Our blog post today is written Eva M. Olson, a writer and former arts administrator based in Austin, Texas. I invited Eva to share her Oaxaca “foodie” experiences after she and a friend made a recent whirlwind eating trip. Eva first visited Oaxaca with her family when she was 13, and says she has been fortunate to return to her “casa de alma“ many times since then. Here’s her take on several of Oaxaca’s best restaurants.
Oaxaca Comida–Buen Provecho! by Eva M. Olson
Returning to Oaxaca always feels like coming home. The air, the people, and the active zocalo are soothing and familiar. My last visit was in November 2007, when Oaxaca was still reeling from the teachers’ strike and its aftermath. Now, almost six years later, the city’s energy feels whole again. Since dining well is central to any journey, and especially here, my best companion and fellow foodie B. and I decided to try a few new restaurants as well as some of my old haunts. We stayed at Hotel Casa Oaxaca, a centrally located spot from which to launch our dining expeditions.
Our first night, we wandered into one of my favorite spots, Casa Oaxaca Restaurant where chef Alejandro Ruiz has developed a succulent tribute to the distinctive cuisine of the region. And it turned out to be the best meal of our visit. Every detail was covered – the presentation and the service were perfection – and our food was luscious.
B. had the silky blue bean soup and I had a gorgeous salad of fresh tomatoes, queso fresco, and watermelon (above). Our entrees were simple grilled seafood – shrimp for B. and for me a whole octopus (breathtaking and perfectly prepared). For dessert, a trio of sorbets – limon, coco, y leche quemada –lime, coconut and burnt milk (below).
(Sadly, the wine here – as well as everywhere we ate – was disappointing. The list of wines by the glass was thin and the choices expensive. I realize that Oaxaca’s beverage of choice is mezcal, but it overpowers food, and I really enjoy a glass of wine with a meal.) But, did I mention the attentive, relaxed, and thoughtful service? The bill for this extraordinary meal was just over $100 USD (plus about a 15 percent tip).
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We had Saturday night reservations at Origen – friends had recommended it highly, and we were looking forward to discovering a new restaurant star. It was underwhelming and ordinary on all counts – definitely not the outstanding meal we’d been anticipating.
Our salads were adequate – mine with grapefruit and smoked trout (though not much of it) and B.’s mixed greens with an abundance of purslane (definitely an acquired taste). My sea bass with rice was unmemorable; B.’s ribeye with marrow was well prepared, and the marrow rub was excellent (arguably the best part of the meal). Our merengue dessert was delayed for almost 30 minutes – and the mushy white paste that arrived was inedible. We were the only people there, until a couple showed up at the end of our meal. The bill here was $110 USD plus tip.
The following day we walked a lot, and on an early afternoon jaunt stumbled across Carbon de Palo, a brand-new restaurant on 5 de Mayo. Billed by our waiter as Continental fusion, with a Colombian chef, it was a lovely surprise. Our lunch starters were excellent – a grouper ceviche with lime foam and an incredibly fresh caprese salad (above). B. chose squid ink pasta topped with a giant scallop, and pronounced it the best he’s ever had. My entrée was a beautiful – the only word that fits – avocado, skinned and presented whole, stuffed with crab. I had a glass of Penedes and B. had a Victoria. We vowed to come back for dinner as soon as possible.
One night we had dinner at our hotel – not surprisingly, it was a beautiful meal with exquisite service provided by Daniel. To start, ceviche tacos and a beet salad, sea bass with green mole and shrimps in mole as entrees. We all but inhaled the dessert – a delicate camote y piña flauta.
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We returned to Casa Oaxaca Restaurant for our last supper, and admittedly overdid it. We started with a cheese platter – a wide assortment of local cheeses, all delicious and rich. B. had the pulpo – and was awarded an extra-large serving of rice loaded with huitlacoche after letting our server Omar know how much he craves this tasty corn fungus. For me, Omar recommended the grouper served with chicatana salsa –a delicacy, and a very distinctive taste.
I can’t forget to mention the incredible breakfasts at Casa Oaxaca Hotel. Included in the cost of the room, and served in the sunny courtyard, each meal was outstanding. Freshly squeezed juices of our choice (usually apple for B., papaya and orange for me), a variety of eggs, a fresh fruit plate with granola and yogurt, enchiladas, quesadillas, chilaquiles, freshly baked breads, homemade jam, as well as cappuccino and espresso, and hot chocolate made to order.
We’re already thinking about restaurants for the next trip – we’ll definitely return to Carbon de Palo and Casa Oaxaca. We made reservations at Pitiona but never got there – that has to go on the list. Also missed Los Danzantes. Oaxaca is calling, and we’ll be back.
Norma’s Note: There are wonderful restaurants and outdoor cafes all over Oaxaca with varying price ranges, from comida corrida (food of the common person) to gourmet extravaganza. Eva’s review here give us her “top shelf” dining experience!
If you would like to contribute a blog post about your Oaxaca experiences, please contact Norma.