Tag Archives: restaurants

Belated Happy New Year From Oaxaca + Eating

Welcome 2024. On New Year’s Eve, I traveled from Albuquerque to Oaxaca, arriving just in time for a birthday dinner at Quince Letras with my friend Carol. We sat on the rooftop terrace and enjoyed a delicious tomato salad and tlayuda with chapulines (yes, grasshoppers).

Left to right: Santi the Snowman, sculpture in front of Santo Domingo Church, tomato salad at Quince Letras.

Then, the celebration continued on New Year’s Day with brunch at Criollo with Kay and Dean. The ambiance is terrific and the brunch is way more economical than the dinner. It is served on Saturdays and Sundays only. We sat alfresco in a gravel paved open patio sheltered by mature trees. I like the food here and it is very relaxing. Reservations required.

Left to right: potato enchiladas with mole coloradito, roast pork sandwich, French toast at Criollo

This was followed by a late afternoon dinner at Casa Taviche with Eric, Elsa and Santiago. The limited New Year menu was filled with hearty entrees — a roast pork with adobo sauce, baked fish with cream sauce, and a filet mignon. I recommend the pork, tender and flavorful. Pork roast adobo shown at right.

Life is good. I’ve managed to gain more pounds. Not good.

Back up: Jacob and Shelley took me out to pre-birthday dinner on December 30 at High Noon Restaurant and Saloon at Old Town Albququerque before flying the next day. I highly recommend this restaurant. Locals love it here. Truly the start of a spectacular welcome to 2024. Photos of High Noon Saloon below. Margs are terrific.

It’s good to be back. I’m now settled into my casita in Teotitlan del Valle. We have tours starting in a week, first to the Oaxaca Coast, then on to Michoacan, Chiapas (we still have a couple of spaces open), and finally to the Mixteca Alta.

It’s a balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit here in Oaxaca. Such a difference from the high of 21 in Taos yesterday. While I love it there, I’m happy to be where my bones are warm.

Wishing you all a very healthy, content, and satisfying New Year.

Live long and prosper! –Leonard Nimoy, The Vulcan Salute

Traditional Cooks: Eating in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca

We know the Sunday market (tianguis) in Tlacolula is amazing. When you visit Oaxaca, this is a don’t miss it moment! (Order a map from us to find your way around.) And, if you want the real deal in Oaxaca food, you want to try out one of the off-the-beaten-path traditional cocina de humo comedors operated by one of Oaxaca’s traditional cooks in this market town. A cocina de humo is a complex sensory experience with humble roots in outdoor, wood-fired, comal-based cooking. You don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate what comes off a cal coated clay comal, the essential cooking platter of every traditional Mexican home. This large, round griddle platter can be as big as sixteen or eighteen inches in diameter. It sits atop a fogon made from adobe that is usually thirty-six inches high and fueled with wood. Comales are made wherever clay is found and in Oaxaca they come from San Marcos Tlapazola and in Santa Maria Atzompa.

Cocineras Tradicionales are what they are called. These are women who were born and raised in the culture of home cooking and organic corn, learning from mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They buy or grow their own organic produce, take the corn their families cultivate to the local mill (molina), and make their own masa using a traditional metate or grinding stone. The corn here is real food, grainy, nutty, crunchy to the taste, filled with flavor and energy. Their salsas are all scratch made in the molcajete. Their menus change based on seasonal ingredients.

Their restaurants are simple outdoor kitchens or ones tucked into the corner of their small establishments that might seat ten or fifteen people comfortably. If you know anything about fine French cuisine, you know that the Great Chefs of France — Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Georges Blanc — all started in Lyon, learning from mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, too. The similarities are strong. And, it’s about time that the great traditional cooks of Oaxaca villages are coming into their own.

Here are our recommendations for delicious, real Oaxaca village food in order of our preferences:

Mo-Kalli. Cocinera Tradicional Catalina Chavez Lopez opened a small comedor three years ago in the Tres Piedras neighborhood of Tlacolula up a dirt road on the east side of MEX 190. I went there four times in the month that I discovered it. I took my Zapotec family there and they raved about the moles. The meal is about 250-300 pesos per person and includes an appetizer, entree, dessert and fruit water. Beer and mezcal are an additional cost.

