I recently returned from a trip to Mexico. We spent two nights in Mexico city, followed by 6 nights in Oaxaca (including 1 night in the Pueblos Mancomunados). My traveling companion (hereafter known as 'M') and I ate lots of great food…here's what we had:
Monday PM – Tlayudas Libres: We arrived in Oaxaca city late in the evening, and wanted something to eat around 10 PM. The very helpful woman at our hotel recommended Tlayudas Libres, which is at Libre 212 and is only open from 9 PM until 4 AM. It was a perfect into to tlayudas, an excellent nighttime snack. The tlayudas here are huge tortillas, stuffed with beans and cheese and salad (and choice of meat), then folded and grilled on open coals. Because of the open coals, they had to remain folded (as opposed to many other tlayudas we saw which are round and open-face). M had chorizo, which I liked a lot, while I had carne which was only OK. I actually think I would have been fine w/ vegetarian, as the best parts were the crispy tortillas and beans. This place is worth a visit if you're hungry at night.
Tuesday AM - Tamales at Mercado de Abastos: For breakfast Part 1, we picked up tamales de elote from a vendor at the Mercado de Abastos. She was also selling huitlacoche. The tamales were great, though I have no idea how to find them again.
Tuesday AM – Mercado 20 de Noviembre: For Breakfast Part 2, we chose a random stand in the 20 de Noviembre market. We had hot chocolate (excellent) and some chicken mole w/ beans. The mole was cheap ($20 or 25) and wasn't a very big portion, which makes sense at that price…but it was a nice preview of what to expect.
Tuesday Lunch – La Teca – La Teca is north of the center of the city…it was a short taxi ride, though we ended up walking back (which was relatively easy). Worth noting that the location on Google Maps was not correct for La Teca (but the address was right), so luckily we found it. This was a great place, and was worth seeking out. We tried:
garnachas – small fried tortillas topped w/ tomato sauce, meat, and cheese. These were outstanding, and one of the best things we ate the whole trip.
Estofado con mole colorado y pure de papas – The mashed potatoes were only OK, but the estofado and mole were amazing. The estofado was a lot like pulled bbq brisket in the US, in a sweet bbq-like sauce. This was plated in the middle of the mole colorado, which was a different sauce altogether, and was fantastic. Even once I was full, I kept tasting spoonfuls of this sauce to try to place all the flavors and spices (which I couldn't do). It was a careful, delicious blend—one of my top 3 tastes of the whole trip.
Tamales de cabrey and tamal de bella zaa (yellow mole) were both good, though not as special. The single chile relleno we tried was great, though. Molote de platano was a fried plantain dish w/ cheese, but neither of us liked this very much. Service was friendly, food is clearly prepared homemade and with love, so we liked this place and were glad we got to try it.
Tuesday dinner – El Pozolito – This pozole place had Guerrero-style pozole. I tried the pozole blanco w/ avocado, while M had the pozole rojo. The white pozole was mild and salty, but comforting after lots of spice earlier in the day. Pozole rojo had a great smoky flavor. This restaurant is at the corner of Rayon and Bustamonte, and we noticed it got busy later in the evening (around 9 or 10). Cheap, fast, not destination worthy but a good option if you're in the mood for pozole.
Tuesday dessert/snacks – Early in the day we had coconut from a vendor near corner of Rayon and Bustamonte. We drank the water straight from the coconut, then the vendor sliced it up for us and we took it in a bag to eat. Delicious. After dinner, we had paletas from the Paletas Michoacan in the plaza. Coconut and mango flavors were both decent, though not the best paletas we'd ever tried.
Wednesday morning – We went to the 2nd class bus station very early in the morning to journey up to Benito Juarez…at the station, I bought a tamal de pollo con mole, which we ate later…it was actually quite delicious, and was big and spicy. Not ideal for eating on the bus (since it was messy), so we were glad to enjoy it once off the bus. For Wednesday lunch, dinner, and Thursday breakfast, we were in the mountains. We got back to Oaxaca in the early afternoon on Thursday:
Thursday lunch – El Tipico – We wanted to go to this restaurant for their mole negro, and were momentarily sad when we got to the restaurant and the menu said it was only available on Saturdays….but luckily, we asked, and were told it's actually available every day. This was definitely the mole we were looking for—rich, spicy, chocolatey. Really good. We also had carne de res Amarillo, which was almost-soup like with lots of rib meat and veggies. Escabeche was served complimentary, and it was spicy and tasty. I also had a agua de Jamaica, which was nice. We sat in the lovely back patio…this is a nice spot, and I'd definitely recommend it for mole.
Thursday dinner – Our dinner on Thursday was really a series of snacks:
1) Chocolate tasting at Mayordomo – after sampling various chocolates, I also ordered a hot chocolate. Not as good as the one in the 20 de Noviembre, but still not bad.
2) Churros from a place on Independencia, west of the zocalo. Not very good compared to what we had had in Mexico City, but not bad.
