More Favorite Restaurants in Oaxaca! Meals eaten in October, 2005
After an overnight bus trip from Palenque, I arrived in Oaxaca surprisingly refreshed. Napping most of the way, I managed to sleep through my favorite villages of Tlacalula and Mitla, finally waking as the bus pulled into Oaxaca's Central Bus Station. There went my grand entrance into Oaxaca.
My favorite room at the Hotel Trebol was not ready, so I strolled to the Zocalo to view the massive remodeling of the prettiest city-center in all of Mexico. The antique band shell was completely refurbished and was brilliant in the center of the Park! Large marble block were artfully used around the giant Bay Trees and were perfect for setting. Flowers were overflowing around every tree. Fountains were flowing with water.
My reward for another arrival in Oaxaca was to eat at the nicest Hotel in town, the 4-star Camino Real. Their breakfast buffet is famous for the best in Oaxacan treats.
Walking into the buffet area, I was immediately intoxicated by the aroma of huge pots of Oaxaca's famous hot, chocolate drink. What the heck, if it was good enough for the Aztec kings, it was good enough for me. Freshly ground coffee was also brewing.
My favorite part of Mexican breakfasts are the plates of fresh fruits All sorts of melons, pineapple, and chopped fruits were served with yoghurt, cottage cheese, cereal or granola. Carrot juice was chosen from half a dozen freshly squeezed drinks.
Omelettes and egg dishes were made to order by young women chefs in starched white uniforms and pleated white hats. Keeping with the Aztec proverb that if you eat chapulines, you "will return to Oaxaca," I had a cheese and grasshopper omelette.
You will be pleased to know that grasshoppers are, like France's escargot, (snails), purged of poop. The chapulines are either sundried or grilled with onions or garlic. Grasshoppers are high in protein, and extremely low in fat.
When you think of the crops that are NOT being devoured by these ravenous insects, eating grasshoppers is environmentally correct.
On a smaller grill, another chef was cooking memelitas, small 3 inch tortillas with edges pinched up to form a rim. As they are grilled, each was filled with sauces, meats, vegatables and cheese.
Traditional Oaxacan breakfasts were their speciality. My favorite were the tamales wrapped in banana leaves and filled with either chicken mole, rajas (strips of mild peppers), or a sweet sauce. The three different types were in a variety of corn hunks, making each tamale different in size, color and flavor.
The setting for this buffet is in a colonial kitchen with colorful, ceramic, tiled walls and counters. Nestled around the grills were large, ceramic pots with lids, each filled with another Oaxacan treat.
The chicken with vegetables was in a cream sauce that I wanted to drink like a soup. The Eggs with Nopales were scrambled with fresh slices of cactus paddles, minus the pricks, of course. I lost track of the dishes as I made-up for the missed meals on the bus.
A variety of cakes, rolls, pastries and endless coffee refills finished my meal. I have noticed that Mexicans usually start their breakfast with these sweets, which are often server right after pouring the coffee.
The highlight of the breakfast was the lovely setting of the dining area in what is clamed to be the "most romantic patio in Oaxaca." Once again, I fell in love with Oaxaca.
Camino Real, 5 de Mayo #300, one block east of pedestrian mall on Alcalá Street. Breakfast buffet ($148.00p) is everyday from 8 am to 11 am.
El Asador Vasco
El Asador Vasco is my favorite restaurant in Oaxaca and I always eat there my first day. I never mind waiting for a balcony table so I can enjoy the Zocalo.
I could make a meal from the whole grain rolls and herb butter, but try to pace myself. I also pace myself on the best margaritas ($3US) in Mexico.
"Asador" means "grilled" which is their speciality. Choose from lamb, veal, beef steaks, and fish. I like the Oaxacan dishes and their mole has re-set my standard. The Mole Chichilo ($8.80US) with beef and pork is now my favorite Oaxacan mole.
