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Restaurants — North of Independencia, Centro Histórico, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

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East of Alcalá  |  West of Alcalá

North of Independencia restaurant notes go here...

East of Alcalá

Café la Antigua   Café     $$-$$$     (E)
The owner, Diego Woolrich, roasts his beans, which he grows organically in the mountains north of Puerto Escondido, on the café's premises. Indeed, it’s not unusual to smell their aroma while sitting in the pleasant courtyard, sipping a cup of his deep, rich brew. The menu features standard Oaxacan fare, as well as a few juices and pastries.

NotesPickCheckMark.png Café Brújula, Alcalá   Café, Tea     $-$$     (D)
Bohemians and bourgeoisie, both foreign and domestic, mingle at this trendy café, known for its excellent fresh-roasted coffee and tempting eats, including such delectables as loose-leaf teas, smoothies, cookies, chocolate cake, muffins, waffles, granola, sandwiches, and, the star of the menu, authentic New York-style bagels con queso crema, served up in an airy colonial courtyard filled with American roots music and wifi.. There's another Brújula, the original, nearby on García Vigil.

Coffee Beans   Café     $-$$     (G)
This hole-in-the-wall café brews a stiff cup of joe, the beans grown locally. Here, it's all about the coffee beans, so the menu is limited, just a handful of desserts, sandwiches, quiches, crêpes, and Oaxacan-style breakfasts.

NotesPickCheckMark.png Café Los Cuiles   Café     $-$$     (H)
Exuding a bohemian vibe, this low-key café, popular with locals and foreigners alike, drawn by the fine organic coffee, the free wifi, and the tasty grub, is a fine spot for hanging out, studying the days' Spanish lessons, meeting up with fellow travelers, or maybe just sitting, listening to the burbling of the fountain in the shady interior courtyard out back. The kitchen dishes up mostly Oaxacan staples, along with some imported favorites, such as granola, waffles, salads, sandwiches, and soy burgers.

Gaia   Vegetarian Restaurant     $$     (J)
If the idea of quesillo, fresh tomato, and herbs stuffed between two thick, hearty slices of multigrain bread, washed down with a hot cup of green tea, appeals to you for lunch, then you are going to love this place. In addition to sandwiches, the menu offers a nice choice of breads, fruits, soups, smoothies, salads, and omelets. Dinning is in a shady interior courtyard, which it shares with its trendy next-door neighbor, Café Los Cuiles, making this good place to hang out for an hour or so, planning the day’s activities, or maybe just taking a break from them.

Café Gecko   Café     $-$$     (K)
With the location down pat — a half-block south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo on the sometimes traffic-free cobblestone Cinco de Mayo — this place follows through with excellent coffee and tasty eats, delivered by agreeable waiters in a tranquil courtyard overflowing with vines, tropical plants, and flowers. The menu is geared to gringos, including a mix of salads, sandwiches and desserts, all reasonably priced.

La Rústica   Italian Restaurant, Pizza     $$-$$$     (R)
There are three Rústicas in town — one named La Rústica, and the other two Pizza Rústica. They all serve from the same menu and charge the same prices. Of the three, however, La Rústica has by far the best cooking and service, along with the more refined dining.

Conveniently located in the Centro Histórico, at the intersection of Murguía and Alcalá, La Rústica is housed in a beautiful old building, its front entrance opening to a spacious vestibule, two stories high, upstairs the dining room, its ceiling held high by arches, Italian opera softly playing in the background, evoking the Italy of old. The best seats in the house are the balcony-front tables with views of cobblestone Alcalá below, though they accommodate only two. As expected, the waiters are attentive, but not overly so. And yet, even though this place has all the makings of fine dining, the kitchen somehow manages to muck it up with uninspired, but still edible, pastas and pizzas — which, come to think of it, more or less describes the culinary accomplishments of all the Italian restaurants in the city. One last point: the wine list of mostly Italian and Spanish vintages is sparse, but at least there is one.

As for the two Pizza Rústicas, one is in the middle-class Reforma neighborhood, about a thirty minute walk north of the Zócalo, and the other one, just like La Rústica, is on Alcalá in the Centro Histórico, though a couple of blocks north of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. The Reforma Rústica, with its hand-made wooden furniture and low-slung Spanish tile roof, has a downscale, rustic Mediterranean vibe to it. The cooking, however, falls short of even La Rústica, although anyone who happens to be in the neighborhood and is jonesing for a slice, or even a whole pie, should have no compunction about dropping in. The same cannot be said for the Rústica north of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, because even though the cooking is more or less the same, the dining area is hot and stuffy and generally unpleasant. So, except for quick slice para llevar, it is best to steer clear of this one, especially with La Rústica a short five minute walk away.

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.

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.

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.

West of Alcalá

Bamby   Bakery     $     (A)
A favorite of locals and budget travelers, Bamby offers a wide assortment of fresh, tasty, inexpensive pastries and breads, baked daily.

NotesPickCheckMark.png Pan y Co.   Bakery, Natural Food     $-$$     (B)
The Pan y Co. bakery offers a large selection of European-style breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies, everything baked daily with all natural ingredients. The breads are hearty and healthy, yet do not suffer from the "cardboard" taste and consistency of some health-food concoctions, and the sweet breads are syrupy and sugary, though not overly so. Business is brisk throughout the day, so go early to find the best pickings. There's another storefront in the Colonia Reforma neighborhood.

