Cómo diría mi papá, “Lo prometido es deuda,” and here I am with the promised dish on everything I ate and drank on my trip to Oaxaca, Oaxaca, México. If you haven’t read part one of this mini series on Oaxaca, what are you waiting for?! To quickly catch you up, my trip to Oaxaca de Juárez happened in October 2021 and I’m still reeling from it more than half a year later. And now, I’m here to talk about my reason for living: food, food, food.
Oaxacan cuisine has a fame that speaks for itself. Its more-than-solid reputation spans centuries of history and tradition and should truly be world famous. The state’s beautiful and expansive cultural diversity have yielded a treasure cove of unimaginably delicious flavors and out-of-this-world spice. There are at least 16 indigenous tribes native to the area — each with their own rich cuisine and traditions — and this has greatly contributed to earning Oaxacan cuisine a well-deserved spot on the lists of world-renowned food. It’s a place where you can truly indulge in both restaurant food and street food and live your best life. Oaxaca is a wonder that I hope every foodie gets to experience at least once in their life.
My hope is that you may use this post as your guide to find some of the best food in Oaxaca if you’re planning a trip to this magical city in the south of México. Let’s freaking do it!
Reforma Esquina Murguía, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
Expendio Tradición was my second favorite out of all the restaurants we went to. Their food was *chef’s kiss* and I can’t say enough about their extensive cocktail menu. I ordered esquites and the fish ceviche with jicama and seasonal fruits. Yes, the esquites were just a glorified version of street food, but they were very tasty. The space itself is beautiful! The mix of wood, metals and exposed lightbulbs creates a lovely atmosphere that is perfect for freely delighting yourself in their exquisite menu. They also offer private mezcal tastings that you can reserve ahead of time. Pro tip: Do not have pizza elsewhere mere hours before your dinner reservation. It will not go well. From what I heard from my friends around the table, everyone really liked what they ordered, including cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) and crema de flor de calabaza (creamy cauliflower soup). I also ordered the Naila cocktail, which was concocted from young Tehuana mezcal, nanche, orange juice, natural syrup, and pineapple and lemon juice. It was divine AF! I wish I had better photos of my food, but I know Expendio Tradición will not disappoint.
LEVADURA DE OLLA
C. de Manuel García Vigil 304, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
This is a restaurant you HAVE to go to if you ever find yourself exploring Oaxaca. Do it for me! I am dying to go back to Levadura de Olla so I can try more of their food because omg, it was unbelievable. This hidden gem was a recommendation from our catadores (mezcal experts) at Mezcaloteca and they did not disappoint. Right in the heart of the city, this restaurant serves authentic traditional cuisine of the region in the cutest courtyard. We went for breakfast/early lunch and I ordered chicharrón en salsa de frijol con huevo (fried pork rinds in bean sauce and eggs) and it was absolutely impeccable. Just ugh, sooo good! My friends ordered blue-corn tamales, a traditional dish of the region, and they were super tasty too. The price for everything we ate was very reasonable and the servings were decently sized. We ate here without a reservation, but I’m not sure how full it gets throughout the day. All I know is that this restaurant in Oaxaca City absolutely needs to be on your foodie bucket list!
Francisco I. Madero 129, Santa María del Marquesado, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
Our entire group was super excited about the infamous eight-course, Michelin-Star-level Criollo dinner with a menu that changes every day and centers native, area-sourced ingredients to create authentic Oaxacan cuisine. This was the priciest dinner on our entire trip — it was about $1,500 MXN (about $75 USD) for the eight-course dinner with the alcoholic-drink pairings.
The place itself is a beautiful combination of indoor and outdoor spaces with intricate architecture and tradition effortlessly balanced with nature. In fact, the house is a UNESCO heritage site! Criollo is the brainchild of chef Enrique Olvera (the owner and creator of the famous Pujol in México City), chef Luis Arellano and architect Javier Sánchez.