This mole is even darker than Mole Negro, but not as thick. The major difference is the addition of mild chiles. The dish also differs from typical moles with the addition of vegetables, which, of course, added more favor to the sauce. I noticed potatoes, green beans and Mexican squash.
Service at this popular, open air restaurant is impeccable, but don't be surprised at the crowds on busy weekends. Reservations accepted and highly recommended.
CASA MAYORDOMO is a new buffet restaurant, centrally located, in a renovated hacienda. Mayordomo is the major chocolate distributor in Oaxaca. On one side is a Chocolatier, a cute cafe selling their famous treat. The other side is a Contemporary art gallery, featuring large canvases by Rojas and Mayes, well known Oaxacan, contemporary artists. In back is a large bar area and to one side is a large padded play room for children.
Conveniently located on the pedestrian street, Calle Alcalá, both breakfast and lunch buffets are offered. Dinner offers a full menu, bar drinks and music.
Everything is immaculate and dirty dishes are whisked away quickly. A small band performs Mexican music, quietly in the background.
I like abnormal amounts of fruit for breakfast and search for buffets. Casa Mayordomo was a great discovery. When I arrived at 9 am, several dishes were picked over. They were quickly replenished or replaced.
Fresh fruit was replaced several times while I was eating. The papaya and cantaloup were ripe. Watermelon was cut from the rind and nearly seedless.
Cereal and granola were plentiful as were fresh orange, papaya and grapefruit juices. Coffee and rolls were immediately brought to my table. I was also offered tortillas or toast.
Food was kept hot in chaffing dishes. The Fajetas de Reys were slices of tender flank steak in a tomato sauce with mild, red peppers. Costilla in Salsa Roja were meaty short ribs cooked tender in a mild green pepper sauce.
Frijoles Refritos were typical refried beans and served with tortilla chips.
Chilaquiles de Frijol were tortilla chips cooked in a refried bean sauce and very dark in color. This dish is usually prepared with green chile sauce and the change was unique. Huevos con Jamon were typical scrambled eggs with ham.
Every visit the breakfast dishes were different. The eggs were Huevos en Salsa Roja, eggs scrambled in red sauce. Bistec de Puerco Empanizado, very thin pork, breaded and fried to nearly extinction. My favorite dish was the Frijoles Charros, (Cowboy beans,) a very unusual bean dish. Beans were cooked in a red adobado pepper sauce with tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers, ham and bacon. Delicious!
Bistec al Oregano were nice chunks of beef cooked with potatoes and spices. Chilaquiles de Guajillo were tortillas cooked with guajillo chiles, making it red, and not the typical green.
Another morning offered: Tacos Dorados de Picadillo de Pollo, corn tortillas rolled around chicken and fried; Huevos ala Mexicana, scrambled eggs with peppers and tomatoes; Chilaquiles Verdes con Chorizo, tortillas with green sauce with sausage; Rajas con queso, chiles, onions and Oaxacan cheese in a light cream sauce; and Salsa con Chicarron, a thick red sauce with pork skin, my least favorite dish in the world.
Another visit, (yes, I love this place,) I got the last table in the restaurant, including the banquet room on the side. They once ran out of glasses, but kept the buffet full of hot food.
Huevos del Campo, were eggs scrambled in a light, green sauce with green peas and diced green nopales. Tinga de Pollo, shredded chicken breast in a red sauce with onions. Nopales con Atun was a mixture of cactus paddles and the fruit of the cactus, with tomatoes and onions. The Quesadillas were fried corn tortillas, folded in half and filled with cheese and celantro.
Saturday's buffet was the best. Crepas de Flor de Calabaza, were paper thin crepes, filled with Squash blossom flowers, Oaxacan cheese and covered with a light, green herb sauce. Chorizo con Champiñones, were mushrooms cooked with dark, Mexican sausage. Delicious, but really greasy. Of course, that didn't stop me from enjoying them.