3) Ice cream from the Plaza de Iglesia Soledad…we were shocked that it took us 3 whole days to discover that Oaxaca has an entire plaza dedicated to ice cream…when we arrived, we didn't really know which stand to choose (or if it mattered), so we chose one somewhat randomly. We tried the must-have combo of leche quemada con tuna, and also maracuya and amor oaxaquena (a combo of strawberry, apple, guava?). Sadly, though the scenery was perfect, we thought the ice cream (nieves) were only mediocre. I flat out disliked the leche quemada ice cream (though I tried to like it), and the tuna wasn't amazing either (though I do usually like tuna-flavored things—this is of course tuna the fruit we're talking about, not the fish). So, maybe we would have had better luck with a different vendor or different flavors, so I'd still recommend checking out this plaza on a visit to Oaxaca.
4) Tacos surtidos (mixed pork) and taco de res and tostada de surtido at Taqueria El Compadre. This also seems to be a night-time Oaxaca institution, with two adjacent stands on the corner of Las Casa and 20 Noviembre at night. Lots of pig heads getting chopped up and stuffed into tacos at an extraordinary pace. The surtido was a bit intense from all the fat, so I actually enjoyed the taco de res more than anything else, but this place is definitely worth a visit.
After Thursday's dinner, M and I both had stomach aches….though having typed this all out, I can kind of see why…chocolate+churros+ice cream+pig face can really do that to you!
Friday morning – Breakfast at our hotel – We finally got to try the breakfast at our hotel (which was complimentary)—we stayed at a relatively new place called Cielo Azul, and the breakfast had a hot dish each day, as well as toast and fruit. We enjoyed papaya, watermelon, banana and some fresh-made (but very simple) quesadillas. Also hot chocolate.
Friday lunch: We were in Teotitlan del Valle for lunch on Friday, and ate at Tlamanalli, which was recommended in our guidebook. Food was pricy, but was all homemade and very good—all Zapotec-style cooking. The meal started with a shot of mezcal (complimentary) and some very nice blue tortilla chips and guacamole (all freshly made and also complimentary). We tried the sopa de calabaza w/ a fried quesadilla de flor de calabaza. The soup was great, and the fried quesadilla was really great. I wished there had been more quesadilla. We also tried a segueso de pollo hecha con mais…so the sauce had cornmeal in it. The chicken was tender, but we didn't think this dish was quite as good as the soup. For dessert, we tried nicuatolli, which is a pre-hispanic gelatinous dessert made w/ maize and sugar. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicuatole We got to try this with homemade mango nieve, which was very good (much better than the nieves we had had in Oaxaca). We were the only people at this large restaurant, and the entire town of Teotitlan was a bit empty. But we were glad we stopped by.
Friday dinner – Roy's Tacos y Retacos – We needed a quick bite before participating in Oaxaca's version of Critical Mass, so we stopped by this small restaurant/taqueria. We had tostada w/ carnitas, quesadilla al pastor, and pozole rojo. All were quite good, especially the al pastor. This place is at the corner of Abasolo and Suarez, and could be a good bet for visitors wanting to try al pastor from the spit.
Saturday breakfast – Breakfast at the hostel again. This time the hot dish was chilaquiles, which were simple and nice. Fruit once again was excellent, particularly the papaya.
Saturday breakfast Part 2 – Tortas y Jugos Hawai in the Mercado Benito Juarez. I noticed this place while shopping a few days earlier, and since it was so crowded, we decided it must be worth checking out. The shop is within the market, and specializes in juices, licuados and tortas. We had a Hawaiian Torta which was excellent—pork, pineapple, avocado, tomato, beans, cheese, all hot-pressed together. We also had a juice called "Conga"- a blend of apple, pear, banana, papaya, strawberry and pineapple. I really liked this place for breakfast, and would recommend it. Seating is at the counter only, and it was very busy.
Saturday late-morning – We went shopping for mole, and tasted various kinds in various places. We didn't really like the mole at mayordomo, and preferred the mole coloradito at La Soledad. Both places seemed to have a zillion outposts in the area around 20 de Noviembre. Later, when we were in the Mercado de Abastos, we got more mole from Mechita, which we liked much better than either of the other two. I don't really know how to find Mechita, but if you're in the Mercado de Abastos, you could probably ask and get pointed in the right direction. The Mercado de Abastos was pretty amazing….paths seemed to go on in every direction, and there were tons of fruits, vegetables, taco stands, women selling grasshoppers, etc…I could have spent hours just exploring. Since it was Saturday, I think it was even bigger—we got to walk through a part of the market where live animals were sold, and another part with lots of cookware and ceramics.
Saturday lunch – For lunch, we went back to the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and tried enchiladas con mole, and a chorizo quesadilla. We randomly chose a place that looked crowded, though it's hard to tell whether there's much difference in quality between the different stands…the market is essentially a giant food court.
Saturday afternoon – We hung out for a bit in a coffee shop in the more touristy part of town, called Café Brujula. I had a cucumber/lime frozen drink (no alcohol) and M had a soy coffee frappe, which was great. I also bought some coffee beans here to bring home (and the coffee I have been making with them is very good).
Saturday night – For the night before Mexican Independence Day, we had a party in our hostel, organized by the hostel…we ate tostadas and tamales and other snacks, before venturing out to the center of the city.
We had a great visit in Oaxaca overall, and felt that we ate very well even though we didn't go anywhere remotely fancy. Hopefully this report will be helpful to visitors who are in Oaxaca in the future!
Here's a link to my Mexico City report: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/870467