According to all the research I've done, Oaxaca provides the best of Mexican gastronomy for the visitors and it's also an adorable town. Let me show you my favourite places, from the traditional to the modern.
I wrote already about the local chocolates (in Hungarian) which are not presented as a simple chocolate bar, but can be tasted in many interesting forms. This time I thoroughly ate my way through the town: traditional street food made by elderly women, elegant restaurants and very modern places were no exception. And I don't regret it for a minute.
It is very interesting how the simple, traditional Mexican dishes are interpreted in Oaxaca [wɑːˈhɑː.kɑː]: everything comes in a slightly different shape and size than anywhere else. Hence, it's easy to make mistakes and end up with a big amount food that you can hardly finish. The usually bite-sized tacos here are as big as a main course and a local speciality, the tlayuda, usually referred to as Mexican pizza, is an especially copious portion, that is if you manage to eat it at all.
One of the most pleasant places in town, it's the perfect start for getting to know the local street food scene: the selection is big, they are precise and thorough and they are not open only in the evenings. It's further away from the city centre (20-30 minutes on foot or 5 minutes by taxi) but it's really worth the detour. They only use local corn, they work with traditional methods and in very good quality. On top of it, there's a nice, little shade where you can enjoy your meal.
Tacos del Carmen
A simple street stall in the downtown, where a few elderly ladies are tirelessly making the different tortillas. Service is surprisingly quick, because here - due to the limited selection - they can be prepared and don't have to make everything á la minute like in the Itanoni. There's not much comfort, only few seats and a little canopy to provide some shade but you won't want to sit here for hours anyway.
This is how it looks like in action:
Other street foods from Oaxaca:
And the good old tamal, i.e. in cornhusk steamed polenta, perfect for an afternoon snack:
It's mostly remarkable for its assets, such as the super cosy interior and terrace, as well as for the traditional dishes made and served in a sophisticated way. But when it comes to taste and quality, it's not better than the street food prepared by the old women. Of course, there are more interesting and creative dishes here: delicious meat, fish, octopus and some cute tricks, like the personalised salsa or guacamole prepared at the table according to personal taste. [During the evening the view is even more beautiful thanks to the lights of the nearby church.]
And their dishes:
Criollo (surprisingly, it doesn't have its own website, nor is it mentioned on the website of the chef, where all his other restaurants are listed)
Enrique Olvera's, Mexico's most famous chef's restaurant is simple in style and is located in a cosy inner patio that you can reach by walking through the kitchen. Of course, the tortillas are prepared 'live' for his dishes; dishes that have traditional roots but reflect some modern creativity at the same time. Very professional, the dishes are well detailed, the service is good. Good value for money and the ambience is great, too. However, gastronomically speaking, it doesn't impress. Understandable because but that's not the goal here: it's supposed to be rather a cosy, family style restaurant. [I'll write separately about Pujol in Mexico City.]
This is how the place looks like:
And the dishes:
Clearly the most exciting place in Oaxaca, my undisputed favourite. Spontaneous menu with Mexican ingredients and with a very creative perspective, full of interesting items. The drink pairing is also great all the way through, especially the carefully chosen mezcals, but wine and beer turn up, too. The style is easy-going, the service is informal and very good. The place is obligatory for those who would like to see where a traditional kitchen can improve if it has its eyes on fine dining. (It's funny that the chef not only worked in the Saison, one of the big hits in San Francisco, but in a Hungarian restaurant in the States, too.)
[But the place is quite dark as you can see on the pictures.]
The restaurant can't be reached easily but this sign should help:
And these are the dishes (I also got a birthday surprise):
My experience shows that it's not easy to modernise a traditionally good kitchen, to take it to 'fine dining'. Many Hungarian chefs have struggled with it and the same challenges arise in Mexico: the place can be more elegant, the plating more beautiful, the ingredients and the techniques more refined, but still, the simple, traditional version will give me more pleasure than the sophisticated one. In this spirit, the Casa Oaxaca and Criollo are not a must to visit but both of them are interesting and they have their merits.
Without AirFrance, I couldn't get to Mexico.
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