When we traveled to Oaxaca, interpreter and translator María Ítaka, who was born and raised in the city, showed us the ropes—tacos, tlayudas and mescal, that is. We quickly fell for the city, and brought back with us inspiration for countless recipes, from Oaxacan Green Mole with Chicken to Oaxacan Refried Beans. So we asked our guide to share her top 10 restaurants, bars and markets—a roadmap for our inevitable return.
Oaxaca is full of amazing places—it’s hard to choose my favorite. But here is a list of my top 10 recommendations for any visitor. It covers a bit of everything, from chill corners and mezcal joints to fine dining and, of course, the best spots for cumbia dancing. — María Ítaka
Oaxaca City is full of great options for “valley style” cuisine, but for under-the-radar flavors that highlight the diversity of food around the state, particularly from the south east region of Tehuantepec, head to La Teca, a small restaurant situated inside the owner’s house. Dishes combine sweet and sour flavors and show off tropical ingredients like plantains with dry cheese and sour cream. There’s an exuberant ceremonial mole, corn cake, the most delicious baked mashed potatoes and amazing bite size garnachas (fried tortillas topped with stewed meat). They’re my favorite in the city.
Violetas 200, Reforma, 68050 Oaxaca
+52 951 515 0563
This is one of the most interesting restaurants you can visit in Oaxaca—a stimulus for the five senses where traditional food is taken to another level in a relaxed, natural setting. Each day, a new menu marries ingredients in unexpected ways, always with great results.
Francisco I. Madero 129, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
+01 951 351 1908
Here’s the best place to start your night. Drinks and cocktails—mezcal-based and beyond—are amazing here, thanks to their incredibly broad selection of spirits. The setting is beautiful and the music right on. Service is excellent, too.
5 de Mayo 209, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
+52 951 514 3494
These two, distinct places belong to the same concept—and it’s a duet that can’t be missed in a proper Oaxaca night out. Archivo Maguey is the place to find cumbia, beer, mezcal and good food. A mezcal tasting here will make you appreciate the drink like never before. Hierba Blanca, meanwhile, serves up mezcal-based cocktails mixed with rare, local and often medicinal herbs. It’s the place to go for mixology geeks.
Av. José María Morelos 509, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
+52 951 350 9851
Calle Murguía 202, 68000 Oaxaca
+52 951 516 8982
Chef Rodolfo Castellanos is one of the best chefs in Oaxaca, making Origen an important stop. He’s not afraid of turning up the volume and deconstructing dishes, but still finds balance with the traditional techniques. Ingredients are always fresh, the chef’s attention to detail is unmatched, the menu adapts to the seasonal produce, and meals—like the tender rabbit with yellow mole I still think about—are unforgettable. Miguel Hidalgo 820, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca +52 951 501 1764
Mezcal is of course on the menu here, but La Mezcalerita is also a great place to start exploring the local craft beer scene. A lovely terrace is perfect for sunny afternoons and evenings, and snacks like guacamole or melted cheese pots will fortify you for all those drinks.
Calle Macedonio Alcalá, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000
+52 951 106 4432
Itanoní is one of the most authentic places in Oaxaca—great for breakfast or lunch. Everything is delicious, but I definitely recommend the tetela espirituosa and the taco con pollo en salsa verde. They also serve very good hot chocolate here, and a unique fresh drink from the state of Chiapas called tascalate, which is made with achiote, corn, cacao, cinnamon and a bit of sugar. Both the hot chocolate and the tascalate are best made with water—“con agua”—instead of milk. A symphony of flavors.
Av Belisario Domínguez 513, Reforma, 68050 Oaxaca
+52 951 205 2282
If you want to have a true Oaxaca experience and try enchiladas, memelas, tamales or moles surrounded by musicians, fresh produce and a lively vibe, you can´t miss eating in one of the local markets. Although the Mercado 20 de Noviembre is a must (don’t miss the hall of smoke and Comedor Tipico la Abuelita), I really like going to the more relaxed Mercado de la Merced, where you can shop for grasshoppers, local fruits, seeds and flowers. Av. Morelos 1522 Col. Centro 68000 Oaxaca
This place lives up to its name. Cozy and busy all the time, this art-lined, casual restaurant is a lively spot to meet friends. The food is very good too, with a wide selection that ranges from traditional Oaxacan soups and tacos, to tortas, pasta, seafood (get the octopus), and great mezcales.
Calle de Manuel García Vigil 519, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
Two complaints I often hear about Mexican and Oaxacan food: There aren’t enough greens and dishes take too long to cook. This isn’t 100 percent true, but I’ll concede that few restaurants focus on super fresh and light ingredients—with the exception of a few, including Calabacitas Tiernas. Go here for great vegetarian and vegan dishes. (They’re also very conscious of dietary restrictions and allergies.) The menu is more or less steady, with creative daily specials inspired by international and traditional cuisine.
Calle Porfirio Díaz 1105, Ruta Independencia, Luis Jimenez Figueroa, 68000 Oaxaca
+52 951 205 1450
María Ítaka is an interpreter and translator born and raised in the city of Oaxaca, México, where she is a fixer and field producer who works with filmmakers, anthropologists, photographers, musicians and chefs. She aims to build bridges across languages and weave networks among foreign and local communities with the goal of creating more diverse and multicultural projects. Her specialties include ancient Mexican cultures, local ingredients and traditional cooking, music, literature and storytelling. Follow her on Instagram @mariaitaka.