Our dinner was an assortment of small servings that included fried cheese balls, tacos de jaiba (soft-shell crab tacos), mole, a baby rib in black mole sauce, pan de muerto and a corn-based dessert. My favorites were the fried cheese ball and the pan de muerto (because bread, duh). The flavors of each dish were unique, and I didn’t quite know what to expect next as each course came and went. It felt like it was a lot of food, but I didn’t feel super full afterward. I would say the dinner was worth the price. However, I don’t think I’d do it again. I’m just more of a laidback, street-food type of person.
BALTAZAR TETELAS & MEZCAL
Baltazar Tetelas & Mezcal is a restaurant and mezcalería that offers customizable mezcal flights, handcrafted mezcal cocktails, and authentic traditional Oaxacan dishes. Their cocktails were soo fab and this is where I tried chapulines (grasshoppers) for the first time in my life! Listen, I cannot for the life of me stand bugs. So I was freaking out a little bit. Thankfully, they didn’t taste bad at all. They were crunchy and salty once you get past the thought that you’re eating actual bugs. They also came on a tostada with mixed greens and queso panela. And of course I added so much salsa roja, which was super tasty too.
Their cocktails were on a league of their own! My friend ordered the Changoleón, which was a unique concoction of Convite Tobalá mezcal, coffee, mandarin juice and cilantro syrup. Now, I know just reading the ingredients may make you go “Whut?” But I was so pleasantly surprised with just how delicious the very different flavors came together to create a gorgeous party in your mouth. And I don’t even like coffee! I ordered the Colibrí — a cocktail made of Convite Espadín Esencial mezcal, basil liqueur, lime and hoja santa bitters (Mexican pepperleaf). This refreshing and citrusy drink was perfect for me. Another one of my friends ordered the sopa de guías, which is a traditional soup made with baby squash, squash flowers, corn dumplings and kernels, vine shoots, and chepiche herbs, and she really liked it. A few of us also ordered mezcal tastings and the girls who worked there were super knowledgeable about all of the types of mezcal.
NOTE: When I was working on the final touches of this post, I found out Baltazar permanently closed down. I’m so bummed! We really loved this place so much that we went twice. I wish I had tried more of their food because the photos I had seen online looked delicious.
C. Macedonio Alcalá #403-int. 6, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
Selva Oaxaca Cocktail Bar was hands down my favorite bar in Oaxaca. I would loooove to go back! This stunningly elegant bar is located in the second story of a historic building in the center of the city. As you go up the stairs, you’re surrounded by lively plants, as if you were truly in a jungle as the name suggests. And that is how the expertly crafted atmosphere starts tangling itself onto every one of your senses. You can catch the most amazing views of the Templo de Santo Domingo from the balconies. Or you can bask in the relaxing atmosphere that the decor and stylish couches create. It’s obvious they paid attention to every detail here. The wide selection of mezcal and unique cocktails leaves nothing to be desired. And they also offer a small menu of snacks we didn’t get to try. The first night we tried getting a table after 9 p.m. and they said they were at capacity. So definitely try to make reservations ahead of time or go on a slower day like Monday!
Reforma No. 506, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
We reserved a private tasting at Mezcaloteca, a traditional mezcal tasting room with a vast collection of different types of mezcales from different states in México. Their catadores are super passionate about promoting the traditional maestros mezcaleros (masters of mezcal) of Oaxaca and their meticulous production processes to everyone who steps foot inside the small tasting room. Trust me, this is the place to learn about all the different states and types of agave plant that mezcal can come from and be made from. You can make reservations right on the website and they get back to you very quickly.
Depending on how many different mezcales you want to try, the tastings cost between $320 MXN for three and $410 MXN for five per person (That’s about $20 USD!). The catadores can answer all your questions and you’ll even get to taste unique small-batch mezcal that you wouldn’t be able to buy anywhere else. Mezcaloteca also offers national and international shipping for any mezcal you love and want to send home from Oaxaca. And they have a subscription program where they send different mezcales every so often to your home based on your preferences! I loved learning about how the type of agave plant and even the region it comes from affects how the mezcal tastes. Did you know there are 50 different types of agave plants?! You’ll definitely walk out of here with a gooooood and warm buzzy feeling AND some mezcal knowledge!
