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Neighborhood — Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca


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Restaurants  |  Sights  |  Sleeping  |  Listings

If the city of Oaxaca is the social and cultural center of the state, the Zócalo, a large traffic-free plaza located in the Centro, bustling with activity throughout the day and late into the night, is the social and cultural center of the city.

Originally laid out in 1529, the Zócalo and the surrounding grid of streets have changed little since. The architectural composition of the surrounding buildings, however, has changed often over the centuries, after powerful earthquakes, endemic to the region, damaged or destroyed many of the original colonial buildings, only to be rebuilt in later styles vogue at the time, the cycle of destruction and rebuilding having left a patchwork of architectures in its place.

Today, the Zócalo is enclosed on the east and the west by sidewalk cafés, spilling out from beneath portales, covered arched passageways, fronting two-story colonial buildings; on the north by the upscale Hotel Marques de Valle, as well as the imposing cathedral, a fixture on the Zócalo in one form or another since the 1540s; on the south by the Museo del Palacio Universum, a relative newcomer, built in the late 19th century in the Neoclassical style popular in that period; and from above by a broad canopy of Indian laurel trees, which, mercifully, cap off the worst of the late spring heat.

To the northwest, contiguous with the Zócalo, lies another traffic-free plaza, the Alameda de León, hosting many of the same type of activities, and, for the purposes of this guide, the two plazas are treated as one and the same.

No trip to the city is complete without a visit to one of the restaurants or sidewalk cafés on the Zócalo. The restaurants La Casa de la Abuela, master of the seven moles, and the El Asador Vasco, specializing in Basque cuisine, offer the only fine dining on the Zócalo, both perched, with great views, above the sidewalk cafés on the second stories of the colonial buildings lining the west side.

Of the five sidewalk cafés on the Zócalo, none stands out among the bunch, all offering pretty standard, if uninspired, Oaxacan fare, along with a few sandwiches, hamburgers, and other crowd pleasers, thrown in to appeal to the unadventurous culinary traveler, or, well, maybe just someone who's had his or her fill of Méxican food. That said, on the east side, the Terranova and Importador do seem to be aiming a little higher — the waiters more attentive, the presentation of the food more well thought out, and the prices slightly higher. Still, for the most part, the food isn't that much better.

But don't go to the Zócalo looking for fine dining or to sample the region’s unique cuisine — for that there are other, worthier restaurants nearby. No, go to the Zócalo to be in the thick of it — the diners crowding the sidewalk cafés, sipping hot coffee or ice-cold cervezas, meeting up with old friends, or maybe striking up conversations with new ones, students anxiously practicing newly learned Spanish on the waiters, the waiters responding with gentle patience, expats lazing away the afternoon with a good book, suddenly, a mob of people rushing for the cover of the portales, escaping an afternoon summer shower, orchestras performing classics, street musicians adroitly working their instruments, singers crooning, clowns beguiling with their antics, mimes silently telling tales, dancers reenacting ancient steps, all asking for only a few pesos for their skills and efforts, artisans displaying their creations, street vendors haggling with skeptical customers over the price of otherwise worthless trinkets, beggars desperate for a couple of pesos, their only foreseeable hope for something to eat that day, shoeshiners snapping their towels, workers relaxing, on break from their toils, toddlers, unsteady, chasing after pigeons, political protests erupting periodically, civil but often times disobedient...and the list goes on. Needless to say, the Zócalo is a place to linger or to drop by often. Something's always happening here or about to.

And lastly, in a pinch, underneath the gazebo in the center of the Zócalo, there's a subterranean public toilet, costing only a couple of pesos.

Restaurants




The Italian Coffee Company, Zócalo   Café     $     (A)
The Italian Coffee Company is a national chain of Cafés trying way too hard to be México's version of Starbucks, mimicking everything from the friendly baristas and the many concoctions involving coffee to the mediocre gourmet coffee itself, which always tastes like it's trying to please as many palates as possible, and invariably comes up short. So, before passing on one of the many locally owned coffee shops in the city serving excellent gourmet coffee, a few of which roast their own beans on the premises, ask yourself, "Did I really travel a thousand miles or more to drink mediocre gourmet coffee at a Starbucks knockoff?" That said, with at least half a dozen Italian Coffee Company coffee shops scattered throughout the city, in a pinch, there is usually one close by, making it easy to pop in for a quick cup of café para llevar. And that is how it makes itself useful. There are three locations on or within half of a block of the Zócalo.

  • Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.;  Mex$13 - 50;  www.italiancoffee.com.  


Amarantos   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (B)
A seat beneath the portales on the east side of the Zócalo, decent service, and a menu full of uninspired, though adequate, Oaxacan dishes make this as worthy a choice as any of the half-dozen or so sidewalk cafés and restaurants fronting the plaza.

  • East side of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.;  MX$50 - 150;  phone 951-516-8218.  


Terranova   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (C)
By offering more attentive waiters and better presentation of its food, Terranova has upped the ante on its street-level competitors on the Zócalo. Despite these positive moves, though, the mostly Oaxacan cooking coming out of its kitchen isn't that much better than the competition, not to mention the somewhat higher prices. That said, the all-you-can-eat Sunday breakfast buffet is a good deal at 100 pesos.


Importador   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (D)
Like its next-door neighbor Terranova, Importador strives for a finer dining experience than some of its street-level competitors on the Zócalo, offering better service and presentation of its food, and charging slightly more for it. For all its striving, though, the cooking, a mix of Oaxacan and imported favorites, comes up short, which pretty much sums up the culinary accomplishments of all the sidewalk cafés and restaurants on the plaza. Nevertheless, on the importado side of the menu, the large mound of Spanish paella is a nice break from Oaxacan food — if, indeed, a break is needed — and a real bargain at 80 pesos, available on Saturdays and Sundays only.

  • Southeast corner of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 8 a.m. - 1:30 a.m.;  MX$50 - 160.  


Bar del Jardín   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (C)
By far the most popular of the half-dozen or so sidewalk cafés and restaurants fronting the Zócalo, the Bar del Jardín, with two locations on the west side of the plaza, serves mostly Oaxacan classics, along with an assortment of traveler favorites, such as club sandwiches, burgers, and pizza. Despite its popularity, the cooking, though adequate, is otherwise uninspired, a shortcoming shared by all of its street-level competitors on the plaza. Still, it is hard to beat the views from either of its locations.

  • Two locations on the west side of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 8 a.m. - midnight;  MX$50 - 150;  phone 951-516-2092.  


El Asador Vasco   Basque Restaurant, Wine     $$$-$$$$     (F)
Basque-style grilled meats the house specialty, the seafood as good as any in the city, a nice wine list, live mariachi music, dining on the second-story balcony with views of the Zócalo, the interior stone archways giving the place an old-world ambiance, El Asador Vasco has by far the finest dining on the plaza. Look for the entrance beneath the portales in the Bar del Jardín. And be sure to arrive early to secure a table on the balcony with views of the plaza, or call ahead for a reservation.

  • West side of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 1 p.m. to midnight;  MX$100 -250;  Most major credit cards;  phone 951-514-4755;  www.asadorvasco.com;  hugarte@prodigy.net.mx;  Reservations recommended during high season.  


Primavera   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (G)
After luring its customers in with unobstructed views of the cathedral and the goings-on on the Zócalo, Primavera subjects them to mediocre renditions of classic Oaxacan dishes — which, come to think of it, more or less describes all the street-level cafés and restaurants fronting the plaza.

  • West side of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 8 a.m. - midnight;  MX$50 - 150;  phone 951-516-2595.  


NotesPickCheckMark.png La Casa de la Abuela   Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine     $$-$$$     (A)
With unbeatable views of the cathedral from its second-story perch, this upscale bistro creates faithful renditions of Oaxacan classics, including molotes, empanadas, tlayudas, traditional soups, and several of the seven moles, among many other delectables. Adorning the walls, antique black and white photographs and a yellowing 19th-century map of the city evoke the México of old. The decent wine list and excellent dessert menu seal the deal. Look for the entrance on Hidalgo Avenue, across the street from the Alameda de León plaza. And be sure to arrive early or call ahead to reserve a table with a view.

