The Best Restaurants In Oaxaca guide image

OAXAGuide

The Best Restaurants In Oaxaca

World-famous memelas, multiple places to drink mezcal, a hotel rooftop that's actually cool, and more spots we love in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

You can’t really appreciate all that Oaxaca City has to offer if you visit just once. This is a really exciting cultural city—there are tons of baroque churches and colonial architecture that you absolutely should check out, and a few big celebrations throughout the year that are worth planning a trip around. And that’s before we even talk about what to eat: there’s so much variety and complexity in the food you can find within the larger state of Oaxaca. 

There are the seemingly endless types of native corn used by street vendors and restaurants to cook up tlayudas and crispy memelas. There are excellent mercados where you can experience smoky grilled meats or a quick plate of eggs cooked on the comal for breakfast. And let’s not forget: this is the hub in Mexico—and therefore, the world—for all things mezcal.

You’ll find all of that and more in this guide to the best restaurants in Oaxaca, which includes family-run places where you’ll have the best mole of your life, vegetarian-only and insect-heavy tasting menus, plus mezcalerias and other great places to drink.


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NICER SIT-DOWN SPOTS


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Criollo

$$$$

Calzada Madero 129, Oaxaca
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At Criollo, you’ll probably see a rooster named Claudio wandering around the large backyard and orchard where the restaurant has an open grill, a comal, and several clay pots. Come here for brunch on weekends for conchas de maíz, taquitos campechanos, pizzas from the wood-fired oven, and enfrijoladas. This spot is also a great dinner move: you’ll find a contemporary Oaxacan tasting menu that always changes and highlights seasonal produce. There’s a main dining room, but try to grab a seat on the pleasant patio where you can watch the staff man the large comal and make fresh tortillas.


Combining tradition and innovation might sound like something out of a luxury car commercial. But that's exactly what's happening at Origen, where the food is definitely Oaxacan but presented in a fine dining context. Although there’s an à la carte menu—with options like fish in coconut sauce with peanuts, mushrooms and chepil sofrito, and enmoladas of duck confit—the tasting menu is the best way to experience Origen. Definitely check out this spot in the historic center of Oaxaca if you’re looking for a nicer sit-down dinner.


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Levadura de Olla is located in a large, bright mansion with an airy and open central patio, and most of the dishes are Oaxacan classics. That means you’ll find things like different types of mole, tamales, guacamole with grasshoppers, pork with chicatana ant sauce, creative sides of guava mole with shrimp, or a native tomato dish with beet puree and poleo vinaigrette. You can really come here any time—they’re open from breakfast until dinner—but we recommend lunch.


Hotel rooftops can be expensive places that make you feel bad for wearing a pair of sneakers. But Terraza Istmo, on the top floor of Hotel Casa Abuela Maria, is one of our go-to places to eat traditional Oaxacan dishes and relax with one of the best rooftop views of the city. Every night, the two sisters who run the restaurant churn out incredible plates from the Isthmus region of Oaxaca. There are creamy molotes de plátano, steaming tamales with elote or beans, and a simple but flavorful sopa de guías. Come here with a group so you can try as much as you can—it’s great during the week for a casual dinner with family or for drinks and snacks before going out.


Walk up to the counter of La Cocina de Humo, grab a seat, and watch as the freshly made tortillas, stews, and sauces come off the wood-fired comal. The menu changes constantly, since all the ingredients come from the chef’s hometown of San Mateo Yucutindoo, which is about four hours away. Order dishes like yellow mole with milpa green beans and ranch chicken, mole coloradito with pork, and tamales with cheese and tomato sauce—all dishes the chef brought from where she grew up. Not only is the food extremely good, but you’ll also likely learn a bit about Oaxacan tradition and culture.


STREET VENDORS & MERCADOS


Before appearing in Netflix's Street Food, Valentina Hernández, known as Doña Vale, was already popular in Central de Abastos, the largest food market in Oaxaca City. For more than 30 years, she’s been preparing the same thing at her stand: a simple meal of memelas to which she spreads a little lard, and tops them with quesillo, tasajo, or eggs cooked on the comal. Get one for breakfast that’s bathed in her famous chile morita or tomatillo sauces, and be prepared to wait in line.


This is one of the best street stalls and taco spots in the city, and they’ve been serving said tacos, quesadillas, memelas, empanadas, and tlayudas since 1974. You’ll want to come during the morning, when they’re making all of the above on the spot with fresh corn dough in their two coal-fired comals. Go for anything with chorizo, the stuffed chile tacos, and amarillo empanada filled with chicken stew and tomato. They also have some solid vegetarian options, like zucchini flower tacos and mushroom quesadillas.


