Located a couple of blocks from the Zocalo, El Naranjo was the most "American" of all the restaurants that we dined at in Oaxaca. This isn't a bad thing, just an observation.
The dining room is in a courtyard of an old building, with heaters and small lights giving it a nice atmosphere.
With 6 kinds of rellenos (stuffed chiles) and all of the 7 Mole's available, you could get a refined version of what every other place in town serves.
The service was very crisp and helpful and they spoke fluent English also. The owner/chef ILIANA DE LA VEGA even stopped by our table for a chat and photo.
The food was of the highest quality fare that we encountered in Oaxaca. The presentations and cooking techniques showed an eye for creativity and professionalism.
Favorite Dish: Ok...you should probably come here on one of your first nights in Oaxaca or you'll be tired of Mole' by the time you get here.
We were. We ate here on our last (7th) night in town and by this time, we were all Mole'd out. Out of 7 people, none ordered the famous Mole's. Most of our group ordered the FILETE DE PESCADO AL CILANTRO;
(FILLET OF FISH BAKED IN HERB LEAF WITH A LIGHT BUTTER MADE OF CILANTRO AND GINGER.) and it was quite nice...but little bland by Oaxacan standards. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling all that hot, so I couldn't try anything more adventurous. I'd love to go back and work my through the Mole's.
I also had the Caldo Tlapeno, a chicken and vegetable soup that was outstanding.
I went to El Naranjo after reading that it specializes in Oaxaquena cuisine, and in particular "moles" which are sauces made from many spices and other ingredients.
I tried the pork tenderloin in red mole (see photo). The mole was tasty, slightly spicy, but I found the meat a little overcooked (about $8).
A cheaper way to try mole is by ordering "tlayuda" (a big tortilla covered with a variety of ingredients, including mole, similar to a pizza) or some appetizers that include it.
This restaurant was not too busy at lunch, but apparently you should make reservations for dinner.
note: the toilet was broken and unusable the day I was there, but I guess that can happen to anybody...
Mexican food is my favorite. I actually like it better than Italian (notwithstanding that I grew up eating excellent homemade Italian meals). True Mexican food is much better and a little different than most people have tried outside of Mexico. Of course, here in the USA there are some restaurants that try to provide authentic Mexican Food.
El Naranjo is a Oaxacan gem serving excellent upscale Mexican food. The ingrediants are fresh and everything is make on the premises. They serve a wide variety of meats in various sauces (like mole, sauces made with a base of salsa verde, etc.), excellent cazuelas (casseroles), fish dishes, and so on...
This restaurant is so good that it was featured in the gourmet food magazine, Bon Appetit in its May 2003 issue dedicated to the "Sout of Mexico".
The photo I have included is not of El Naranjo... it is just a Oaxaca street scene.
Favorite Dish: By far, my very favorite dish from El Naranjo is the Pastel des Tres Leches con Rompope (Three Milk Cake With Rompope). I am a chocolate lover, but I would turn down chocolate everytime if I could have this very cake from El Naranjo. It is a fairly dense yellow cake that is infused with three types of milk (evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and whipping cream) and rompope (sort of like a Mexican version of eggnog- even if you don't like eggnog, it is amazing in this cake), and frosted with thick sweetened whipping cream.
This is an energetic place, but service can be slow. The food is very good, but you can find better in Oaxaca. The menu is Oaxacan, so there are lots of moles (molr is a sauce, pronounced mol-ay, and is not mole the animal).. What the restaurant has tried to do with middling success is to create a new age Oaxacan menu, with basic themes of Oaxacan cooking updated and varied. Interesting, but disappointing.
Favorite Dish: There are seven Oaxacan moles, and each night this restaurant has a mole of the day.
I had dinner here my first night in Oaxaca. All the praise for the food here is well deserved. Started off with a margarita. With the bread you get small dishes of pate (very good), butter flavored with orange peel and a salsa (I believe). I started off with a nuez (pecan) and chiplotle soup - creamy, thick, nutty fragrance and a very restrained hint of smoky chipotle. Next was a jicama and hibiscus salad. The crunch of the jicama, the tartness of the hibiscus was balanced by pieces of thick bacon. I had the wednesday mole (Manchamanteles) with pork. (Why can't we have pork as flavorful in America?) The mole is enhanced with plantain and pineapple - very satisfying. Next I had the stuffed chile with calabaza flowers in a light tomato and almond sauce. Wonderfully delicate and layered flavors. For desert I had flan - which was fine. Service was efficient and polite. I met Iliana - the chef and owner. I had also schedule to attend a cooking class ($50 US) at El Naranjo for the next day. Class had about 10 people. We learned to make various salsas, guacamole (no garlic please and especially no mayonnaise, as one person confessed to adding to her version), amarillo mole, tortilla sopa with the traditional condiments, coconut flan, agua de jamaica, agua de horchata. While the mole simmered we walked over to the mercado and met various vendors. Then we returned to the restaurant to have the lunch we had prepared. This was a great way to start my trip to Oaxaca - the recipes were easy, fun way to meet other people, very hands on experience. Came back for lunch another day: started off with gazpacho - made traditionally, no cream; had the saturday mole (chichilo) with pork - once again flavorful and dense; dad the ancho chilie stuffed with goat cheese in an almond sauce - the goat cheese was creamy, not exceedingly tart and didn't overwhelm the ancho. What impressed me most about all this dishes were how restrained and layered they were - the different flavours really came through.