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Oaxacan Restaurants — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca


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Around the Zócalo  |  North of Independencia  |  North of Santo Domingo  |  South of Independencia  |  Barrio de Jalatlaco  |  Colonia Reforma

The best way to get to know a foreign place is to live there for an extended period, immersing yourself in the culture, speaking the language, eating the food, going to school or work, and so forth. Few of us, though, ever get the chance. So we make do with short visits, usually a week or two, the experience enhanced if we speak the language, but limited still. And yet, even during these short visits, by avoiding places that cater to foreign tourists, which are always keen to give us what they think we want, and which always seems to involve contrived interactions between an "us" and a "them", in favor of places that cater to locals, we can experience moments of authentic encounter.

With that in mind, some of the tastiest, most traditional Oaxacan cooking can be found in the city of Oaxaca's more modest eateries, all catering to locals and charging only a few pesos. Wary of poor sanitation, we tend avoid these places. We shouldn't, however, especially in the city, where fresh food and drinks are almost always prepared with purified water and sanitary conditions are generally high. Outside of the city, though, some caution is advisable. As a general rule, the busier a place is, the safer it is.

As for the cuisine itself, it is considered one of the finest in the country by aficionados of Méxican cooking and is known for its seemingly endless variety of moles. And the city, moreover, with hundreds of restaurants, food stalls, and street vendors specializing in traditional Oaxacan cooking, is an excellent place to explore this unique cuisine.

Oaxaqueños eat their main meal of the day, which is known as comida, in the afternoon, usually some time between 1 and 6 p.m. For comida, most restaurants offer, in addition to regular menu items, a set, multi-course meal, which is known as comida corrida, although it is sometimes referred to as el cubierto or menú del dia. It's also usually the best deal on the menu. Comida corrida almost always begins with a soup or salad and a fruit drink or agua fresca, followed by a main course centered around a meat dish and a warm basket of corn tortillas, before finishing up with a dessert.

As for the reviews of all the restaurants in the city listed in this guide, not just the ones specializing in Oaxacan cuisine, read the article Restaurants — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca.

Around the Zócalo




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


North of Independencia




NotesPickCheckMark.png Zandunga   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (A)
In eastern Oaxaca the North American continent narrows to a thin strip of land, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (teh-wahn-teh-pek), separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean by only a couple hundred kilometers. There, the two mighty sierras of southern México converge and shrink to a mere plateau-like ridge a couple hundred meters above sea level. As the elevation descends, the climate turns hot, steamy, tropical. And with the change in climate, there comes a change in cuisine, the cooks of the Isthmus drawing from their surroundings, using what is most readily available to them — namely, seafood and tropical fruits.

Zandunga brings this unique cuisine to the city, serving up large, multi-course meals, which always begin with totopos, fried tortillas unique to the Isthmus, and minilla, a spicy fishmeal, as an appetizer. Next come garanchas, the signature dish of the Isthmus, small fried corn tortillas topped with stringy meat, pickled cabbage, and salsa picante. After that, indulge in one of the many house specialties, such as pork stewed in estofado, a slightly sweet mole-like sauce, or deep-fried plantains rolled in masa de maíz, corn dough.

Also a specialist in the cuisine of the Isthmus, chef Ofelia Toledo Pineda runs a small restaurant, Yu Ne Nisa, out of her garage in the Reforma neighborhood, about 30 minutes north of the Zócalo on foot.


NotesPickCheckMark.png La Olla   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (B)
Large plates of inexpensive, soul-satisfying Oaxacan food keep a steady stream of dedicated locals, long-time visitors, and expats coming back for more at this Centro Histórico bistro, which fronts the equally popular Casa de las Bugambilias B&B. Traditional soups, tlayudas, filleted fish wrapped in hierba santa, and carnes slathered in moles negro y rojo are just a few of the items on the menu worth mentioning. The rest are posted online. Anyone interested in learning about Oaxacan cooking should attend one of the classes taught through the affiliated Casa de los Sabores. Call or stop by the restaurant or B&B to reserve a spot in class.


NotesPickCheckMark.png Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante   Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine     $$$-$$$$     (C)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, may be his finest, with dining available, depending on the mood, either downstairs in the immaculate courtyard among the city’s elite or upstairs on the terrace with views of the imposing south wall of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.

Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the intimate 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, located two blocks west on Calle García Vigil, as well as Casa Oaxaca Café, located about a kilometer northeast of the Centro in the Reforma neighborhood.


NotesPickCheckMark.png Casa Oaxaca (Restaurant)   Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine     $$-$$$$     (D)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the small 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, is by far the most intimate and romantic, with patrons dining outdoors in the tranquil courtyard of a lovingly restored colonial home.

Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, located two blocks east on Avenida Constitución, south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, as well as Casa Oaxaca Café, located about a kilometer northeast of the Centro in the Reforma neighborhood.