Omelet Mitla was filled with cactus nopales and tomato slices. Costillo en Salsa were lean, short ribs in a green tomatillo sauce. Frijoles Fritos, refried beans can't be anything but delicious.
The Tocino, bacon, was thick slab and cooked to perfection. Jamon, ham, was the usual disappointing, yet typical lunchmeat style slices. Hot Cakes (pronounced "ott ka-keys") is the spanish word for pancakes. No doubt about the origin of that dish.
My empty dishes were promptly removed and the delicious coffee cup kept full.
Breakfast Buffet, $4.20US, is served from 8 am to noon. Lunch buffet, US$8.20, is served from 2 pm to 6 pm.
Restrooms are new and spacious, but lacked one thing present in all Mexican toilets: a trash can next to toilet for used t-paper. It can only mean an advanced water system.
I asked if the low price was a "special" during the slow tourist season and was told "No, price is always the same."
EL MESON -
I was curious if the new buffet restaurant would effect my favorite my favorite breakfast in Oaxaca. It has, and in both good and bad ways.
Fortunately, there was no waiting for a table since only one other person was eating. Several more arrived while I ate. There was the same selection of fresh fruit, cereals, granola and several flavors of yoghurt.
There were more selections of fruit drinks and more varieties of hot dishes than Mayordomo. Besides several egg dishes, there was traditional chile rajas in cream and flautas. My favorite is the large pot of beans always cooking on the back burner.
Dishes were presented in a traditional looking Mexican kitchen with tortillas warming on a large comal. While new restaurants are always welcome, the traditional El Meson wins in the breakfast buffet competition.
After paying by bill, I realized the price was US$6.10, about two dollars more the other buffet. I like El Meson better, but not that much!
"La Red" in Spanish, means "the net," and one gets the impression that seafood goes from the net to the table, with a brief stop in the kitchen.
Menu is All the seafood was offered in about a dozen ways. La Red is still packed The huge filets were about the lowest prices in town.
MARCO POLO- Pino Suarez 806 (across from Llano)
I have tried to eat at this sea food restaurant twice on previous visits and finally succeeded. First time was for dinner: they close at 6 pm. Second time was on Tuesday: only day they are closed.
On a late Wednesday , I got the last table and was the only gringo. The wait and persistence were worth it.
Middle of restaurant was large adobe oven with all sorts of veggies and seafood being pulled out. Everything looked delicious.
I had the Pescado Al Horno, ($85p), a huge red snapper filet baked in a chipotle sauce with mayonnaise and mustard. Sauce could have overpowered the fish, but was only paper thin providing a subtle flavor.
This filet, along with octopus, squid or shrimp, were offered grilled, breaded, egg battered, or fried in olive oil and garlic. There were a dozen soups including several "chilpachole," roasted with onions, tomatoes and chiles.
More than a dozen seafood cocktails were offered in small, ($49p) and large, ($79p), including Campechhana, with oysters and shrimp.
Specialities included: Chile Rellenas de Mariscos, poblano chile, egg coated, fried and filled with mixed sea food; Tacos de Mariscos, deep fried flour tortillas filled with mixed seafood; and, Baguette Marco Polo, garlic bread with paté and salmon slices. YUM! YUM!
Service was excellent, even with every table occupied. Food was served prompt and hot. I have been told that breakfast here is also superb and I have no doubts.
El Naranjo -
El Naranjo, The Orange Tree, is behind thick, wooden doors and in a converted hacienda over 200 years old. The restaurant is in a bright, enclosed patio with a hundred year old orange tree in the center.
The village of Oaxaca was formed in 1521 with the building of the first church, located at present day Exconvento de San Juan de Dios. The market formed around the church, now the downtown Food market, Mercado 20 de Novembre.
The town grew to the west, towards present day restaurant. El Naranjo is in one of the oldest haciendas in Oaxaca.
