc.

              Museo Nieves. Alcala almost to Humboldt by Santo Domingo. Get the Oaxaca Chocolate and the Coco. As good if not better than the vendors at Basilica de Soledad.

              Places we went once and liked: Inside the Mercado 20th Noviembre, Comedor Maria Teresa. Great moles and antojitos and caldo de pollo, very inexpensive and professional. Basilica de Soledad La Alamdeda Nievas stand—I’m sure other stands are good, this is the one we tried.

              --Fonda Mexicana. 408 Benito Juarez, on the street at Mercado 20th Noviembre. $45 Mxn Comida. You get what you pay for. Good for what it is.
              --La Teca—Ismo home cooking. One word: Guarnaches. Get an agua fresca. Get more guarnaches. Maybe a tamale Oaxaca with chicken and olives. Some aguas frescas. More guarnaches. Skip the tasting menu when offered. Cash only.

              At Ocotlan Friday market. Chivo is the 411. Look for a busy vendor with all the safe signs such as hair restraints, a separate cash taker and a busy clientele—the deeply redolent of the terroir chivo was superb. On the way back—Azucania Zapoteca. Vg caldo de pollo, tlayuda and empanada mole amarillo; that’s all we tried. One of our party who was in recovery required its clean bathrooms, otherwise we would have gone to Los Huamaches for more down home food.

              Oaxaca has a huge capacity for tourism, so there are tons of restaurants. These are the few that we got to try in our 7 day visit.

              1. Finally posted about my Oaxaca trip from earlier this month: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/871600

                I agree about the garnachas at La Teca!

                1. This board is AMAZING! Thanks to everyone who has posted recs and tips. My husband and I are leaving for Oaxaca tomorrow morning for a week, and I've been creating a ginormous Google doc with all this great info. Can't wait to eat and drink ourselves silly.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: domokun

                    Wow, can you PLAESE email that doc to rcwoll@gmail.com?
                    Would love to see it.