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The entire restaurant is set in a lush courtyard across from Parque Paseo Juarez. Ice cold beer is served in chilled mugs. Seven different seafood cocktails. Incredible soups. Whole fish are brought to your table for selection and then cooked in a wood-burning outdoor oven. This is a great place to pass a long afternoon comida of good food and cocktails. Eat your fill and then walk home for a siesta. The srvice is a bit slow, but it's a great change from the typical Oaxacan meat dishes found in most restaurants. Open afternoons only.
Favorite Dish: Vitaminas al Vapor is a remarkable soup that starts with a large aluminum foil bag. They fill the bag with shrimp, fish, sea snails, octopus and squid. They ladle in four different broths, add a raw egg, plenty of yerba santa and then they poach the whole thing. The finished bag is brought to the table and steam pours from the bag like a volcano ready to erupt.
The specialty is the whole fish, split in half and baked in the wood oven. There are two presentations and both are excellent.
We also recommend the shrimp wrapped in bacon, stuffed with manchego cheese and grilled to perfection.
Updated May 21, 2009
Address: Pino Suarez 806
This roadside stand is nestled on the left side of the highway as you return from Ocotlan to Oaxaca City. The ambience is negligible: a few metal tables and chairs, a cold box for the beer and soft drinks and a small kitchen where Mary makes the best quesadillas you will ever taste. The handmade corn tortillas are gigantic, 14-16 inches in diameter and thinner than seems humanly possible. Filled with delectable Oaxacan string cheese and folded over, then toasted till the cheese is melted and runny, these quesadillas are simple perfection. You can have them with mushrooms, a smoky chorizo or pumpkin flowers.
Favorite Dish: Quesadilla amarillo con pollo combines chicken and cilantro in a rich yellow mole made with masa, tomatoes and broth. It comes hot and stays hot with delicious rich chicken and spice flavors.
Written Dec 4, 2007
Address: Carretera a Puerto Angel KM 23
Owned by the same people who run Asador Vasco, this place is definitely downscaled. You check off what you want on a paper order form, mark how many orders of each thing you'd like, and then, if you are sitting at the counter, you can watch the chef make it for you. They have several taco offerings, stews, chorizo, pork, and steaks. The cold beers are a perfect accompanyment for the food. There is also a very inexpensive buffet offered, but we only saw gringos eating it, so we steered clear.
Favorite Dish: We especially liked the alambre, a grilled shish kabob of beef, onion and chile. The chef removes the skewer, chops the whole thing with a cleaver and slides it onto fresh corn tortillas. Yummy.
Updated Dec 4, 2007
Address: Hidalgo 805
Oaxaca has lots of restaurants like Maria Bonita that serve all the traditional dishes. We discovered this restaurant just three blocks from our hotel on a very hot day. Maria Bonita has the coldest beer in all of Oaxaca. They do a lot with Flor de Calabaza (pumpkin flowers). The soup is fantastic and restorative. Flores de Calabaza Rellenos de Queso was a simple dish of flowers stuffed with the famous Oaxacan string cheese. Tlayuda con Flor de Calabaza came to the table as a a giant quesadilla filled with epazote and hot chile as well as the blossoms.
Maria Bonita has the best black beans in town, hands down. They serve wonderful tasajo, delicious cecina and their mole negro is first rate. They also have an excellent selection of mezcal. This is essential Oaxacan food served in a small, charming space.
Favorite Dish: Mole Negro is rich with just the right amount of kick from the chiles. The Crema de Flor de Calabaza soup is delicious and makes you feel better, even if you didn't feel bad to start with. I'd go just for the black beans.
