Home Americas The Ultimate Oaxacan Cuisine Guide: Street Food, Markets, Cafes and Fine Dining

The Ultimate Oaxacan Cuisine Guide: Street Food, Markets, Cafes and Fine Dining

written by ParoChak December 16, 2016

Oaxacan cuisine is something that draws food lovers from all over the world to the south central city region of Oaxaca, widely considered the food capital of Mexico. Oaxacan food specialities entice food lovers from all over the world with their moles (sauces), a plethora of street food, bustling food markets, Oaxacan string cheese, rivers of chocolate (an ingredient which is an integral part of everyday cooking in this state) and elegant fine dining, which is so creative and yet so economical and laid back that you might feel as if the food Gods are humoring you. Honestly, it is next to impossible to have a bad meal in Oaxaca, even with your most intense dietary restrictions. The only thing I can say about this city is arrive very hungry, nay, famished and you will not be disappointed. As a bona fide food lover, I did my extensive research and managed to hit almost every place on list before our departure, and sampled everything from street food to market fair to seated dining. So here is my Oaxaca food guide to sampling the best of Oaxacan cuisine for you to do the same. For clarity and convenience, I am going to divide this Oaxaca food specialities guide  into three categories: a) Markets, b) street food/cafes and c) fine dining. To get a grip of the culinary scene in this city, which by the way is no mean feat, do try to savor a little bit of everything at every venue. So let’s begin this quest for traditional and not so traditional Oaxacan food!

Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide

A) MARKETS TO SAMPLE AMAZING OAXACAN CUISINE

If Oaxaca city represents a behemoth of deliciousness, its several bustling markets are definitely the epicenter of it all and thus the perfect place to sample some local Oaxacan food specialities. Food so cheap and yet so tasty with a mind-boggling variety will leave you gaping and wanting more. You can get lost in the narrow, smoky lanes of these mercados for hours and yet never get tired of sampling the varied fares from the different stalls. A few hundred pesos (equivalent to 5-10 USD) will get you a full round up of Oaxacan cuisine for sure, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. So get out of that hotel of yours as early as possible and head to the nearest local market to savor the true flavors of the city. Mercado 20 de Noviembre, closest to our hotel (Hotel Trebol) tops the list with its rows and rows of tiny stalls with daily fixtures of Oaxacan street food (I will talk more about this later), drinking chocolate (either in water or milk) and pan (bread) for dunking. Like any Oaxacan worth her/his salt, I started my day with a big cup of chocolate de agua, a delicious drinking chocolate (in water) which was churned for that beautiful white froth floating on top. If that and the accompanying pan were not enough, we also got a tlayuda, a popular Oaxacan street food, which is essentially a crispy corn tortilla topped with a variety of toppings, one of which is asiento (pork lard). You can easily request one “sin asiento” (minus the pork). So potent was its charm that we made a second visit, this time to savor the famous Oaxcacan tamales, which unlike the regular ones sold in Mexico, are wrapped in banana leaf and are definitely a cornerstone of Oaxacan cuisine. Everywhere you go, you will find the drinks menu equally impressive as the food, so please don’t pass up on my absolute favorite champurrado (a warm, thick Mexican drink made of chocolate and corn/masa/atole) or a series of corn (atole) based drinks such as Atoles de guayaba (Guava + corn/masa).

Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide mercado
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide

There are several food markets in and around Zona Centro that will entice you with their varied take on Oaxacan cuisine. A visit to La Merced for its Caldo de pollo (chicken soup with rice in a pot), the small organic market El Pochote for atoles, empanadas (unlike Chilean and Argentinian ones, these are more like quesadillas with meat/veggie fillings in a tortilla folded in half) and memelas (thick toasted corn/cakes topped with refried beans and famous Oaxacan string cheese/queso) and the mammoth Central de Abastos market for every object available under the sun, is a must. The bustling La Merced has the famous La Florecita where you can get a good, cheap breakfast while the quiet El Pochote has a hand full of stalls selling several food items, juices and coffee. The central market is a different beast altogether and is located about 0.6 miles west to Zocalo. You will be greeted with rows and rows of mole, spices, all kinds of different Mexican chillies, huge white balls of the famous Oaxacan string cheese and chocolate selling stalls which are staple ingredients for cooking Oaxacan food specialities. We also found stacked piles of yellow chicken feet (chicken in Mexico are fed on a diet of corn which gives them this intense yellow color) which were really popular with the shoppers who seemed to buy a few along with a plastic bag of their favorite mole. An entire section of the market was dedicated to breads (pan) which came in almost all sizes and shapes, but the round ones, used for dunking in your chocolate drinks were the most abundant. It took us some time to figure out where the food stalls were but we finally gravitated to an old, frail woman selling tamales off her cart and got a suspicious looking pumpkin seed filled drink from a man (its amazing the things that my stomach endured on this trip). This followed by a small cookie was the last thing we sampled before bidding the market adieu. Food guide tip: if you want to savor some real Oaxacan cuisine and eat like a local, simply stop by one of these markets. You can spend an entire week at Mercado 20 de Noviembre and still not have your fill of tacos, empanadas, caldo de pollo and tlayudas. The sheer variety of Oaxacan food specialities, the amazing home cooked taste minus all touristy gimmicks and the palpable energy of the hustle and bustle is a feast for all senses.

Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide

B) OAXACA FOOD GUIDE #2: STREET FOOD AND CAFES

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Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide

All the markets and cafes, forming a major chunk of this food guide, were for walking distance for us barring the famous yet equally unassuming Itanoní Tortillería y Antojería, which is touted to be Alice Waters’ favorite tortillería in Oaxaca city and without which, no Oaxacan cuisine journey will be complete. Being from the Bay area, a trek to such a place was therefore a must and therefore we got a cab to drop by for lunch. A small eatery, its most striking feature was a group of women wearing face masks and hair net while cooking devotedly on the comal (the concave clay surfaced griddle) which makes their tortilla world famous. After seeking permission for photography (a sign says you have to), I quickly snapped a few photos and we ordered some drinks (tamarindo and champurrado) plus our favorite memeles with different toppings and their Tetelas (another one of many Oaxacan food specialities), tortillas folded into a triangular patty with a gooey filling of Oaxacan cheese and refried beans. The tortilla is heated on the comal while the fillings are added to change their consistency from solid to semi-solid by applying heat. The meal was simple yet delicious and now that I know why Alice Waters makes a stop there (totally worth it), I highly recommend you do so too! Arrive early for breakfast or lunch because this place fills up quickly!

Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide

C) OAXACAN CUISINE CREATIVITY #3: RESTAURANTS AND FINE DINING

Fine dining in Oaxaca city is in no way a stuffy experience unlike in other major food destinations of the world. You can enter relatively casually dressed for a good meal in a beautiful ambiance and because we had visited offseason, the restaurants were either nearly empty for lunch or had seats for dinner. Oaxaca restaurants are trying to showcase their native Oaxacan cuisine in innovative and extremely creative ways, the result being some extremely memorable meals that we got to savor on our trip. Origen, in a beautiful hacienda style villa, blew our mind with its food while Catedral awed us with its take on Oaxacan food specialities. Casa Oaxaca restaurante, the most well talked dining institution in Oaxaca city was a little bit of a damp squib (I am not too fond of highly meaty dishes with a lot of mole dunked on it and my lamb chops were kind of like that) but we got a table on their terrace with an excellent view of the Santo Domingo at night. However, if I were to recommend only meal in Oaxaca city to all you food lovers out there, it will have to be at my favorite restaurant Pitiona, the star of this Oaxaca food guide, where the Oaxacan cuisine just blew my mind! Go for the chef’s tasting menu (they accommodate vegetarians) and simply get lost in the heavenly delights showcasing elements of Oaxacan ingredients and techniques across the land by the extremely talented chef, Chef Jose Manuel Baños Rodriguez. This is sophisticated Oaxacan cooking taken to a different level of creativity. The dishes are light and portions size is small, due to which a 6 course meal feels good and not heavy on the stomach. Being a dinner venue, I did not want to innundate you with dark photos of food, but rest assured this will be one of your most memorable meals ever.

Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide

Finally, if you are familiar with Mexican libations, you must be wondering as to why I so conveniently left out any Mezcal (distilled alcoholic beverage made form any native agave plant) tasting in Oaxaca city, the Mezcal capital of Mexico. Mezcal, as I found out in Tulum, is not for me. The high alcohol content was very over powering and so I decided to not pursue any more of those in Oaxaca, but did manage to sip some good Mexican wine from Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California. But fear not, cause here is an excellent Mexico Mezcal guide to quench your thirst!  This brings me to the end of the blog post on my Oaxaca food guide on finding the gems of Oaxacan cuisine. Do let me know if you manage to try all or few of these places and any other ones that we missed in this Oaxacan food specialities guide. Read Part 1 of my travel guide to Oaxaca here.