  • Hidalgo 616, northwest corner of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon - Sat 1:30 - 11 p.m.,  Sun 1:30 - 10:30 p.m.;  MX$75 - 200;  Most major credit cards;  phone 951-516-3544.  


El Portal del Marqués   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$$     (J)
Located on the north side of the Zócalo, the restaurant of the stately Marqués del Valle hotel, El Portal del Marqués, serves from a menu of familiar regional classics. Aiming a little higher than some of its street-level competitors on the plaza, it offers better service and a more upscale ambiance, albeit with slightly higher prices. The higher aim, unfortunately, does not include the cooking, which is mediocre at best, making this place about as good as any of its street-level competitors on the plaza.

Nonetheless, some long-time visitors and expats gravitate here because the open-air dining room is slightly elevated above the street and fronted by a thin railing, buffering its customers somewhat from the goings-on on the Zócalo, which can, over time, become a bit much, the goings-on, especially the constant interruptions by street vendors hawking their wares.


El Mesón   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (B)
Every day from early in the morning until late in the evening, this Centro Histórico Oaxacan, only a stone's throw from the Zócalo, lays out an extensive, all-you-can-eat buffet of hearty, traditional favorites. It all gets started just before 8 o'clock in the morning, when the cooks begin to roll out the breakfast buffet, leaning heavily on scrambled eggs, which they keep replenishing until noon. Shortly after noon, they switch over to comida, which continues through dinner and right up until midnight. The comida buffet always includes a couple of large bowls of carnes drowning in moles, along with another large bowl of frijoles entero, usually black or pinto, making this one of the few places in the Centro serving their beans whole, a real treat for anyone needing a break from the region's ubiquitous refried beans. Regardless of the hour, be sure to ask for a stack of the excellent corn tortillas, which the waitresses hand press and grill to order, and which are included in the price of the buffet. Not up for the buffet? There is a large selection of reasonably priced entrées and à la carte items on the menu to choose from as well.

  • Hidalgo 805, northeast corner of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 8 a.m. - midnight;  MX$50 - 125;  Most major credit cards;  phone 951-516-2729.  


El Sagrario   Oaxacan, Italian Restaurant, Pizza, Wine     $$-$$$     (N)
Specializing in Italian and Oaxacan cuisines, this popular nightspot caters to a younger crowd, staying open late into the night.

  • 120 Valdivieso, one block north of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Daily 8 a.m. - 2:30 am;  MX$50 - 150;  Most major credit cards;  phone 951-514-0303;  www.sagrario.com.mx;  reservaciones@sagrario.com.mx.  


Tartamiel Pastelería Frances   Bakery     $     (P)
Good coffee and a nice selection of mostly sweet baked goods to go.

  • Trujano 203, west of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon - Sat 7:30 am - 8:30 pm,  Sun 8:30 am - 6:30 pm;  Mex$10 - 50.  


Sights



Around the zócalo notes go here...

NotesPickCheckMark.png Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción   Colonial Church     (C)

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

Over the course of more than four centuries, three different cathedrals have been built on the north side of the Zócalo. The latest incarnation of the cathedral, facing west, like all Dominican churches, overlooks the Alameda de León plaza, both plazas bustling with activity from early in the morning until late into the night.


Earthquakes quickly dispensed with the first cathedral, hastily constructed of mud bricks in the 1540s. Work on the second cathedral began in the 1560s and was completed in 1581. This one fared much better, surviving several major earthquakes in the 1600s, until the great earthquake of 1696 finally brought it down. Construction on the third and final cathedral began in 1702 and was completed in 1733.