C. de Manuel García Vigil # 509, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
This tiny bar in the historic center of Oaxaca may look unsuspecting, but it packs a punch! Mezcalogía offers a wide selection of mezcales and it’s perfect for a low-key night out in the city. With live music serenading my ears throughout the night, I had like seven of their veeeery spicy margaritas …in case you’re wondering how I felt about their cocktails. Plus, Mezcalogía has a decent selection of craft beers for those who are not too into mezcal. Although, why would you be in THE place to try the best mezcal and not be into it?! The bartenders are very knowledgeable, as is expected, about the production and history of mezcal; they can help you decide on a mezcal based on your preferences. This is the perfect laid-back spot to start your night and get a quick lesson on one of the most complex and interesting spirits in the world.
This post would absolutely not be complete without mentioning the heavenly street food of Oaxaca. Y’all, this is my passion in life. If you know me, you know I liiiiive for a good street elote. I’m literally salivating as I write this. You can find vendors on the streets with carts, grills and pots ready to change your life. You’ll find the traditional tlayudas, elotes, marquesitas, memelas, tamales, quesadillas, chapulines and so much more throughout the streets of Oaxaca! I ate esquites at a restaurant and from the street. And while I really enjoyed the tasty esquites at Expendio Tradición, they don’t come anywhere close to the corn in the cup I also had in the streets. Street food in Oaxaca is a must, must, must. The street food absolutely and fiercely stands up to the food you’ll eat at restaurants. I can guarantee it!
C. de Ignacio Allende 109, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
Vaca Marina is a rooftop seafood and steakhouse restaurant at the contemporary Hotel Los Amantes in the heart of Oaxaca City’s historic center. This restaurant kicked off our wonderful trip with a delicious golden ribbon (that means it was freaking amazing; yes, I just made it up). For starters, the views here are superb, as well as the art and design of the whole thing. It’s very … aesthetically pleasing, shall we say? Now, about the reason why you’re here — the food.
I love it when everyone at the table orders something different because that means I get to try more things off the menu! And that’s exactly what happened. We ordered tacos de pulpo (octopus tacos), papas trufadas (potatoes with truffle), fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp, tlayudas with shrimp (a hard/crunchy/toasted corn tortilla with refried beans, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, meat, Oaxaca cheese and salsa). The potatoes were really tasty, but I have a truffle bias for sure. I’m also a sucker for potatoes in any and all presentations. So if there are potatoes on the menu, I’m gonna order them 10 times out of 10 (I’m a basic b like that). They had some absolutely scrumptious and very spicy salsa tatemada (charred or toasted salsa) that I died for. It went perfectly with the tlayuda I ordered. Warning: the heat level was not for the weak; so if you can’t take the heat … well, you know. We were able to get a table here without a reservation, but you may want to play it safe and book ahead of time.
Calle Porfirio Díaz 207, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., México
I found Boulenc on social media and I read great reviews as I was doing research for this trip. We went there for breakfast on our first day in the city when we couldn’t get into the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (more on that in part one of this mini series). There was about a 30-minute wait for a table for four and it looked busy inside. My suggestion is also to make reservations if you don’t want to wait. The reviews rave about the in-house-made bread, but it was their salsas machas that made me fall head-over-heels in love. There were four different types of salsa macha (Mexican chili oil with different nuts, spices, etc.) on the table and each one tasted so different. The most spicy one was of course my absolute fave. I was so close to taking it home with me! I ordered molletes, a bolillo (savory Mexican bread and truly a piece of heaven) sliced in half topped with refried beans and loads of cheese. Molletes are the simplest of dishes, but they are the type of beautiful thing that brings me right back home with a single bite. I put soooo much salsa macha on them and I cannot explain how absolutely blissful it was. Go to Boulenc. PERIOD.
It’s obvious that the food in Oaxaca made a long-lasting impact on my undeserving, mere-human taste buds. And my god, do I feel fortunate?! I hope I get the privilege to step foot back in this magical city sometime in the future so I can indulge again in the most delicious shit I’ve ever had and also try even more dishes.
Well, now I’m hungry. And that’s all for now! Don’t forget to watch my travel vlog of this amazing trip!