Mexico’s state of Oaxaca has some of the best traditional Mexican food in the entire country. There are so many delicious options that it can be hard to decide where to spend your precious stomach space. Here are 10 restaurants in Oaxaca that we believe are not only worthy of your hunger, but will also give you a real feel for the region’s cuisine.
Restaurant, Restaurant with Rooms, Mexican, Vegetarian, $$$
Led by well-known Mexican chef Pilar Cabrera, La Olla is one of the city’s most popular restaurants. The food is traditional, yet inspired by Cabrera’s love for playing with local ingredients to achieve something familiar and yet phenomenal. Chiles rellenos, chulupas, traditional soups and a great “menu of the day” that could offer up some of the vast range of cuisines that Cabrera excels at. Cabrera is also famous for her moles, so make sure you try at least one. And she offers cooking classes if you want to go behind the curtain and see the master at work.
Casa Oaxaca’s kitchen is headed up by Alejandro Ruiz, recognized as one of Mexico’s best young chefs. His dishes are richly Oaxacan but with contemporary techniques and a modern presentation. We wholehearted recommend any of Casa Oaxaca’s moles, especially the Coloradito with confit pork and fried plantains, as well as the roasted rabbit or lamb barbacoa. With privileged views of the Santo Domingo church, an evening on the terrace is over-the-top romantic.
With an incredible view of the nearby Santo Domingo church, Mezquite restaurant and bar is a great place to spend an afternoon in Oaxaca city. You can eat there all day. For breakfast we like fried eggs with both red and green salsa, bean paste, and purslane. For lunch how about something light, like their plate of Oaxacan cheeses, and for dinner, definitely the catch of the day in green mole with squash blossom cream and encrusted in roasted grasshoppers. At night this place fills up with locals and residents and is a lively place for a mezcal and a snack.
With a location in Mexico City and one in Oaxaca City, Los Danzantes has made a name for itself in representing Oaxacan cuisine from around the state. We definitely recommend you start with cheese wrapped in fragrant hierba santa, and follow that up with a pork shank in manchamantel mole (literally the “tablecloth stainer”). The ambiance of Los Danzantes in Oaxaca City is half the experience—super romantic and, despite its size, intimate, under a cloth canopy which folds back on warm nights to give you a view of the stars above.
Right in the heart of downtown, La Biznaga is a trendy and welcoming spot that draws in a very mixed local and tourist crowd. Sit in its open patio and have a regionally-inspired cocktail, or enjoy Oaxaca’s gastronomical flavors—mole, local cheeses, amarenth, or pumpkin seeds. They also have delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches that follow a more international style. Finally, don’t miss out a chance to sample a local craft beer or mezcal—Biznaga has a wide selection of both.
Catedral is a well-respected and long-standing traditional restaurant in Oaxaca City. It sits in one of those grand old colonial structures and has various corners for an intimate dinner with your beloved. Their menu is replete with the most traditional Oaxaca dishes—beef fillet in a Oaxacan pasilla sauce, wild trukey in mole negro, and beef medallions and pickled criollo zuchinnis in corn mole. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you have plenty of time to fit La Catedral into at least one of the mealtimes.
We recommend a seat on the second floor with an awesome view to the city’s main plaza—it’s one of the things that sets La Casa de la Abuela apart. Super-traditional, you will find tortilla makers working the comal to bring you fresh tortillas and a setting that is much like sitting at your grandmother’s house (well… maybe not yours, but somebody’s). This homestyle restaurant serves tlayudas, moles, and other Oaxaca fare, as well as steaks and salads for those who prefer an international option. Prices are reasonable and service is friendly.
Oaxaca’s quintessential local market, you can find everything deliciously Oaxacan you dream about here. The market is famed for its hot chocolate and pan de yema (egg bread), as well as lots of other Oaxaca delights like tlayudas, roasted grasshoppers, and melt-in-your-mouth quesillo cheese. The center of the market is where you will find all its eateries, and there’s no shortage of great options—enchiladas, chiles rellenos, mole, tacos dorados and more. You can also purchase blocks of Oaxaca chocolate for making your own at home, and walk through the aisle of cured and smoked meats for sale. You won’t go home hungry.
Head chef Celia Florian takes great pains to source her ingredients locally and work with local producers to support sustainable agriculture. The restaurant is part of the Slow Food movement, and they have a strong commitment to preseving local food traditions in Oaxaca. Try the xochitl soup, the chiles de agua en caldillo, and the grilled quesadilla with epazote, and finish up with a Oaxacan hot chocolate.
Zandunga focuses its menu on regional fare from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the southeast part of Oaxaca, as well as a region that is shared by the state of Chiapas and Tabasco. This area of Oaxaca is unique in its culture and cooking, and includes ingredients like fresh seafood (because of its proximity to the ocean) and other lowland animals like armadillo and iguana. Look for dishes like tamales de cambray, a savory-sweet tamal with chicken, raisins, almonds, and capers, and the isthmus‘ famous stews called estofadas. You will find the ambiance and the food a delight.