You’ll get to taste the variety of all the regional cuisines from the state of Oaxaca at Centro Gastronómico. This place hosts different chefs from around Oaxaca, who bring dishes like aguachile de camarón from the coast, a plantain mole with chicken from La Sierra, or tetelas from La Mixteca. Explore all the stands, then grab a bar stool or one of the communal tables. In addition to all the bigger plates, there are also places doing ice cream, craft beers, specialty coffee, and mezcal, as well as a nicely-curated store where you can buy home textiles and ceramics.


BAKERIES & SWEETS


You can tell by the line of people waiting outside Boulenc that something good is happening inside. This bakery and café serves croissants, pain au chocolat, and almond croissants, and more recently started doing Mexican staples like conchas and pan de muerto in the weeks leading up to Día de los Muertos. The cafe is located in a pleasant courtyard, and serves shakshuka, stacks of pancakes with homemade jams, and pastries from next door. It’s great for breakfast, but it’s also worth checking out at lunch when they do pizzas out of a wood-burning, salads, and sandwiches.


Masea, part bakery and part tortilla and atole shop, is all about corn and the ingredients of small Oaxacan producers. They offer eight varieties of atole, a pre-Hispanic nutritious corn drink made with tortilla, amaranth, wheat, sesame, or chocolate that comes served in clay pots. Next door, the bakery has gluten-free options like a corn pudding filled with guava jam, corn tortillas, and sourdough bread, as well as the excellent donattela, a tetela-shaped doughnut.


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Mezcalite Pop review image

Mezcalite Pop

Perfect For:Quick Eats

$$$$

If you’ve never had a mezcal-spiked paleta, get to Mezcalite Pop in Oaxaca’s historic center immediately. The place might look like an exciting new cocktail bar, with pastel couches, pink and green tiled walls, and the glowing “pop” sign, but instead of drinking, you choose from a colorful assortment of mezcal-infused, tropical fruit-flavored paletas and nieves (you can also do flavors without mezcal). Don’t leave without trying the refreshing and perfectly spicy Paty Chamoy with your choice of creamy nieve, chamoy, chili salt, and spicy gummies. While they come in plastic cups that are easy to take on the go, you might want to stick around and sit on their comfortable couches for a bit. These boozy and sweet treats are the best way to feel recharged and energized after clocking 15,000 steps on a walking tour.


DRINK SOME MEZCAL


A good Mexican dish usually has some combination of sour, spicy, and sweet flavors. Most of Sabina Sabe’s cocktails use all three in a balanced way, while using mezcal and other Mexican spirits like charanda and tequila. Grab a stool at the bar and order the Micky Miguel Miguelito, a cocktail made with mezcal distilled with tamarind, watermelon shrub, and pasilla chili syrup. If you get hungry, order a couple plates to snack on, like lechón gorditas, shrimp aguachile, or molotes de plátano. The atmosphere is pretty laid-back, and while it’s not a full-on party, it’s a perfect stop on a night out with two or three friends.


The main room of this cocktail bar feels like your coolest friend's house-warming party, where everybody's sitting on leather sofas, the lighting from the hanging lamps is just dim enough, and the tropical paintings on the wall were probably a gift from an up-and-coming artist pal. The mood matches their cocktails perfectly, which are served in crystal glasses and feature spirits like charanda and sotol and Mexican herbs and roots. Order the Calmante made with manzanilla-infused mezcal, agave honey, and chile liqueur. Even though you can get something with vodka, gin, or whiskey, stick with the drinks that highlight Mexican spirits to really get the full experience.


If you really love mezcal, you must visit Mezcaloteca while you’re in Oaxaca. Book a tasting room in advance and learn how to taste traditional mezcals, how they’re made, and get a primer on the different agaves used. There are no brands here—only the products of around 120 mezcal masters.


WORTH A TRIP OUTSIDE THE CITY


Almú is located in the fields of San Martin de Tilcajete, a little town 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca. It’s the ideal place to begin or end a visit to one of the town’s alebrije workshops, where you can see and learn about these hand-carved wooden sculptures painted with natural dyes. All the dishes—like tasajo, a smoked and roasted dried beef, freshly made tlayudas, entomatadas, and tortillas stuffed with chicken and bathed in black mole—come in generous portions that can (and should) be shared. Bring some friends, grab a table made from a local tree trunk, and think about seriously getting into woodworking.


You can find Alfonsina on the outskirts of Oaxaca, in the San Juan Bautista la Raya neighborhood that’s just 10 minutes away from the airport. After working at Pujol, one of Mexico City's best fine dining restaurants, the chef returned to Oaxaca to open Alfonsina. His mother is in charge of making the tortillas and the mole, and the mole negro (made with black chile chilhuacle and mexicano) and the coloradito (made with red chile ancho) are only served for lunch. At dinner, the focus is an Oaxacan and vegetable-heavy tasting menu, with dishes like a cauliflower tostada, a mushroom tamal, or a cumin mole with fresh fish from nearby Puerto Angel. It’s one of those restaurants that’s worth going to for both lunch and dinner—maybe even the same day.


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