Set between two massive bell towers, the wide and intricate retablo façade is laid out, like all retablo façades, in rectangular tiers, in this case three, arranged vertically, stacked one on top of the other, each tier divided into five sections. On the first tier, three arched main portals fill the middle and outer sections, two oval windows lying on their sides topping the outer portals. On the second and third tiers, three ear-framed sculpted reliefs fill the middle and outer sections of both tiers. Statues set in deep shell niches are interspersed between the portals and reliefs on all tiers. Interestingly, the outer sections of all three tiers are set back slightly from the front plane of the base of the towers, giving the illusion that the inner sections project out.

The three main portals open to an expansive interior — three long, parallel naves covered in low domes, a dozen side chapels and two side portals lining the north and south walls. A major renovation in the 1890s stripped the interior of most of its original ornamentation.

An interesting aside, entering through the main portal on the right, the first side chapel contains a small wooden fragment that is purported to be from the Holy Cross of Huatulco. As legend has it, when the English pirate Thomas Cavendish raided the port of Huatulco in 1587, he tried to destroy the cross, first by chopping it up with an axe, and then by burning it. Miraculously, the cross proved to be indestructible to him. Other supposed fragments of the cross are on display at the Cathedral of Puebla and the Vatican in Rome.

  • North side of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico.  


Templo y Convento de la Compañia de Jesús   Colonial Church     (E)

Templo y Convento de la Compañia de Jesús — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

Arriving in the city in 1576, the Jesuits first constructed a church on this site in 1579. Earthquakes destroyed the original and subsequent churches, until the present incarnation and its adjoining convent, a sprawling complex covering the entire city block southwest of the church, were completed in the early 1760s.


Shortly thereafter, in 1767, King Charles III expelled the Jesuits from Spain and all of its colonies, including México. The Catholic bishops took possession of the church and convent. They held on to the church but promptly sold off most of the convent. In 1950, the Jesuits regained possession of the church, along with a small piece of the convent, the rest of it remaining in private hands. Today, the church is open daily for mass and prayer, while the bulk of the convent is being used as apartments, offices, and retail shops, among other things.

Aesthetically eclectic, the church’s main façade, exuding confidence, projects well forward from between two stout octagonal bases missing their belfries. The real treat, though, awaits inside — the church's original main retablo, circa 1760s, built in the Churrigueresque style that was in vogue at the time.

  • Northeast corner of Trujano & Flores Magan, across the street from the southwest corner of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico.  


Museo del Palacio Universum   Neoclassical Architecture, Museum     (B)
Even though the neoclassical former governor’s palace housing this museum was built in 1884, long after the waves of extravagant baroque construction had receded from the city, it is still one of the most elegant and impressive buildings in the city. Facing north, the front of the museum, which is lined with arches, spans the entire southern edge of the Zócalo, a full city block wide. Three large courtyards, also lined with arches, fill the interior, about half a city block deep. Lively murals cover the walls of the center and eastern stairwells, painted by Arturo García Bustos in the 1980s, the murals celebrations of México’s Independence and the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Aztec cultures.

Today, the museum hosts the occasional special event and a modest collection of rotating art exhibits. Set aside in a small corner of the western most of the three courtyards, the exhibits are dwarfed by the immense building surrounding them, making the moniker of museum something of a stretch. More so than the exhibits, the architectural beauty of the building itself and the two murals tucked away in the staircases are what makes this place worthy of a visit.

  • South side of the Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Tue - Sun 10 am - 7 pm,  closed Mon.  


Sleeping


Hotels



notes, if any, go here...

Hotel Monte Albán   Hotel, Colonial Architecture     $$$     (Q)
Not yet reviewed.

  • Alameda de León 1, southwest corner of the Alameda;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  20 rooms, USD$43 s, USD$52 d, USD$68 t;  Most major credit cards;  phone 951-516-2777951-516-2330;  fax 951-516-3265;  hotelmontealban@prodigy.net.mx.  


Listings



notes, if any, go here...

HSBC   Bank, ATM     (A)
Major international currencies and traveler's checks exchanged, Western Union agent.

  • Guerrero 117, corner Armenta y López;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon – Fri 9 am – 7 pm,  Sat 9 am - 3 pm;  phone 951-516-1967;  www.hsbc.com.mx.  