What I love about Mo-Kalli is the selection of moles. Catalina has at least seven ollas (cooking pots) bubbling away on top of her traditional cooktop, filled with (usually all of) Oaxaca’s famous moles: negro, rojo, coloradito, segueza (cracked corn kernels), verde or pipian (green), amarillo (yellow), chichilo (a somewhat bitter taste, served at funerals), and manchemanteles (tablecloth stainer, sweet with raisins and nuts). There is no menu. She brings a sampler of moles to the table that you taste with a crispy tortilla piece. Then, you decide which you want. Catalina recommends which meat (chicken, beef, pork) will go best with each sauce.

I’ve had the mole negro, the segueza and the amarillo, and coloradito. All are superb. The hospitality is out of this world. All the meats are succulent and easy to chew. If you get there, please tell her I sent you!

Nana Vira. Evangelina Aquino Luis, Cocinera Tradicional, does her cooking magic about six blocks south of the Tlacolula Market and is open Tuesday through Sunday. There is an upstairs dining terrace, and a couple of tables and benches on the ground floor next to the outdoor kitchen. We ate there after spending a couple of hours meandering the Tlacolula Market. Parking can be challenging (we do have a car), so the easiest way to get there is to hail at moto-taxi (tuk-tuk) at the corner where the Banamex is located. Eva will call you a moto to get you back to Centro. I had barbecue ribs slathered in a milder mole rojo. The fare here is a bit simpler and the prices are a la carte (no comida corrida). They make and bottle their own mezcal brand, too.

Criollito. Liliana Palma Santos was born and raised in Santa Monica, California, and returned to her family’s native Tlacolula de Matamoros about ten years ago. She and her husband opened this comedor to replicate family recipes passed through generations. They are known for their rainbow (arco iris) tortillas that incorporate three or more types of native corn, including yellow, blue, and red. Only open on Saturday and Sunday, this outdoor kitchen has three tables and can seat about twelve people at a time. I made a reservation, but it wasn’t really needed on the day we went. While Criollito is not technically considered an official Cocina Tradicional, it has all the elements to be included in this category. The three of us were feeling green vegetable deprived, so in additional to ordering tlayuda and mole negro, we started off with a comal stir-fry of broccoli, squash, and nopal cactus paddles! Price was about the same as Mo-Kalli, however did not include an appetizer or dessert.

Many of us love to eat at the market on Sunday and my favorite spot is either Comedor Mary on Avenida Galeana (side street of the church) or to belly up to one of the barbacoa tables inside the market where you can get a goat taco or consume. However, I encourage you to stretch your discovery wings and go find one of these comedors. Start with Mo-Kalli!

What does it mean to be designated a Cocina Tradicional? A Cocina Tradicional, or traditional kitchen, is a Oaxaca government designation from the Secretary of Oaxaca Culture and Art [Secretaría de las Culturas y Artes de Oaxaca (Seculta)], to honor the cocineras who are keeping the ancestral food traditions alive. Most come from pueblos, the villages, located some distances from the city where regional foods and local cooking styles are ingrained in indigenous culture.

In Teotitlan del Valle, the Cocinera Tradicional is Carina Santiago who runs Tierra Antigua Restaurant. It is through her and caterer friend Kalisa Wells, that I learned about the two cocineras in Tlacolula, because they are all invited to participate in foodie events throughout Mexico and the USA to represent Oaxaca at official culinary programs.

Eating in Oaxaca: A Culinary Paradise

Norma’s Note: Rico. Delicioso. Sabroso. I again invited Carol Lynne Estes to contribute a blog post about her experiences living in Oaxaca. Carol isn’t a visitor; she is a resident who knows the ins and outs of eating — from humble comedors to the finest upscale restaurants. Her impressions and recommendations are here for you to savor and enjoy.