Ilianna de la Vega was standing at the door when I walked into her restaurant. She enjoys chatting and loves to talk about food. Her family is from Oaxaca, but she is from Mexico City.
Her cooking is lighter and healthier than traditional Mexican cooking. She uses no lard, yet achieves authentic Oaxacan flavors.
After ordering, a basket of delicious, homemade bread and bowls of chicken paté, orange flavored butter, and chile arbol sauce.
Menu is small, but with a nice variety. Appetizers included Queso de Carba Marindo, marinated goat cheese in olive oil. Soups included Caldo Tlalpeno, a traditional Mexican soup with rice, shredded chicken, vegetables and chile chilpotle. Salads included Ensalada a La Jamaica, lettuce, spinach, jicama, and jamaica flowers.
El Narranjo's speciality is Mole. Ilianna celebrates the seven moles of Oaxaca. Monday, try Coloradito, the brick red mole made with chile ancho, sesame seeds and almonds. Tuesday, sample Rojo, a dark red mole with chiles, pecans, peanuts, sesame seeds and chocolate. Wednesday's special us Manchamanteles, made with chile ancho, almonds, pineapples and almonds. Thursday is Verde, a green mole made from fresh herbs and fresh herbs. Friday is Amarillo, the yellow or really orange mole made with local chiles. Saturday, enjoy Chichilo, a dark mole made from local herbs with burned chile seeds. Fortunately, everyday is Negro Mole, the most complex with over 30 ingredients and long preparation time. All moles are served with rice and either chicken breast or pork tenderloin.
There are also 6 kinds of chile rellenos and other meat, fish, pasta and poultry dishes. Wine list is extensive with inexpensive, but great wines by the glass.
Ilianna offers cooking classes where she guides students through the local markets, explaining and procuring the needed ingredients. The class returns to the kitchen, where students prepare, cook and eat their own masterpieces.
While this restaurant is only one and a half block west of Zocalo, it is off the beaten path, and doesn't get the crowds it deserves.
But remember, you came to Oaxaca to eat Mole, and you should visit El Narranjo to eat mole.
La Casa de la Abuela, "Grandmother's House," is on the second level of the NW corner of the Zocalo, with great views of the Cathedral and the Zocalo.
After ordering, I was brought a plate of vegetable salad with chips. This compote consisted of green peas and finely chopped, green beans, carrots and squash in a tomato sauce.
Appetizers included Quesillo a la Plancha, Oaxacan string cheese grilled crisp and served with guacamole and refried beans. Soups included Sopa de Frijol, a rich, black bean soup with chunks of Oaxacan cheese and tortilla chips.
Oaxacan, traditional dishes included four types of Mole, a variety of Chile Rellenos, and several chicken dishes.
Plato de la Casa was an assortment of traditional Oaxacan appetizers. Parrillada Oaxaqueña, an assortment of Oaxacan-style grilled beef, pork ribs, Oaxacan pork sausage, fried chicken, grilled onions, guacamole and black beans.
If you want real, Oaxacan cooking, go to Grandma's house.
Cathdral Restaurant & Bar
I love everything about this restaurant, from the fresh flowers to the linen tablecloths. There are dozens of soups and appetizers.
On the menu, there are several Tlayudas, the oversized Mexican tortillas that are prepared as pizzas. Plus Empanadas, turnovers stuffed with cheese and squash blossom flowers or chicken mole.
Sopa Catedral is the "house soup" and contains squash blossom flowers, corn, chile slices and squares of Oaxacan cheese, truly the best item on the menu.
They offer four moles, including Verde. Have never seen on a menu Lechón al Horno, oven roasted pig, Tehuantepec style and must try it sometime.
Also offered were two kind of Chile Rellenos, both unusual because one stuffed Chiles de Agua, and the other, Chile Pasillas. Water chiles are very seasonal and are not often on Oaxacan menus. Must try that, also.
