By María Ítaka

More than chefs, it’s the women behind the stoves in street and market stalls that are the pillars of Oaxacan cuisine.

Look no further than Tlayudas El Chepil, a late-night restaurant situated on the border of downtown and the neighborhood of Jalatlaco, for a prime example. It’s open from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m., or until they sell out, which happens often, thanks to their tlayudas, which are crispy and generous.

Oaxaca’s food repertoire is so vast and complex that it’s hard to choose one representative dish, but tlayudas are certainly up there when it comes to iconic Oaxacan dishes. They’re huge, thin tortillas, often folded “calzone-style,” and covered with beans, cabbage or lettuce, salsa and avocado slices. They can be simple, with string cheese, or special—that is, covered with beef, chorizo or spiced pork.

You can eat them any time, but Oaxacans really love them for late-night cravings, after parties or for Sunday gatherings with friends and family.

The appetite for El Chepil’s tlayudas keeps it busy, as do other specialities like Oaxacan sausage tostadas and champurrado, a chocolate-corn drink. It’s a fabulous yet straightforward place that reminds me of the small dining spots of my childhood, and the real backbone of the city’s food.

Read more about the everyday cooking of Oaxaca here.

See here for a list of the top 10 places to eat and drink in Oaxaca.

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.

Photo: Christopher Kimball