Mexico’s gastronomic hub has given rise to international food chains and shows off its skills in restaurants serving seven moles and in eateries that have their own mezcal distilleries.
As a region where even the name is a mouthful, Oaxaca (wah-hah-kah) is the undisputed gastronomic heartland of Mexico. It’s known as the Land of the Seven Moles – rich and complex sauces, infused with everything from chilies to chocolate, that form the cornerstone of Mexican cooking. So, when it comes to dining out here, there’s a multitude of top restaurants and street food-serving spots where you can swoon over the culinary delights of this southern coastal state. Here are our favorites.
Rock-star chef, champion and walking repository of Oaxacan cooking, Alejandro Ruiz is the man behind this gastronomic benchmark of regional cuisine. If you have to choose just one Oaxaca restaurant that encapsulates the best of the regional food in the state, Casas Oaxaca is it. It’s housed in a charming colonial building in the state capital’s center, where you can choose between the buzzing indoor dining room or the more serene rooftop terrace. Expect exquisite dishes with complex flavors, all beautifully presented.
Set on the outskirts of the center of Oaxaca City, Criollo is the brainchild of two of the biggest hitters in Mexican gastronomy – Enrique Olvera and Luis Arellano. The super-seasonal menu journeys around the varied landscapes in the region and constantly adapts to what’s available locally. Brunch is a real highlight, plus there’s an impressive list of Mexican wines to choose from. There’s a big serene garden, too, where the aromatic smoke that rises from the outdoor grill whets your appetite while you wait for your meal.
A close-to-legendary city center landmark of a restaurant, the Coronita was first opened in 1948 by Doña Carmen Valle – who you’ll still find overseeing the operation. It’s celebrated for the pitch-perfect rendition of the famed seven moles but offers a long menu of Oaxacan specialties and Mexican favorites. There’s no fancy presentation or gastronomic gimmickry, just decades of complex cooking experience that creates wonderful dishes where the flavors speak for themselves.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in Oaxaca serving more authentic regional cooking than this one. Its out-of-town location, close to Oaxaca International Airport, means you have to seek it out – and its dazzling reputation means many do. Chef and mole expert Jorge León built this family-run restaurant that uses use a traditional flame-fired earthenware comal (flat griddle) to cook top-notch local fare. Be sure to reserve ahead, and the restaurant will prepare a five-course meal that will leave you in rapture.
Since opening in 2001, Los Danzantes has established itself as one of the finest spots in Oaxaca for traditional fare with a contemporary spin. A fabulous high-walled garden makes an impressive setting in which to sample the restaurant’s flavorful and innovative menu. Braver diners can choose from its bichos (bug) dishes, featuring the likes of ant larvae, agave worms and other edible bugs. Wash them down with some top-shelf mezcal from the restaurant’s very own distillery.
Those looking for a more refined eating experience will find it at Catedral, set just a block from the zócalo (main square) in the city. Formal without being stiff, this well-established fine-dining restaurant aims for a sophisticated turn-of-the-century atmosphere. Perfectly cooked and thoughtfully presented dishes lean toward, but aren’t limited to, local flavors. As well as for lunch and dinner, it opens in the morning, too, with what must be the longest breakfast menu in Oaxaca State.
If you find all those rich and heavy sauces a bit much, look no further than Casa Taviche on the fringes of the city center. It offers a lighter and healthier interpretation of Oaxacan cuisine while sacrificing none of the complex flavors that make it so special. This unpretentious eatery whips up a daily changing handwritten menu of up to 10 dishes, with a real emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients. There’s even a decent selection of vegan and vegetarian options, too.
Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the best hotels in Oaxaca for a local experience. Inspire your itinerary with the best things to see in Oaxaca State, as well as the top things to do in Oaxaca City. Don’t miss the best bars in Oaxaca City.
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