I tried the Pechuga de Pollo en Salas de Flor de Calabaza and will never forget it. The yellow squash blossom flower sauce was rich with flavor. Wished I had the recipe, or could write the ingredients. Must have an abundance of cream and butter, with the prominent flavor of the blossoms.
Even the garnish of the squash blossom flower was stuffed with Oaxacan cheese. This was my favorite dish in Oaxaca.
Every aspect of this restaurant is exceptional, a genuine Oaxacan treat.
Casa Oaxaca *El Restaurante*
(south side of Santo Domingo)
(reservations recommended, and usually required)
For several years I have heard rave reviews about the best restaurant in Oaxaca. It is alta cocina mexicana, "high Mexican cooking," Oaxacan style.
For this visit's last supper, I invited my special friend, Marga, who knows more about Oaxaca than all the tour books combined. As we strolled in, we first viewed the front art gallery.
Marga mentioned that only Oaxacan artists are invited to exhibit. The artist combined 8 inch ceramic tiles to form large, 3 to 8 foot wall hangings.
Carved and painted into the tiles were primitive drawings of ancient Zapotec images. Most had the important "red dot" next to the title, marked as "sold."
On the other side of entrance was a comfortable bar. In back was the restaurant, rather dark, in a tasteful but austere setting.
When we decided on a glass of red wine, the waiter brought several bottles and glasses to offer us a taste of each. After ordering, we were presented with a plate of Oaxacan cheese and guacamole with several sauces. The basket of crisp tortillas was unique, not because of the blue corn used, but because they were paper thin.
Next arrived a slice of quesadillas made from huitlacoche, a black fungus that grows on corn kernels. This was arranged on a dollop of guacamole and splattered with sauce. Haute cuisine has arrived to Oaxaca.
Marga ordered soup and salad and it was so much food, she had to share her salad. The rich broth and Oaxacan beans with Oaxacan cheese, avocado and tortilla strips. The large salad was mixed organic greens, half an avocado, sliced, fresh watercress toasted almonds, with raspberry vinaigrette, which was a little to sweet.
I had fresh Huauchinango, Red snapper, with squash blossoms, capers and tomato marmalade. Sounded like all in ingredients of Fish Veracruzana, but it was nothing like it.
The fillet of fish was grilled and placed on the marmalade. It was more like a tomato chutney and not really sweet. The flavor was great, but the filet had a lot of the brown flavorless sections, like seen on bad cuts of salmon.
The waiter suggested the shrimp, but I am watching my cholesterol and chose fish. The entire staff was very attentive and the entire dining experience was superb.
I saved the best for last, but next time will listen to the waiter.
I always cry when leaving Oaxaca, even knowing I will return three times next year. There are so many great restaurants and so little time.
The culinary highlight of your visit will be Casa Oaxaca, famous for alta cocina mexicana, "high Mexican cooking," This is Oaxacan cooking at its best.
The candlelight setting will prepare you for your favorite evening of the tour. You will be welcomed by the friendly wait people who make you feel like home.
If you decide on a glass of red wine, the waiter will bring several bottles and glasses to offer a taste of each. A courteous waiter will help with your order and will then present a plate of Oaxacan cheese and guacamole with several sauces. The basket of crisp tortillas is unique, not because of the blue corn, but because the chips are paper thin and ultra crisp.
You will enjoy an appetizer of a quesadilla, made from huitlacoche, a black “mushroom” fungus that grows on corn kernels. This wedge is arranged on a dollop of guacamole and a splattering of sauce.
The soup and salad are large enough for a complete meal. The rich broth and Oaxacan beans are served with Oaxacan cheese, avocado and tortilla strips. The salad is mixed organic greens, half an avocado, fresh watercress toasted almonds, with raspberry vinaigrette.
The grilled Huauchinango, red snapper, is served on a tomato chutney, with squash blossoms and capers.
The entire staff is attentive and the dining experience, superb. You will discover that Haute Cuisine has arrived to Oaxaca.