Updated Dec 4, 2007
Address: Macedonia Alcala 706
El Aasador Vasco is on a second story balcony looking onto the Zocolo . The food is Oaxacan with a Basque fusion. Chapulines (grasshoppers) with guacamole, palm heart salad, shrimp, fish, meat. It's all pretty good here. The food is delicious and well prepared and the service is excellent. Our waiter even let us order half portions, so we could taste more dishes. The menu has plenty of adventurous and challenging dishes like oysters in chipotle sauce, sea bass with grapefruit, beef tripe, squid in its own ink and even ostrich. The place can be a bit formal, but the location overcomes a lot, especially if you are on the balcony with a view of the Zocolo.
Favorite Dish: Camarones en Salsa de Chipotle consisted of two dozen large, butterflied shrimp in a delicately flavored chipotle sauce that was picante, but not life threatening.
The Coloradito de Lomo de Cerdo featured wonderfully tender pork in a thick, full-flavored mole that was medium hot.
The Chateaubriand con Salsa Bernesa was a beautiful and tender piece of beef. Order the sauce on the side.
Written Nov 29, 2007
Address: Portal de Flores 11
To get around Oaxaca, see the various historical sites, visit artists in their homes or make a day of mezcal tasting, it is best to have a driver. Our favorite driver is Miguel Gaytan. His cell phone number in Oaxaca is 0449-54-78-280. He has a great sense of humor, drives safely and is well versed in local history, art and mezcal. He charges about $15-$20 per hour which is a real bargain when you realize the savings in rental car fees, fuel and stress. Tell him Lorenzo recommended him.
Updated Dec 4, 2007
While there are some great places to shop in Oaxaca City like Mano Magica at Alcala 203 and ARIPO onGarcia Virgil 809, the real fun is to get out to the villages. Call Miguel (see transportation tips) and have him take you to the artist's homes. Atzompa is known for the green glazed pottery and the incredibly intricate and whimsical terra cotta of the Blanco family. Arrazola is a center for colored wood carvings called alebrijes and specializes in iguanas. San Martin Tilcajete (on the road to Ocotlan) also has dozens of great wood carvers. Teotitlan del Valle is paradise for fine natural dyed weavings. Ocotlan has the great Aguilar family for their rustic ceramic creations. San Bartolo Coyotepec specializes in black pottery. Santo Tomas Jalieza has woven pieces made on backstrap looms:table runners and napkins, etc. Each of the towns has a specialty. Each is within a half hour to 45 minute drive from Oaxaca City.
Just remember the first rule of shopping in Mexico: If you see something you like, buy it. It won't be there when you come back.
What to buy: Alebrijes, wood carvings. Weavings. Pottery.
What to pay: Even though prices have skyrocketed over the past 7 years, almost everything remains well priced, under $100.
Updated Dec 5, 2007
Favorite thing: It's pretty hard to choose one favorite thing about a place like Oaxaca, but the fabled traditional markets are probably number one in my book. If you stay near the zocalo you are within walking distance of two of Mexico's finest markets. Mercado Juarez sells foods like Oaxaca's famous cheeses ranging from tiny marble sized babies to giants the size of soccer balls, glistening golden fresh egg breads and perfect colorful displays of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus an endless array of gorgeous fresh flowers and crafts. Mercado 20 de Noviembre is chock full of venerable food stalls (fondas) featuring delicious homestyle Oaxacan food. Oaxaca produces and processes both coffee and chocolate, both of which can be ground to order around the market. Step inside for a big soup bowl of either, served up with a big egg bun... a real slice of heaven!
Fondest memory: I always miss the markets. I love the women selling crispy fried chapulines (little grasshoppers) from huge baskets, an incredible variety of fresh handmade tortillas from thick, tender gorditas made from blue corn to the huge, paper thin tlayudas that are so delicious smeared with a variety of toppings and served up like a giant Mexican pizza... plus so many other tasty treats you will see nowhere else on earth. There truly is no place like Oaxaca.
These pictures of Oaxacans hard at work were taken in my home town of Cabo San Lucas where they had a contingent over Semana Santa. They made me homesick for Oaxaca City!
Written May 26, 2010