El Andariego   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (E)
Set in a lovingly restored colonial mansion, the hotel Parador San Miguel retains many of the excesses of that era — stain glass windows, wrought iron gates, green granite columns, and, and ... the list goes on and on. Inside, the wide corridors lead to twenty-three hand-carved cedar doors, each opening to a spacious room or suite with a high ceiling, the decor exclusively handcrafted Oaxacan or Méxican. (Check availability or reserve online at booking.com.)

The hotel's upscale restaurant, El Andariego, every bit as refined as the restored colonial mansion it resides in, features fine renditions of Oaxacan classics — the moles here are as good as any in the city. For comida, bargain hunters will be pleased with the always tasty menú del dia, served after 1 p.m., costing a mere 80 pesos. The only downside to this place is the disappointing wine list, which is limited to a few South American and Spanish vintages.


Restaurante Catedral   Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine     $$$-$$$$     (F)
From early in the morning until late in the evening, it’s luxury all the way at this upscale Centro Histórico Oaxacan, where superb cooking, gracious service, and a refined decor attract the upper strata of Oaxacan society. Dine indoors beneath the high ceilings and viga beams or outdoors, weather permitting, beneath the sky in a stone-slab courtyard with a tranquil fountain at its center, classical music softly playing in the background. Topping it all off is the wine list, featuring vintages from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and France. Somehow, this all comes at a reasonable price, with the main entrées costing between one and two hundred pesos. Check online for the complete menu.


Los Pacos   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (G)
Wafting out of the kitchen of this longtime Centro Histórico Oaxacan are the wonderful fragrances of thick, rich moles being poured over carnes, making for some delicious repasts. Dine downstairs in a formal setting or upstairs on the terrace with fantastic views of the city, especially at night. Wine aficionados will be disappointed by the small and uninspired selection. Check online for the complete menu.


North of Santo Domingo




María Bonita   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (A)
Perhaps it is the dining room, airy and bright, filled with natural light, the floors tiled and polished, immaculate, the white walls adorned with colorful paintings, creating a feeling of lightness. Or maybe it's just the cooks doing more with less. But this place somehow manages to create lighter versions of traditionally heavy Oaxacan classics without compromising on flavor.


La Casa del Tío Güero   Oaxacan Restaurant, Vegetarian, Cooking Classes     $$-$$$     (B)
With an eclectic interior aesthetic bordering on kitschy, this place serves mostly traditional Oaxacan grub, as well as a decent selection of vegetarian entrées. The chef also offers weekly cooking classes for MX$400. Call or stop by to reserve a spot in class.


El Escapularío Restaurant   Oaxacan Restaurant     $-$$     (C)
From its second-story perch in a weary-looking old colonial building, this Centro Histórico Oaxacan serves up large portions of authentic Oaxacan food for a mere pittance. For breakfast, the regional egg dishes are an especially good deal, with most costing less than 50 pesos. As for comida and dinner, the specialties of the house, large plates of rich, spicy moles poured over pollo or some other carne, are fine, inexpensive choices as well. And, of course, everything comes with a basket full of warm corn tortillas. This is also a good place to try chapulines for the first time, the tiny red grasshoppers that are a local delicacy. A word of advice, however: Drowning the crunchy critters in a thick mole sauce will help make them go down easier.


Cocina Económica Isabel   Oaxacan Restaurant     $-$$     (E)
In an interior patio lined with red bricks and overflowing with tropical plants, Cocina Económica Isabel serves up large portions of traditional Oaxacan food for next to nothing, making it a dream come true for budget travelers. For the best deals, stick with the multi-course económica breakfast (8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m., 35 pesos) or the afternoon comida corrida (1 - 5 p.m., 50 pesos). Be sure to ask for a basket full of warm, filling corn tortillas; otherwise, you may end up with white bread and margarine as a side.


South of Independencia




Anyone interested in venturing outside the well-worn list of restaurants in the Centro Histórico catering to affluent Oaxacans and foreign tourists should explore the area south of Avenida Independencia, where some of the finest, most authentic Oaxacan food in the city can be found for next to nothing, especially the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, with a whole city block of food stalls to choose from.

NotesPickCheckMark.png Mercado 20 de Noviembre   Market, Oaxacan Restaurants, Mezcal     $-$$     (A)
O.K., folks, this place is it, the real deal – a whole city block of food stalls catering to locals and serving only authentic Oaxacan food, all for only a few pesos. For breakfast, head straight to the La Pereñita food stall and order a righteous cup of steaming champurrado, atole mixed with chocolate, which goes down nicely with a roll of pan de yema, egg-yolk bread. Outside, ringing the market, there are several well-stocked mezcal shops, making this a good place to pick up a bottle at a bargain. Be sure to sample the product before buying.


La Flor de Oaxaca   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (B)
In a quiet space, seemingly far removed from the raucous city streets surrounding it, this unpretentious little restaurant serves up faithful renditions of classic Oaxacan dishes at affordable prices, making it a fine place to retreat to after a long day of visiting the city’s many sights.