NotesPickCheckMark.png Coffee Nuevo Mundo   Café     $-$$     (C)
A favorite of coffee aficionados, this cozy coffeehouse, tucked away in an open-air hallway, just may brew the deepest and richest cup of java in the city, along with offering a modest assortment of tasty sandwiches and some truly exquisite sweet rolls. So far, so good. How, then, to explain the bagels, which, tragically, are buns masquerading as such? Bagel purists should steer clear. All is not lost, though, because right around the corner, Café Brújula, another of our favorites, offers authentic New York-style bagels con queso crema, and excellent coffee to boot. That said, the bagel failure aside, we still highly recommend Nuevo Mundo.

NotesPickCheckMark.png Café Brújula   Café, Tea     $-$$     (D)
Bohemians and bourgeoisie, both foreign and domestic, mingle at this trendy café, known for its excellent fresh-roasted coffee and tempting eats, including such delectables as loose-leaf teas, smoothies, cookies, chocolate cake, muffins, waffles, granola, sandwiches, and, the star of the menu, authentic New York-style bagels con queso crema, served up in funky-rustic digs filled with American roots music and wifi. A second Brújula was recently opened nearby on Alcalá, the busy pedestrian promenade cutting through the heart of the Centro Historico.

Flor de Loto   Vegetarian Restaurant     $$-$$$     (L)
Update: As of the summer of 2012, Flor de Loto has come under new ownership and management, although it has kept the same name. Once strictly vegetarian, the new menu now includes some seafood and meat items. A complete review of this place will be conducted the next time this writer researches the city.

La Manantial Vegetariana   Vegetarian Restaurant     $$-$$$     (M)
In the rustic interior courtyard of an old colonial mansion, a burbling fountain at its center, this strictly vegetarian restaurant serves up mostly lighter versions of traditionally heavy Oaxacan staples, along with a few favorites of the meat adverse such as veggie burgers. The all-you-can-eat Saturday buffet (2 -6 p.m.) is worth dropping by for, especially if it's looking like a lazy rest of the day.

Café Royale   French Restaurant, Wine     $-$$     (N)
For anyone craving a crêpe in this city of moles, Café Royale offers French food in a casual atmosphere at a reasonable price, using organic ingredients when available. Disappointing, though, was the lack a wine list, the only options a house red and white. That said, the red, a Cabernet Sauvignon, wasn't bad.

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.

Pizza Nostrana Spaghettería   Italian Restaurant, Pizza, Wine     $$-$$$     (S)
Decent Italian fare, attentive waiters, and old-world digs draw visitors and locals aplenty to this Centro Histórico trattoria across the street from the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. The small wine list features vintages from Italy, Spain, and South America, mostly.

Mezzaluna   Italian Restaurant, Pizza, Wine     $$$-$$$$     (T)
Slinging hearty plates of pasta and wood-fired horno pizzas, this reliable Centro Histórico Italian has rescued many a traveler whose taste buds have become saturated with Oaxacan cooking. Dining is available indoors beneath the high ceilings and viga beams or, weather permitting, upstairs on the roof, which the waiters charitably refer to as la terraza, with stunning views of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo to the east and the mountains on all sides. Rounding it all out, the small but respectable wine list features mostly Italian and South American vintages.

La Biznaga   Méxican Fusion, Wine     $$$-$$$$     (U)
Named after a large, barrel-shaped cactus native to northwest México, La Biznaga is a favorite of long-time visitors and affluent locals, drawn by its nueva mestiza sensibility, which ingeniously blends little-used local ingredients with more familiar ones, and the agreeable ambiance, where patrons dine in the rustic courtyard of a colonial mansion, surrounded by paintings and art installations, multiform music softly playing in the background. Topping it all off are the friendly, professional waiters and the small but respectable wine list. The retractable tarp above the courtyard makes this a good place to retreat to when the summer rains inevitably come.

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.

NotesPickCheckMark.png Los Danzantes   Méxican Fusion Restaurant, Wine     $$$-$$$$     (Y)
The walk through the long, drab hallway of the centuries old colonial building that fronts the Los Danzantes restaurant does nothing to prepare you for the arresting sight of the courtyard that is the Los Danzantes restaurant. Enclosed on one side by the exterior wall of a vine covered colonial building and on the other three sides by high walls of abode bricks laid geometrically and illuminated by spot lights. The floor is earthy flagstone. Rounding this all out is a tranquil fountain lit and flowing into a huge pool. This one of the most striking dinning spaces anywhere. Not to be outdone by the surroundings, the menu — which seems designed to please all palates — fuses traditional Mexican cuisine with the contemporary to create innovative and delicious pasta, seafood, poultry, meat, and vegetarian dishes. Desserts are first-rate. Waiters are attentive, yet not overly. They also run La Cava, a Wine and Mezcal package store with possibly the best selection of wines in the city. So it is no surprise their wine list is excellent with a emphasis on Méxican vintages, but still a respectable selection from Spain, Italy, France, Chile, and Argentina. Recommended is the house red on the Los Danzantes label (their blend of four Méxican varietals). If on a budget, Los Danzantes is the one place to make an exception for.

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.

The Italian Coffee Company, Alcalá   Café     $     ()
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.

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.

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