Banamex   Bank, ATM     (B)
Two locations near the Zócalo. Major international currencies and traveler's checks exchanged, Western Union agent.

  • 1) Hidalgo 821, corner Armenta y López, 2) Valdivieso 116, half-block south of Independencia;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon – Fri 9 am – 4 pm,  10 am – 2 pm;  phone 951-516-5900951-514-5747;  www.banamex.com.  


Scotiabank, Centro Histórico   Bank, ATM     (C)
Major international currencies and traveler's checks exchanged, Western Union agent, 24 hr ATM.


Santander   Bank, ATM     (F)
Major international currencies and traveler's checks exchanged.


Café Internet   Internet Café, Telephone     (G)
Cheap internet access for Mex$9/hr, telephone and fax service, long hours including weekends, conveniently located one block north of the Zócalo.

  • Valdivieso 120, south of Independencia;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon – Sat 8 am – 11 pm,  Sun 9 am - 11 pm;  phone 951-514-9225.  


Public Phones, Alameda de León   Telephone     (H)
Use Ladatel phone cards to make calls from one of the dozen or so public phones located on the west side of the park.

  • West side of Alameda de León;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico.  


Central Post Office   Mail & Shipping     (J)
Best post office in the city to receive mail addressed to Lista de Correos or Poste Restante.

  • Northwest corner of Alameda de León;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon – Fri 8 am – 6 pm,  Sat 9 am - 1 pm.  


Instituto Nacional de Migración   Emergencies,Visa     (K)
A lost or stolen tourist permit should always be replaced before leaving México. Otherwise, be prepared for hassles with immigration officials and a possible fine to boot. Besides, even though it might take a few hours, getting a replacement isn't that difficult. To get a replacement, bring proof of arrival date in México — stamped passport, copy of lost tourist permit, or airline ticket — to the Immigration office (www.inm.gob.mx) at the airport. to any Migración office. To extend your stay, bring your tourist permit. There's another Migración office at the Oaxaca airport.

  • Independencia 709, north of Alameda de León;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  daily 9 am - 1 pm;  phone 951-502-0004;  www.inm.gob.mx.  


Ticket Bus, 20 de Noviembre   First-class Bus Tickets     (X)
Ticket Bus sells tickets for bus lines operating out of the ADO First-class Bus Station. With two storefronts located close to the Zócalo, both open for long hours, they're a convenient alternative to schlepping all the way out to the bus station. Also, for schedules or to purchase tickets online, check their website (www.ticketbus.com.mx) or call 01-800-702-8000.

  • 20 de Noviembre, half-block south of Independencia;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon - Sat 8 am - 10 pm,  Sun 9 am - 4 pm;  phone 951-514-6655.  


Ticket Bus, Valdivieso   First-class Bus Tickets     (Y)
Ticket Bus sells tickets for bus lines operating out of the ADO First-class Bus Station. With two storefronts located close to the Zócalo, both open for long hours, they're a convenient alternative to schlepping all the way out to the bus station. Also, for schedules or to purchase tickets online, check their website (www.ticketbus.com.mx) or call 01-800-702-8000.

  • Valdivieso 2A, northeast corner of Zócalo;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon - Sat 8 am - 10 pm,  Sun 9 am - 4 pm;  phone 951-516-3820.  


Taxi Stand, Alameda de León   Taxi Stand     (D)

  • Independencia Ave and García Vigil, on north side of Alameda de León;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico.  


Transportación Terrestre Aeropuerto   Airport Transportation, Colectivos     (N)
Transportación Terrestre Aeropuerto runs colectivo vans between the airport and the Centro for Mex$52, and, for just a few pesos more, anywhere else in the city. Upon arrival at the airport, after exiting customs, look for the ticket window to the right of the main entrance to the terminal. For transportation to the airport from anywhere in the city, call a day beforehand or drop the office located on the Alameda de León plaza to schedule a time to be picked up.

  • West side of Alameda de León;  Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico;  Mon – Sat 9 am – 2 pm & 5 – 8pm;  phone 951-514-4350.  


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