Tayu   Oaxacan Restaurant     $-$$     (C)
Great food, large portions, and low prices make this south of Independencia Oaxacan a favorite of budget travelers and locals alike.


Café Alex   Oaxacan Restaurant     $-$$     (D)
Located three blocks west of the Zócalo, this south of Independencia Oaxacan dishes up large portions of traditional food at low prices. Anyone looking for a quiet meal, though, should steer clear of the interior courtyard — the squawking from the caged birds can be deafening.


La Coronita   Oaxacan Restaurant     $-$$     (E)
Yet another south of Independencia Oaxacan serving large portions of delicious food at low prices. For the best deals, stick with the breakfast specials and afternoon comida corrida.


Casa Elpidia   Oaxacan Restaurant     $-$$     (F)
Luring a mostly local crowd with its delicious home-style meals and low prices, this small, family-run restaurant has no a la carte menu, serving only breakfast specials in the morning and comida corrida in the afternoon.


Barrio de Jalatlaco




NotesPickCheckMark.png El Biche Pobre   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (A)
In a nicely restored two-story colonial building, this moderately priced neighborhood restaurant serves up gut-busting portions of delicious Oaxacan classics, including several of the seven moles. Dine downstairs among the sounds and smells emanating from the kitchen or upstairs where it is a little more tranquilo. Nestled in the day-dreamy Barrio de Jalatlaco, this place is well worth the twenty-minute walk from the Zócalo. Not up for the walk? Then catch a cab from the taxi stand on the north side of the Alameda de León.


Colonia Reforma




NotesPickCheckMark.png Itanoní   Oaxacan Restaurant, Vegetarian     $-$$     (A)
Genetic evidence shows that maize, or corn, was domesticated from teosinte, a grass native to parts of México and Central America. The earliest evidence of this link is some 9000-year-old samples found in a cave in the Rio Balsas valley, in the Méxican state of Guerrero. Since its domestication, maize has spread throughout México and the rest of the Americas, all the while changing and evolving, as indigenous farmers cultivated and then combed their fields, looking for plants with specific traits, saving their seeds and sharing them with neighbors, continuously crossbreeding and coaxing new varieties out of their diverse surrounding. Until today, in México alone, there are fifty-nine varieties of maize, each adapted for a diverse set of conditions — high or low altitude, early or late maturation, dry or wet conditions, and so on.

Recent trade agreements, however, like NAFTA, along with other specific policy decisions in Washington and México City, have allowed large-scale US producers to dump their heavily subsidized, monoculture corn into México, driving down commodity prices by as much as half. Not surprisingly, family farmers in México have not been able to compete. To survive, many have retreated to subsistence, farming only for what they can eat or barter away, while others have abandoned their fields altogether in search of low-wage work in the maquiladoras or north of the border.

Against this ominous backdrop, Itanoní is doing what it can to support the country’s vanishing family farms by using only locally grown ingredients in its recipes. In the kitchen, everything is prepared fresh and grilled over an open fire, creating healthy versions of traditional Méxican antojitos, such as quesadillas, tacos, and tamales. As for vegetarians, this is probably the safest place in the city for them to try authentic Oaxacan cooking.


NotesPickCheckMark.png Casa Oaxaca Café   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (B)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca Café, conforms most closely to traditional Oaxacan cuisine and is by far the least expensive of the lot, without compromising on flavor.

Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, located in the Centro Histórico on Avenida Constitución, south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, as well as Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the intimate 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, located on Calle García Vigil, also in the Centro Histórico.


Yu Ne Nisa   Oaxacan Restaurant     $$-$$$     (C)
For over twenty years, Chef Ofelia Toledo Pineda has been bringing the unique cuisine of the Isthmus to the city. Her menu, which changes daily, always seems to involve large, multi-course meals, although garanchas, the signature dish of the Isthmus, small fried corn tortillas topped with stringy meat, pickled cabbage, and salsa picante, are usually included.

She runs the restaurant out of the garage of her house in the Reforma neighborhood, about a thirty minute walk north of the Zócalo. Hours are loose, so be sure to call ahead. Or, alternatively, head over to Zandunga, a block west of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, also specializing in the cuisine of the Isthmus.


Casa de Cantera   Guelaguetza, Oaxacan Restaurant     (K)
Catering to domestic and foreign tourists, this restaurant stages mini-guelaguetza performances nightly, starting at 8:30 p.m. and costing 140 pesos. For dinner, a set, multi-course meal of Oaxacan food is served during the show, though not included in the price of admission. The restaurant is located in the middle-class Reforma neighborhood, a couple of kilometers north of the Zócalo, about a thirty-minute walk. Not interested in hoofing it, especially at night? A steady stream of cabs queue up at the taxi stand on the north side of the Alameda de León. However, before schlepping it all the way up here, be sure to call ahead and make a reservation for the show, particularly during the low seasons.



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