Tucked into a corner and across the street from La Biznaga on Garcia Virgil is a sweet little cafe-style restaurant called Zandunga. You might walk past it and not think much of it. The small square tables are covered with brightly covered bandana-design cloth like many family-owned comedors in the region. The seats are either benches or simple chairs, and it is far from the elegance that would draw in a typically sophisticated crowd looking for high-end gourmet. But looks deceive. Zanduga is operated by Aurora (whose last name whizzed by me in the flurry of introductions) who is from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where the women are strong, creative, and energetic. (Great role models, for sure!) The food that she and her family prepares is exceptional. The black mole and chicken tamale is a delicate custard with plenty of meat and sauce wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. The banana leaf wrapping is typical of southern Oaxaca coastal cuisine, a juxtaposition of traditional tamales as we know it wrapped in corn husks. I wish I had taken a photo. I was too busy eating!
We also ordered for sharing (para compartir) a plate of traditional Oaxacan foods from the Isthmus that included an array of delectables: plantains, queso fresco, empanadas, a wonderful ceviche of shrimp and fresh tomatoes, carne de res, and a sweet-savory cabbage slaw. The price of this dish was 270 pesos and easily shared as an appetizer by four people. Linda has a shrimp bisque — and all I heard was ummmm, ummmm, ummmm between slurps. The average cost of an entree is 110 pesos and you can get by for far less. A great array of Mexican beer is available, and Aurora has a supply of finely crafted smooth mescal from some of the finest local producers.
Aurora also sews for the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and makes extraordinary huipiles that she also sells at her shop of the same name on Abasolo.
Don’t miss this spot. It’s a hidden gem.