Tag Archives: Oaxaca restaurants

Oaxaca Restaurant Review: Zandunga

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.

Oaxaca Restaurant: Los Pacos Known for Moles (MOH-lays)

Mole is a Oaxacan treasure, a rich sauce flavored with chili that tops beef, chicken, pork, vegetables, tamales, and tortilla dishes.  The most popular (and well known) are mole negro and mole coloradito, but it comes in seven varieties.  We stumbled upon Los Pacos on our last night in Oaxaca after circling and searching Independencia west of town looking for Mi Casa (near Aparicio–recommended by a friend), which we never located.  It was 9:30 p.m. and we needed to be at the bus station by 12:00 midnight and our stomachs were rumbling.  Eric said he heard of Los Pacos but had never been there.  We walked several blocks east of Macedonia Alcala to discover it was right around the corner from the Camino Real Hotel at Abosolo #121, Centro Historico, Tel. 516-17-04.

Have you been here before? we were asked by the proprietress Lucy Rodriguez Galguera.  No, we answered in unison.  We are known for our moles, she said.  Let me bring you a sampler.  She came back to our white clothed table with small dishes and a plate of fresh corn tortillas for dipping.  The mole estofado was the hands-down favorite for all of of us, with the mole negro coming in for a close second.  The mole negro was rich, spicy, deep, dark chocolatey and smooth.  You could just imagine the secret recipe being prepared by someone in the kitchen who knew exactly how to blend the chilis, nuts, cinnamon and chocolate. In addition, the sampler included amarillo (spicy yellow), coloradito (chocolate and tomatoes), verde (green chilis mixed with small white beans), chichilo, and estofado moles.  The estofado was sweet, smokey and had a hint of raisins or berries.  It was spectacular.  Because I couldn’t decide, I customized my order by asking for three chicken enchiladas, each topped with a different mole:  negro, verde and estofado.  Our waiter happily complied even though my request was not on the menu!

Dinner for the four of us was under $60 USD and included beer, wine, and an appetizer.  As we ate, we looked out through the tall, arched, windows, onto the avenue bathed in lamplight at the ancient stone walls of the ex-convent across the street.  Behind us on the far end of the dining room were blown glass lamps illuminating the carved wooden bar.  Everyone in the room glowed with warmth and happiness.  The harmony of food, friendship and the city we love, made this a perfect spot with which to end this part of our journey.

This restaurant was written up in the NY Times and Conde Nast Traveler at least 4-5 years ago.  I would venture to say it is every bit as good today as it was then.

Restaurants Along the Way

We have taken meals at these eateries and can recommend them.

  • San Martin Tilcajete: “Azucena” on the road to Ocotlan
  • Mazunte: “El Pelicano” and “Un Secreto”
  • Crucecita: “El Sabor de Oaxaca”
  • San Augustin Etla: “Comedor Alheli” (260 pesos for 5 people, plus standard 10% tip, which included roasted chicken, fresh tortillas, rice, sopa de elote, beer or agua fresca)
  • Oaxaca: “Temple,” “La Biznaga,” “Maria Buena,” “Casa Oaxaca,” “Marco Polo”
  • Teotitlan del Valle: “The Sacred Bean” coffee shop, “El Descanso Restaurant”, “Samburguesa,” and “Las Granadas” Bed & Breakfast will also prepare comida with an advanced reservation
I also want to recommend that you check out this Blog for a great commentary on eating in Oaxaca by a very savvy 30-year old New Yorker who lived there for four months: oneforkonespoon.blogspot.com

La Noche de los Rabanos

The Zocalo is filled with light, people from throughout Mexico and around the world, balloons, itinerant vendors, strolling musicians. The atmosphere is festive, celebratory, one of relief, for this is a different year than last and people are thankful. Tourists are returning, the Zocalo is alive, a 30 foot Christmas tree is studded with white lights, there are noche buena (poinsettias) everywhere, and ringing the Zocalo is the display that attracts crowds who stand in line for 5 and 6 blocks ringing the area to see ancient tradition of carving radishes. They are sliced, shredded, carved in stars and circles as if a chef were preparing a totally radish dinner.

La Noche de Los RabanosLa Noche de Los Rabanos, Oaxaca

They are stuck together with toothpicks and wire to create nativity scenes, farmers plowing fields atop oxen driven carts or mechanical plows, dancers at the Guelaguetza, musicians plucking guitars and blowing horns and beating drums. The radish carvers, mostly from the campo (the country) near Ocotlan, stand sentry making sure that no one disturbs their creations, frequently spraying water from pump bottles to keep wilting leaves and red radish skin fresh and shiny. The winner of the best carved scene will win $10,000 USD, a princely sum. We are sitting up above the crowd on the second floor in the white table clothed El Asador Vasco, twelve of us, Zapotecs and gringos, when the winner is announced. An immediate shower of white firecrackers cascade like a waterfall from the top floor of the government building to herald our attention that there is a winner; it is a solid wall of twinkling light that goes on for about 5 full minutes, or so it seems. Everyone runs to the edge of the wrought iron railing to take photos, to ooh and ahhh, and to experience the glorious celebration. Then, near the Castillo (which is what everyone calls the Cathedral) another round of firecrackers goes off into the sky. It is about 10:30 p.m. and there is still a long cue waiting to circle the display of radishes that surround the Zocolo. The line won’t diminish until about 2 or 3 a.m. My sister says she was there at 11 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. when the crowds were few, there was no wait, and she could see the people doing the carving and setting up. By 7 p.m. the line began the snake and the wait was at least 2-3 hours. One trick is go into the Zocalo from behind the display to avoid the wait, which is what I did. I didn’t get to see the full view, but could get a good sense of the carvings and some of the detail. Along one end of the U-shaped promenade is where people fashion corn husks into flowers, dioramas of the nativity, and a multitude of fanciful decorations that one can buy to take home. It’s much easier to see and buy from the “back” than from the promenade side of the display.La Noche de Los Rabanos, Oaxaca

The food and ambience at El Asador Vasco, which is above El Jardin, is great and reasonably price. We had a seafood soup from the Isthmus, house wine, entrees, dessert and beverages for 12 people and the total bill including tip was a tad over $200 USD. The meal was leisurely over almost three hours, and we were entertained by a group of strolling Mexican minstrels with guitaron, mandolin, twelve-string guitar, six-string guitar, tamborine, and pandero (a percussion instrument). Their voices were clear, strong and beautiful. The group leader knew Federico from when Fede was on the school committee in Teotitlan and the leader taught school there.It was after midnight when we got back to the pueblo and we didn’t wake up until 10 a.m. on December 24. Tonight, we are celebrating with a big dinner for 12 at home hosted by Dolores and Federico. The table is decorated with succulents from Benito Juarez that we got at the village market this morning, corn husk flowers that I bought at La Noche de los Rabanos last night, and small votives. Our meal will include green corn sweet tamales fresh made in the village, a potato salad mixed with pineapple chunks, onions, green and red peppers and mushrooms, ponche (punch made with guava, raisins, manzanitas–little apples, sugar cane, canela-cinnamon, panela–sweet Oaxaca chocolate, and pastel de chocolate with mocha, champagne y vino y cerveza Noche Buena and Modelo Negro y Claro. The guests are arriving.