Vegetarian Restaurants — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
Unlike most travel destinations in México, the city of Oaxaca has a nice selection of restaurants catering to vegetarians. For vegans, it’s a bit tougher, although most of the restaurants listed here will try to accommodate their needs. That said, because meat is such an important part of traditional Oaxacan cooking, attempts at creating vegetarian renditions of local dishes invariably fall short, failing to capture the original dish's essence, the meat's removal too large an obstacle for most cooks to overcome.
And so, for vegetarians — no matter how worthy their motivations, be it animal rights, environmental, health, or all of the above — this means that they have few opportunities for exposure to the full range of flavors in this unique cuisine, as well as the moments of authentic encounter that can happen when eating at restaurants and food stalls that cater to locals and cook their food in traditional ways. Nevertheless, one place in the city, Itanoní, seems to have pulled off this delicate balance, offering a handful of vegetarian renditions of authentic Oaxacan dishes.
As for the reviews of all the restaurants in the city listed in this guide, not just the ones specializing in vegetarian cooking, read the article Restaurants — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca. Also worth mentioning here, there are a couple of organic markets that vegetarians, or anyone who likes eating healthy, may be interested in as well.
100% Natural • Vegetarian • $$-$$$ • (H)
It' hard enough to find a decent health food restaurant back home, much less while traveling abroad. This place, even though it's a national chain, is an exception, modeling its entrées, appetizers, and drinks after Western-styled health food, and pulling it all off. Though mostly vegetarian, the menu does have some meat and seafood dishes on it, so vegetarians should be careful when ordering, and don't hesitate to request substitutes.
For breakfast, try a stack of the excellent multigrain hotcakes, a real bargain at 55 pesos. Be sure to specify miel de maple, though; otherwise, a jar of honey just may materialize on the table instead. After that, for comida or dinner, there's long list of familiar entrées to choose from. For specifics, check the menu online.
- Dr. Liceaga 115, across the street south side of El Llano Park; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; daily 7 am - 11 pm; Mex$50 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-132-4343; www.100natural.com.mx.
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.
- Belisario Domínguez 513, east of Jazmines; Colonia Reforma; Mon - Sat 7 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sun 8 a.m. - 2 p.m.; MX$30 - 100; phone 951-513-9223; www.itanoni.com.
La Manantial Vegetariana • Vegetarian Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (M)
In the rustic interior courtyard of an old colonial mansion, a burbling fountain at its center, this strictly vegetarian restaurant serves up mostly lighter versions of traditionally heavy Oaxacan staples, along with a few favorites of the meat adverse such as veggie burgers. The all-you-can-eat Saturday buffet (2 -6 p.m.) is worth dropping by for, especially if it's looking like a lazy rest of the day.
- Tinoco y Palacios 303, just north of Matamoros; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m., closed Sun; MX$60 - 100; phone 951-514-5602.
Flor de Loto • Vegetarian Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (L)
Update: As of the summer of 2012, Flor de Loto has come under new ownership and management, although it has kept the same name. Once strictly vegetarian, the new menu now includes some seafood and meat items. A complete review of this place will be conducted the next time this writer researches the city.
- Morelos 509, half-block west of Díaz; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Commida and Dinner; MX$50 - 100; phone 951-514-3944.
Gaia • Vegetarian Restaurant • $$ • (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.
- Plazuela Labastida 115-3, Plaza de las Virgenes; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; MX$50 - 100.
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.
- García Vigil 715, one block north of Quetzalcoatl; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 7:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun 8 - 5 p.m.; MX$50 - 120; phone 951-516-9584.
Casa del Ángel • Vegetarian Restaurant, Yoga • $-$$ • (C)
Located in the rear of the building, the studio offers yoga classes daily except for Sundays, along with meditation, dance, and tai chi on selected days. The full schedule of classes is posted online. Up front, in the quiet courtyard, the tiny café serves from a rotating menu of Indian, Méxican, and European cuisines, depending on the day. Everything is all natural and vegetarian, of course.
- Jacobo Dalevuelta 200, just east of Reforma; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Café open Mon - Fri 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.; MX$40 - 100; phone 951-518-7167; www.casadelangel.com.mx.
Café Xiguela • Café, Vegetarian • (X)
This small café serves excellent coffee and espresso, as well as light, healthy snacks and sandwiches for vegetarians and carnivores. Across the street, the owner also runs Xiguela, a small corner store that has, hands down, the best selection of organic and natural food in town. Indeed, if you have been looking for some special organic or natural product in the city and have not been able to find it, this place is your best bet.
- Southeast corner Hidalgo and Cinco de Mayo; Barrio de Jalatlaco, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.; phone 951-132-9121.