Valerio Trujano 203, tel: (951) 514-1878
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.
Allende 208, tel: 50-1-09-27
Located near Santo Domingo. This restaurant has a great roof terrace - ideal for afternoon and evening drinks and/or dinner - the view of the surrounding mountains at night is magical. Great courtyard also. The food was competent. I had dinner here twice and afternoon margaritas numerous times. Both sopas I had - guisa and tortilla - were very good. Had a quesadilla with oaxacan cheese and espazote - which was average - the tortilla was a bit tough. The main dishes were okay - I had chicken with almond type mole and pescado (fish) with grapes - both nice but not extraordinary. Service was very welcoming and gracious. I did have crepes flambe with strawberries and vanilla ice cream my last night in Oaxaca - sitting in an ocher colored courtyard beneath a midnight blue sky, half moon and Orion.
Hosteria de Acala
M. Alcala 307, tel 51-620-93
Located near Santo Domingo. A cool and inviting courtyard is a nice respite from the afternoon sun. For breakfast I had chilequiles so I opted for a light lunch - started with a plate of chorizo and oaxaca cheese which had been heated and mixed together, black beans and guacamole with warm tortillas (similar to queso flamedo). Also had the house salad and a corn & poblano soup. Everything was pleasant.
M. Alcala 403, tel: (951)501-11-84
This was the most contempory meal I had in Oaxaca. A great modern space done in that hip, cool, minimalist Mexican tone. The crowd consists of a lot of cell phone and beeper types. As for the food: apple&avocado salad with a grainy mustard vinagrette - nice, pleasant and light - crisp apple, creamy avocado, robust mustard - interesting combination. Had a seafood soup with chipoltle - shrimp. mussels, scallops - which was fine. Ordered the ravioli stuffed with huitlacoche with a poblano sauce - very interesting dish - the pasta I thought to be a bit too thick - beautifully presented.
Alejandro - Casa Oaxaca
Garcia Vigil 402, tel: (01-951) 514-4173
Wonderfully updated mexican cuisine. Casa Oaxaca is both a hotel and restaurant. The restaurant is in the main courtyard - very pleasant. Started with a grapefruit and avocado salad. For sopa - fresh creamed corn with poblano strips - must have been just prepared, the corn tasted that fresh. Chile nogada - poblano stuffed with both pork and beef with a walnut sauce but not battered (which I prefer) - very good. For desert -pineapple and banana pie - which was okay. Had a wonderful mezcal afterwards - Mezcal Cuerudo, Sabores y Tradiciones de Oaxaca las Casas St. - extremely smooth. You'll need to make dinner reservations - be sure stop by and confirm if done by email.
Hostal de La Noria, Av. Hidalgo 918, tel: (951)514-78-44
This was probably my most "traditional" meal: caesar salad, which was prepared at my table - crisp green romaine leaves lightly coated; huitlacoche in chicken consomme - a beautiful bowl of glistening black pearls of various size in a rich chicken consomme - delicious and beautiful; filet mignon topped with a mild cheese and oaxqueno chile sauce - cooked rare - the flavours really melded well together in this dish - the flavor of the smoked oaxqueno chile is very unique; desert - cheese flan. The restaurant is decorated in colonial style with large floor to ceiling windows that open out to the street
La Fonda de Sto. Domingo
5 de mayo 41, tel: 52 (9)-514-89-24
Located near Santo Domingo. I had a simple lunch - quesadilla with flor de calabza and chilaquiles armarillo with pork. The flowers were so fresh, almost grassy - the oaxacan cheese was smooth and buttery - really delicious. The chilaquilles were simple and good. I can still remember sitting in in this restaurant - the bells at Santo Domingo ringing, occasionally someone walking by - I became very aware that it was siesta time.
Plazuela Labastida 104
Located near Santo Domingo, just off Alcala. I had read the food here had a homey touch - the restaurant has that type of feel. Had a tamal de mole negro -they were huge and the masa nicely complimented the mole negro and chicken. For an entree I tried enchiladas de bautro con picallo de tre carnes accompanes de frijoles negro -enchiladas smothered in a mole rojo - it was a hearty dish.
Flor de Oaxaca
Had nopal salad, oaxacan tamales, poblanos stuffed with picadillo, fried plantains with sour cream sauce. The nopal salad was bright; the tamales contained mole nego and chicken; the poblanos were cooked in a light tomato broth - very delicate; plantains with a sour cream type sauce was a nice ending.
None of my meals were bad - and some were quite good. What stands out is how restrained, subtle, milder the flavors of real Mexican food is compared to American versions of Mexican, be it authentic or tex mex or what have you. The freshness of produce really impressed me. Real-live-time, freshly squeezed orange juice is so much better than any supposed supermarket fresh orange juice. I dont think there was a restaurant that didnt serve the standard seven moles. Probably my only quibble - dishes have the tendency to come to the table pretty quickly. As for wines - Illiana, from El Naranjo suggested a malbec wine. I stuck to margaritas, mezcal and bottled water. By mid week I had become more adventerous and started trying various things in the mercado - with no ill effect. The aroma of cacao roasting or being ground is intoxicating and very heady. Be sure to try it both ways - milk and water. Different intensity of flavors and texture. If you ahve any questions about Oaxaca, feel free to ask.
(I'll post a list of activities I did while in Oaxaca to this thread sometime this week, hopefully)