Oaxaca food travel Mexico food guide
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Read this Oaxacan cuisine post for the ultimate Oaxaca, Mexico food guide to Mexico's food capital which has dining options for every budget and palate. Fine dining, cafes, markets, moles, chocolates, cheese and so much more to discover with yummy photos. Oaxaca food guide| Oaxaca street food| Mexico travel guide| Mexico vacation| Foodie guide| #oaxaca #mexico #foodieguide

Read this Oaxacan cuisine post for the ultimate Oaxaca, Mexico food guide to Mexico's food capital which has dining options for every budget and palate. Fine dining, cafes, markets, moles, chocolates, cheese and so much more to discover with yummy photos. Oaxaca food guide| Oaxaca street food| Mexico travel guide| Mexico vacation| Foodie guide| #oaxaca #mexico #foodieguide

Read this Oaxacan cuisine post for the ultimate Oaxaca, Mexico food guide to Mexico's food capital which has dining options for every budget and palate. Fine dining, cafes, markets, moles, chocolates, cheese and so much more to discover with yummy photos. Oaxaca food guide| Oaxaca street food| Mexico travel guide| Mexico vacation| Foodie guide| #oaxaca #mexico #foodieguide

 

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39 comments

Abby July 15, 2017 at 6:40 am

The chicken feet remind me of my granny’s homebred chicken from once in the day. Sad that Casa Oaxaca restaurante didn’t turn out the way you expected, but your description of the cheesy Tetelas at the Itanoní Tortillería y Antojería make me hungry.

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Eniko July 15, 2017 at 7:00 am

Mmm all this food makes me hungry! 🙂 Now I fancy a trip to Mexico!

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Meg | MeanderWithMeg July 15, 2017 at 7:31 am

I’m a fan of anywhere that I can start the day with chocolate! Love the photos in this post – everything looks beautifully fresh and vibrant. Made me feel hungry reading it!

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Cherene Saradar July 15, 2017 at 7:36 am

OMG you had me at Mexican food capital. Your pics are drool worthy as well as the descriptions. I really want to try one of those churrados! Yum! I am definitely going to make it hear one of these days.

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Eva July 15, 2017 at 7:36 am

I was drooling reading every line. What a feast! This is the type of tourism I love, and I have enjoyed this post immenesly. Thank you for taking us on this culinary journey!

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Toni July 15, 2017 at 9:34 am

I am yet to make it to Mexico. But wow these photos are amazing and make all the food look delicious! I am not sure i could eat chicken feet though…i’ll stick to the meat haha.

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Valerie - Trusted Travel Girl July 15, 2017 at 1:52 pm

I had been wanting to visit Oaxaca for a while but now I definitely need to go! Amazing photos

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Jade July 15, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Everything looks so delicious… except for the chicken feet! I love all the colours in your pictures.

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Mel | The Wandering Darlings July 15, 2017 at 4:44 pm

You’ve made me so hungry reading this. The food sounds beyond amazing and your pictures are top class! Such a great informative post.

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Brenda July 15, 2017 at 5:21 pm

All the food looks delicious! Mexico is really high on my bucket list!
I must admit I almost screamed when I saw we have the same dress! that blue jean colored one which is sooo pretty!

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Alaine July 15, 2017 at 5:35 pm

OMG! I’m salivating… I love chocolate and mezcal and mole… Those pics especially from Pitiona! I’m such a sucker for really fine cuisine especially one where I’m transported and have foodgasms. But the pics from the cafes look so good too!

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Katherine July 15, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Wow! This is such an awesome post! So many things that I’ve never tried or heard of that I really need to try. And by the way, I love the layout of this post soooo much!

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Karlie July 15, 2017 at 7:52 pm

OMG my mouth is watering! Excellent post. I’ve been to Mexico City and Puebla and was in food heaven. I’ll be bookmarking this fur a future trip.

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Taylor Johnson July 15, 2017 at 8:47 pm

The chicken feet surprised me a little haha. Thanks for sharing.

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Ruth | Tanama Tales July 15, 2017 at 9:29 pm

Love, love your post! I have been to Oaxaca and, in my opinion, it is one of the most underrated foodie paradises. Not sure why not more people go there. I only went to the Mercado 20 de Noviembre (every day of my stay). Next time, I am going to hit the other markets. Thanks for making me go back to a city I love. #blogpostsaturday

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Sally July 15, 2017 at 10:21 pm

Everything looks & sounds so delicious. I’d love to try the tamales cooked in the banana leaves! I prefer the market stalls too- but raising chickens, would pass on those chicken feet (I know where they’ve been!) Great post!

