Juan de Dios Garza Vela
Where to find crisp memelas, magnificent moles, and smoky grilled meats in the Oaxacan capital
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by Omar Alonso Updated Feb 15, 2022, 9:01am EST
Juan de Dios Garza Vela
Just a 45-minute flight from Mexico City, the quaint, historic metropolis of Oaxaca has long been a popular landing pad for expats and bohemians attracted to its colonial-era streets, Baroque churches, and charming plazas. Lately, though, Oaxaca has gotten lots of buzz, drawing all types of international travelers to its tantalizing mix of colors, textures, sounds, and traditions, and the mingling aromas of mezcal, chocolate, and spices. La Verde Antequera, or the “green antique,” as Oaxaca is called — a reference to the green cantera stone on which the city is built, and the city’s former Spanish name, Nueva Antequera — has also become Mexico’s undisputed culinary capital, and a visit here quickly reveals why. In Oaxaca, your senses are spoiled from your first morning sip of local coffee or chocolate de agua to your last bite of mole or nightcap of mezcal.
Today, ambitious modern restaurants exist side by side with traditional mom-and-pop eateries and humming street food vendors. Here, then, is Eater’s list of the most essential restaurants, dishes, and culinary experiences in Oaxaca City, from fine dining restaurants to sidewalk snacks and everything in between.
Price per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than 200 pesos (less than USD $10)
$$ = 200 – 380 pesos (USD $10 to $18)
$$$ = 380 – 570 pesos (USD $18 to $28)
$$$$ = More than 570 pesos (more than USD $28)
Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.
Omar Alonso is a culinary tour guide, television fixer, and food writer based in Oaxaca.
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
Benito Juárez, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
If you happen to come across a woman mixing a foamy beverage by hand in a huge clay pot, you have found Oaxaca’s best-loved drink: tejate. Made from dried mamey seeds (a tropical fruit best described as a cross between avocado and melon), the refreshing drink has a rich, one-of-a-kind flavor with a slightly sweet finish. Pinpointing the city’s best tejate is almost impossible — recipes are passed down from generation to generation, and each tejate maker (almost exclusively women) has her own personal touch. You can find stellar versions at just about any local market, and one of the best is run by Lucrecia Ruíz. Working out of the Benito Juarez market, she offers a special version of tejate prepared with cocoa. [$]
A tejate maker.