Carol’s Restaurant Recommendations

Of the many joys of Oaxaca, food tops most lists. The variety and freshness of vegetables and fruits plus excellent quality meats make this a culinary paradise.  Combine that with the creativity and imagination of Oaxacan cooks, and there’s a treat around every corner. The documentaries running on the TV leave most viewers ready to hop on a southbound plane, and rightly so.  The joy of it all are the many “levels” of dining, from street food and carts with seats welded on the front, to roof top dining in five star, famous restaurants… and all in between.

After seven years, I am not a tourist, and so I approach my meals as though I’ll be here a while with no need for a blow out meal three times a day. My apartment has a beautiful kitchen, and so unless I’m dining with friends, I generally eat at home.  Rarely will I eat on the street carts unless it’s a fresh peeled grapefruit that I cannot resist or tamales. Any time my friend Gail arrives to meet me,  she’s munching on some treat she’s bought along the way from hamburgers to potato chips. She’s the expert on what to buy where from a cart. Many Oaxacans do not have kitchens and eat all their meals at these street stands. Food is plentiful and reasonable.

A great pleasure are the “squat and gobble” spots. Often on our way to the gym of an early morning, my husband I would stop by our favorite tamale lady off Garcia Vigil to enjoy a tamale stuffed into a fresh bolillo roll and a cup of atole. Total cost, $2 each. Occasionally as a weekend treat, we wandered to the Zocalo around 9pm when the trailers set up along the streets outside the large mercados. The Compadres are two groups of young men with stands next to one another.  They start the evening with two roasted pigs’ heads, and when the evening is over, they’re all gone, including the oink. They are poetry in motion, and we all have a great time. We love taquitos or pozole there. Delicious beyond your dreams and about $4 for both of us. At both these places, we  were the only white faces and welcomed generously.

Also in abundance are tiny restaurants for three or four-course lunches (comida corrida) served around late afternoon. A menu at the front door lists what’s on offer for the day, usually fresh produce that was available that morning at the market. Always offered will be a soup or salad, an entrée, and a dessert plus an agua fresca (fresh fruit drink). These meals range from $70-90 pesos, less than $5. Some of the best soups of my life have been these simple broths prepared well.

Coffee shops and bistros… Gourmand, Nuevo Mundo, Boulenc, Brújula, and my new favorite where my Australian nephew works, Onnno Loncheria.  There are amazing bakeries in all of these, plus wonderful Oaxacan coffee. Each is a very nice place for a simple, healthy, delicious meal.  Locally-owned Oaxacan coffee shops are on every block where most roast their own beans, often from family owned coffee plantations.

Next up are what I call the mid-level restaurants that garner $$ on Google. Most are excellent.  One of my favorites, and for many expats here, is El Quinque, now located on the west side of town and two blocks from our previous apartment on the way to Mercado Abastos.  David and I had our first date at their original restaurant near Cruz de Piedra. Many of us get the hamburger “itch” satisfied there. They also offer wonderful seafood dishes (especially on Friday), and I’ve never been disappointed in their salads. I was there last week, and the shrimp and rice was generous and delicious. El Olivo is next to my apartment on Calle Constitucion and has delicious charcuterie and extensive wine selection, and a rooftop with music that I enjoy from my courtyard. Chepiche in Barrio Xochomilco is another breakfast treat, my favorite meal out.

Close by is El Tendajon with creative, delicious huevos rancheros, but then the taquitos de cerdo are as tasty as they are beautiful. La Levadura serves “criollo” (original/indigenous) food, especially tomatoes, that amaze.  The tomato salad boasts nine varieties of tomato in every size and color. It is served on a 10” plate with a bed of beet purée. Here words fail. Yesterday one of my tiny lady friends ate TWO of these. My tamale came to me on a bed of smoldering corn husks… oh my! Almost always I have enough food to carry home for mañana.