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Marissa July 16, 2017 at 1:25 am

Oh man! Oaxaca is so on my list to visit! Huge fan of smaller markets as long as I can tell what I’m eating

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Alyse July 16, 2017 at 1:48 am

Mexico has such a variation of foodie options! Not too sure about the chicken feet personally but your photos are making me hungry! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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Felicia Broccolo July 16, 2017 at 8:37 am

wow your photos are incredible!! Now I’m hungry!! You captured such an authentic Mexican style in this post and I’m itching to go now! Thanks for sharing!

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Leigh July 16, 2017 at 1:37 pm

One of my favorite spots in Mexico city was a Oaxacan restaurant, so naturally I’m itching to get to Oaxaca and see for myself! Hoping to make it there in the next year!

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Deni July 16, 2017 at 2:57 pm

I haven’t been to Oxaca yet, but I’ve definitely heard about its foodie scene! One thing I’m most happy about is that most Mexican food is already naturally gluten-free! Let the feast begin!

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Laura Sellwood July 16, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Only a little bit mouthwatering! I think all I would do is eat too! I’ve had chicken feet in Vietnam and they were actually pretty good. Love the idea of chocolate for breakfast haha

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Emily July 16, 2017 at 4:21 pm

When I think back to my short time in Oaxaca, all I really remember is the food markets. I love love loved the champurrado – and brought so much chocolate back to try and make it at home – it never tasted as good. Loved this reminder of my time there, and a nudge to go back once again!

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Carmen // itsCarmen.com July 16, 2017 at 6:03 pm

There is so much to do there! I really needed trip to Oaxaca immediately. I bet the street food is amazing. :]

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Michelle July 17, 2017 at 3:30 am

Yum, those food markets sound amazing!! I love casual dining experiences, and this food all sounds so good! I could walk through food vendors while sipping on some drinking chocolate for hours. 🙂

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Sapna July 17, 2017 at 5:51 am

Such a yummy-Licious post. I loved the food pics and experience. I liked the fact that you segregated street food and fine dining.

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Mina July 17, 2017 at 10:22 am

This post made me reaaally hungry! Everything looks so delicious… Thanks for sharing it

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Sophie Nadeau July 17, 2017 at 10:37 am

One of my absolute favourite things to do in a new place is to check out the local markets and it looks like Oaxaca has plenty of amazing food eating/ seeing opportunities! The coffee looks amazing too 🙂

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Lindsey July 17, 2017 at 10:41 am

I must say my mouth is watering from reading this post. I am from the Bay Area as well and am currently living in Italy where it is next to impossible to find a good taco! I miss the Hispanic cuisine so much that I never realized how much until it was pretty much completely unavailable. Itanoní Tortillería y Antojería definitely sounds like a must and if I ever make back to North America I will have to make a special trip just for that tortilla filled with Oaxacan cheese!

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Susanna July 17, 2017 at 10:52 am

It’s lunch time for me and now I am starving! This food looks so amazing and I can’t believe how cheap it is. I like the idea of fine dining without the fuss. I come to these places to eat good food, not spend hours doing my hair and makeup. The tortillas all look so fantastic. Great guide and I hope I eat my way through here asap.

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Zarina July 17, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Ohhh I LOVE this! I just had my lunch but now I’m hungry again – great photos too, I especially like the one where you took a photo of taking a photo!

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Lola Mendez July 17, 2017 at 3:35 pm

I want to eat everything here! Except the chicken feet!

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Eulanda Shead July 17, 2017 at 3:46 pm

I’m going to Mexico City in October, so this guide is perfect! You cover such a fantastic range of options! I’ll definitely let you know what I try!

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Janie July 17, 2017 at 7:51 pm

This is making me so hungry! You should have a warning “do not read right before dinner!” I love Mexican food, but this looks like top notch. I have updated my Mexico musts to include Oaxaca now. Love it, thanks for sharing!

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Lisa - The Wandering Lens July 18, 2017 at 9:21 am

Yum, yum and more yum! Except the chicken feet but the rest looks so good!

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Erin July 18, 2017 at 8:07 pm

Everything you photographed looks so good! I would love to visit Oaxaca someday. This only makes me want to go even more. Thanks for the info!

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RunawayBrit July 21, 2017 at 7:53 am

You had me at “rivers of chocolate”, but then you wrote about hot chocolate that you dip bread in ! Oh, my! I have never been to Mexico, and we only really get Tex-Mex restaurants in Europe, so it’s great to see what authentic Mexican food looks like. Mexico is high on my list of places I need to visit! Great post.

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Jessica September 4, 2017 at 3:53 am

Been wanting to go to Oaxaca for years! This motivates me even more. Beautiful pictures! Can’t wait to see the markets and indulge.

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ParoChak September 4, 2017 at 4:44 am

Thanks for stopping by Jessica, you have to visit Oaxaca. Its a foodie’s paradise

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