Most foodies know that Oaxaca is an amazing culinary destination and I’m going to share what to eat in Oaxaca. The cultural traditions are strong in this part of Mexico that still has a large population of indigenous peoples. Food is sacred here – everything is made from scratch and it’s not unusual to take a couple of days to make a complex mole sauce.
What to Eat in Oaxaca
There are plenty of things to do when you visit Oaxaca, but make sure you budget a large amount of your time for simply eating.
I’ve now spent more than two months in this amazing city and am headed back for more. After trying so many restaurants, street food stands, and mezcalerias, I’ve narrowed down my favorite options of what to eat in Oaxaca and where you should taste them!
Mole is the most famous Oaxacan dish. There are 7 types, all a different mix of spices, herbs, tomatillos, chiles, nuts, dried fruit and often cacao. These are very complex and rich sauces that often have as many as 30 ingredients and can take multiple days to make.
My favorite is mole negro, or black mole. It has a deep non-sweet chocolate flavor.
Mole is often served over a meat (usual chicken) with rice and tortillas on the side.
My favorite place to eat mole is the family restaurant – Biche Pobre – in the Centro of Oaxaca. Head there for lunch or dinner and try the mole of your choice.
Calz. de la República #600
68080 Oaxaca, Oax.
Tlayudas are the most popular dish in Oaxaca, you will see them everywhere! The base is a very large tortilla cooked on a comal, or a round grill. They then add asiento (some lard), pureed beans, Oaxacan string cheese, onions, and the meat of your choice. They are sometimes served open face, and sometimes folded like a quesadilla. Drizzle it with your favorite salsa before enjoying!
The best place in the city for tlayudas is Tlayudas Dona Flavia. It’s a bit outside of the Centro, but well worth the trip in a taxi. Be sure to order their homemade Horchata – creamy rice milk drink – to cool the spice of the salsa.
Tlayudas Donia Flavia
Oaxaca de Juárez 71242
Tamales are a traditional dish throughout Mexico, but they are especially popular in Oaxaca.
Tamales are made from corn masa (flour), steamed in banana leaves or corn husks. They are often served with chicken, mole, peppers, or cheese. This prehispanic dish is still wildly popular today.
My favorite place to eat authentic and fresh tamales is in the market Benito Juarez. Get them directly from the women who make them – you will see them sitting here and there with a basket covered by a colored cloth, or a big steaming vat.
Mercado Benito Juarez
Corner of Miguel Cabrera and Las Casas
Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax.
I am a bit obsessed with esquites – I think they are the perfect snack! This dish is served in a cup – filled with either boiled corn or elote asado (grilled corn that is off the husk and served with chiles). You then add lime juice, mayonnaise, cheese, and salsa picante.
Most Oaxacans eat this at night as a snack. You can also find it at festivals or fairs as a celebratory treat.
My favorite place to eat this in Oaxaca is from a street food stand in El Llano Park. You can find the stand on the West side of the park across from the Teatro Juarez.
El Llano Street Food Stand
West Side of El Llano park, approximately halfway North/South
Only available after sun down.
Mezcal is starting to become a well-known drink world wide. It’s a liquor made from the same types of plants (agave) that Tequila is made from. However, the process is different, creating a very different flavored liquor.
The main difference is that the agave plant is roasted in a pit before being smashed and allowed to ferment. This gives mezcal a very deep, smoky flavor.
The really fun thing about mezcal is each variety is completely different based on what type of agave plant is used and what region it was grown in. There are dozens and dozens of wild agave variations, and they all have unique flavors after being made into mezcal. This makes a mezcal tasting super fun because you can compare and contrast the different varieties.
There are lots of great places to try mezcal in Oaxaca, but my favourite is Los Amantes Mezcaleria. They have many delicious wild varieties and can explain the differences and the process to you. Plus their tasting room is cute!
Los Amantes Mezcalería
Allende 107, Centro Histórico,
68005 Oaxaca, Oax
Tejate is a prehispanic non-alcoholic drink that is very popular in Oaxaca. It’s made from toasted corn, fermented cacao, toasted mamey pits, and flor de cacao. It’s ground into a paste, and water is added.
Don’t be alarmed by the frothy beige foam that sits on top of the liquid. This drink is delicious – nutty, subtle and a little sweet.
The best place to try Tejate is in the part of Oaxaca that is most famous for the drink – the village of Huayapam. There are many vendors selling the homemade drink out of their homes. You can drink it out of the colorful red traditional bowls, or take it to go in a plastic cup.
If you can’t make it out to Huayapam, you can find it all over the centro as well.
Village NE of Oaxaca
Chapulines might be a little hard to swallow for the squeamish. They are whole roasted grasshoppers, covered in chile spices. If you get over the mental barrier of eating a whole insect, they are actually quite delicious! A bit earthy, spicy, and salty, they make a great accompaniment when drinking mezcal or beer.
The best place to get the freshest chapulines is in the market. You’ll see vendors with giant tubs of tons of these red snacks.
Or try them when you go out for a mezcal tasting! They are very common in restaurants and bars as well.
Mercado 20 de Noviembre
20 de Noviembre, Centro,
68000 Oaxaca, Oax.
Tetelas are triangular shaped corn tortillas stuffed with pureed beans, mushrooms, or chicharron (pork rinds). They’re then topped with crema, crumbled cheese, and salsa.
They are a delicious snack, or accompaniment to tacos.
My favorite place to eat these are at the lovely cafe of Itanoni. Everything at Itanoni is corn based, and they’re high-quality corn tortillas are delicious.
Itanoni is only open for lunch so be sure to head there before 4pm.
Belisario Dominguez 513, Reforma
68050 Oaxaca, Oax
The lush mountains of Oaxaca are known for the high-quality coffee beans they produce. Be sure to try this fresh and rich coffee during your time in Oaxaca!
Coffee can be found everywhere, but my favorite place to drink it is at the lovely Cafe Antigua. The moka there (spelled with a “k”!) is made with local cacao as well and is delicious!
Cafe Antigua Gourmet
Reforma 401, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA
Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax.
Atole is a traditional non-alcoholic drink served hot. It’s made from corn, cinnamon, vanilla, and a bit of sugar. It’s comforting and delicious.
My favorite place to try this traditional drink is at the organic market called el Pochote. You can often find it in an alternate version including chocolate called champurrado.
Pochote Organic market
Calle Marcos Pérez #217
Colonia Centro 68070
I highly recommend putting Oaxaca on your travel bucket list for 2017, especially if you are a foodie! You won’t run out of interesting, delicious, and culturally rich food and drink to try during your stay. Also check out all these fun things to do in Oaxaca.
If you’re thinking of heading to Oaxaca, check out my favorite colorful B&B, Casa de las Bugambilias and consider taking a tour to learn about the most beautiful traditional textiles in Oaxaca.
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