Eating in the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, the capital of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, can be life changing. You eat well here. Depending on your exact taste, you might never eat this well again. From the region’s seven moles (negro, rojo, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo, and manchamantel) and the corn based antojitos, to the new wave of fine dining restaurants that are adding another dimension to Oaxacan cuisine, there are so many gastronomic experiences packed within this colonial city, that it can be difficult to navigate. This list of restaurants, street food stalls, and markets in Oaxaca is intentionally short, a starting point if you will. Use it, but by no means be limited by it.
Oaxaca born chef Jose Manuel Baños Rodriguez cooked in Spanish restaurants El Bulli and Arzak before opening this restaurant named after the emblematic verbena-like herb used extensively in regional kitchens. The restaurant, which opened in 2010, draws from Jose Manuel’s experiences cooking with his mother and grandmother, using only local ingredients and riffing on traditional preparations. pitiona.com.
This pioneering restaurant helmed by Alejandro Ruiz, attached to a luxury boutique hotel, was the first to place Oaxacan cuisine in a fine dining context. Ruiz respects traditional flavors and techniques, though uses modern plating and has a nice wine list. Try and have a pre-dinner cocktail drink on the rooftop, which has stunning views of Iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzmán. casaoaxacaelrestaurante.com.
Owned by Pujol’s Enrique Olvera and headed by chef Luis Arellano, an Oaxaca native and former Pujol chef, Criollo opened in 2017 and might be the city’s most exciting fine dining restaurant. Set within a sprawling colonial courtyard, the seven-course tasting menus adapt to the seasons, with tweaks to dishes daily. criollo.mx.
The winner of Top Chef Mexico 2016, Rodolfo Castellanos, who trained in France, opened the multi-level Origen in 2011 with his wife, Lizette. More experimental than other fine dining restaurants in Oaxaca, it’s still driven by the region’s ingredients. origenoaxaca.com.
As much as a destination for small-batch mezcals as it is for food, this American-run restaurant serves six, nine, and 12-course tasting menus. Chef Valerie Frei, who previously worked at two-Michelin star Berlin restaurant Rutz, prizes Oaxacan ingredients, though avoids the limitations of traditional techniques and presentations. eldestilado.com.
Traditional Oaxacan Food
Our restaurant of the year for 2018, Jorge León and his family’s rustic eatery on the outskirts of Oaxaca is putting out some of the best food in a region of extraordinary cuisine. Formerly in charge of the masa and moles at Pujol, Alfonsina is anchored by what might be the world’s most perfect masa, which they use to make things like tlayudas, molotes, tamales, and memelas on a traditional comal with the precision of a fine dining restaurant. Come in the morning for breakfast and sit as a parade of dishes are sent your way. Instagram page.
Las Quince Letras
From renowned chef Celia Florián, whose son owns the excellent Oaxacan restaurant Pasillo de Humo in Mexico City, Las Quince Letras is an elegant portrayal of regional dishes. Open since 1992, Florián uses the recipes passed down to her from her grandmother and is best known for her moles (Spanish-style, mole negro, mole de caderas, etc). Facebook page.
Set within the home of owner Señora Deyanira Aquino on the outskirts of the city center, La Teca is one of Oaxaca’s best options for traditional Istmeño food like garnachas, quesadillas, tamales, and moles.
You will probably pass Los Pacos and assume it’s just another tourist restaurant, but the food here is worth checking out, particularly the wide range of textbook moles that have been perfected by multiple generations. lospacosoaxaca.com.
Tacos del Carmen
At the corner of Calle de Jesús Carranza and Calle Garcia Vigil, Tacos del Carmen has been serving some of Oaxaca’s best tacos for more than four decades. Try the tinga or chile relleno tacos, or opt for their quesadillas de flor de calabaza (squash blossom quesadillas) and amarillo empanadas. Facebook page.
El Lechoncito de Oro
This late night lechón (roasted suckling pig) stand a few blocks northeast of the Zócalo will give you your 2AM pork fix. Order your lechón with pierna or crunchy bits of chicharrón on a torta, taco, or tostada. Facebook page.
Libres Tlayudas Doña Martha
You’ll smell the oversized corn tortillas cooking on the grill at Libre Tlayudas Doña Martha from El Lechoncito de Oro, just a few steps away. This decades old spot is well worth your time for their no nonsense tlayudas stuffed with standard fillings like tasajo, chorizo quesillo, lard, beans, and more. Facebook page.
The primary goal of this laid back tortillería and antojería is preserving corn biodiversity. Anchored by a traditional comal that you’ll see as soon as you walk in, each antojitos uses a particular corn varietal for the masa for their memelas, tetelas, tostadas, quesadillas, and other corn-based snacks. Instagram page.
Mercado 20 de Noviembre
Oaxaca’s markets tend to be more compact, yet more specialized, than the markets of Mexico City. 20 de Noviembre, a short walk south of the zocalo, is one of the most complete and has one of the largest selections of comedores. The most sought after destination within the market is the Pasillo de Humo, the “aisle of smoke,” a narrow passageway lined with grills selling regional cuts of meat (tasajo, chorizo, tripa, and cecina) sold by weight.
Mercado Benito Juárez
One block south of the Zócalo and beside the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, Oaxaca’s Benito Juárez market is the city’s oldest, dating back to 1893. There is a vast selection of products, from tourist handicrafts to regional food products like chapulines, moles, cheeses, tejate, breads, and general produce. To eat, try the empanadas at San Antonio, which are filled with amarillo, a yellow mole with chicken.
Mercado La Merced
On the eastern side of the city center, the Mercado La Merced is less tourist oriented than the 20 de Noviembre and Benito Juárez markets. This is where locals come to buy produce and eat at small restaurants like Fonda La Floresita, which offers up traditional Oaxacan dishes.
Central de Abastos
Also called the Mercado Margarita Maza de Juárez, the open-air produce market is Oaxaca’s largest overall market and the best place to pick up regional ingredients like dried chiles, moles, quesillo, coffee, cacao, honey, and spices. Don’t miss Doña Valentina in sector two for her memelas, the open tortillas cooked on a comal that come stacked with skirt steak and other ingredients. On Saturdays, vendors come from surrounding villages to set up stalls selling barbacoa.
Tlacolula Sunday Market
While there are dozens of markets that set up in the state of Oaxaca every Sunday, one of the best is a convenient 30-minute drive from Oaxaca City in Tlacolula. Here thousands of vendors set up in the streets throughout the town center. You’ll find nearly anything here, from raw food products to textiles to food stalls.