El Naranjo, The Orange Tree, is behind thick, wooden doors and in a converted hacienda over 200 years old. The restaurant is in a bright, enclosed patio with a hundred year old orange tree in the center.
The village of Oaxaca was formed in 1521 with the building of the first church, located at present day Exconvento de San Juan de Dios. The market formed around the church, now the downtown Food market, Mercado 20 de Novembre.
The town grew to the west, towards present day restaurant. El Naranjo is in one of the oldest haciendas in Oaxaca.
Ilianna de la Vega was standing at the door when I walked into her restaurant. She enjoys chatting and loves to talk about food. Her family is from Oaxaca, but she is from Mexico City.
Her cooking is lighter and healthier than traditional Mexican cooking. She uses no lard, yet achieves authentic Oaxacan flavors.
After ordering, a basket of delicious, homemade bread and bowls of chicken paté, orange flavored butter, and chile arbol sauce.
Menu is small, but with a nice variety. Appetizers included Queso de Carba Marindo, marinated goat cheese in olive oil. Soups included Caldo Tlalpeno, a traditional Mexican soup with rice, shredded chicken, vegetables and chile chilpotle. Salads included Ensalada a La Jamaica, lettuce, spinach, jicama, and jamaica flowers.
El Narranjo's speciality is Mole. Ilianna celebrates the seven moles of Oaxaca. Monday, try Coloradito, the brick red mole made with chile ancho, sesame seeds and almonds. Tuesday, sample Rojo, a dark red mole with chiles, pecans, peanuts, sesame seeds and chocolate. Wednesday's special us Manchamanteles, made with chile ancho, almonds, pineapples and almonds. Thursday is Verde, a green mole made from fresh herbs and fresh herbs. Friday is Amarillo, the yellow or really orange mole made with local chiles. Saturday, enjoy Chichilo, a dark mole made from local herbs with burned chile seeds. Fortunately, everyday is Negro Mole, the most complex with over 30 ingredients and long preparation time. All moles are served with rice and either chicken breast or pork tenderloin.
There are also 6 kinds of chile rellenos and other meat, fish, pasta and poultry dishes. Wine list is extensive with inexpensive, and great wines by the glass.
Ilianna offers cooking classes where she guides students through the local markets, explaining and procuring the needed ingredients. The class returns to the kitchen, where students prepare, cook and eat their own masterpieces.
While this restaurant is only one and a half block west of Zocalo, it is off the beaten path, and doesn't get the crowds it deserves.
But remember, you came to Oaxaca to eat Mole, and you should visit El Narranjo to eat mole.