Finally further on down the Alcala is Los Danzantes, a place I love. It is located in a classic interior courtyard between Allende and M. Bravo. Enter next to Oro de Monte Alban. The ambiance is special. One can dine under the stars next to a beautiful waterfall fountain. When I went there recently, I enjoyed a thunderstorm that accompanied a ribeye steak with a chocolate “gravy” that I remember still and cannot describe. Another place with lots of stars and wonderful, gracious service, is La Catedral, one block from the Cathedral. Breakfast there is a special treat, and the place is “old world” beautiful. Many professionals here have what seem to be business meals here. Ambience is great and the food never disappoints. 

This past year has been a challenge world over, and Oaxaca had covid pains as well.  But as this place is no stranger to tough times, they responded with grit and creativity.  Most all places hustle deliveries to whoever calls. Food arrives fresh and packaged carefully. Most restaurants are still here. In fact, La Biznaga, a favorite of many expats, moved to a larger place with a nice patio, and La Zandunga (creative Isthmus fare) next door expanded into their old space.  Both seem to be thriving. La Biznaga is famous for their margaritas, and never let anyone convince you that two is a good idea.

As I write this piece, Oaxaca still reels from the pandemic, but gradually life is returning. Restaurants have opened carefully with well-spaced seating, and the vast majority of people wear “cobrebocas.” Most stores and restaurants take temperatures and hand out squirts of sanitizer before anyone enters. Poco a poco….

Other foodie recommendations from my goddaughter Janet Chavez Santiago who is visiting me in Taos and lives in Oaxaca. She’s a local who travels the Cheap Eats circuit:

  • Dururu for Korean food. Best for carry-out since they are tiny, tiny with only two tables. Corner Manuel Doblado and Colon.
  • La Popular has great tacos de cochinita pibil and sopa de guias.
  • Gourmande for Oaxaca-brewed draft IPA. Their brewery is in San Sebastian Tutla.
  • Tacos Don Juanito. Try the tacos el vapor!
  • Arugula on Calle Miguel Hidalgo offers all organic and vegetarian choices for Comida Corrida (the 4-course, fixed priced lunch Carol mentions above).

Want your own culinary adventure? Sign up to take a tasting tour with Oaxaca Eats.

See the Facebook page, Taste of Oaxaca, for dining recommendations from locals and visitors.

Stopover Puebla: Taking a Break Between Mexico City and Oaxaca

Puebla, Mexico, has so much to offer that a two to four-day stopover going to or from Oaxaca to Mexico City is usually in my travel plans. I like to fly out of Mexico City back and forth to the USA (it’s cheaper) and usually plan a visit to this most original Spanish city in the Americas at least twice a year.

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What’s to do here? Plenty. Including vibrant street life and good music.

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Talavera tile gazing for starters. All the buildings in the historic center of the city are decorated and glazed with tiles harkening back to Moorish influences in Spain. If you want Spain in the New World with a touch of the Alhambra in Granada, come here.

Go antique shopping with La Quinta de San Antonio.

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Eat. Traditional food preparation rotates around the seasons based on what is freshly available for ingredients. Now, in July and August, it’s Chiles en Nogada, This is a poblano chile, usually mild, cooked, slit, stuffed with a mix of pork, almonds, apples, peaches, raisins, pears, cinnamon and a lot of other things! The fruit and seasonings are also vaguely North African, another remnant of Moorish influence brought to Mexico. Get the best at El Mural de los Poblanos.

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If you come to Puebla in October, you’ll be treated to Huaxmole, a hearty stew made with goat or pork. The essential ingredient is the seed from the guaje tree pod to give it the unique flavor.

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Shop. Go to Uriarte for gorgeous talavera to set your table. Go to the new government operated Best of Puebla food shop on Palafox y Mendoza just off the Zocalo to stuff your bags with goodies. Get out on the street for weekend arts vendors selling everything from Huichol art to cemitas.

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Visit Cholula, Pueblo Magico. There are two Cholulas: San Pedro Cholula and San Andres Cholula.

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Go first to San Pedro, start with breakfast at Restaurant Ciudad Sagrada, garden haven with amazing food. Fortified, climb the pyramid to the Our Lady of the Remedies (Remedios), then watch the voladores. Meander the 16th century Franciscan churches. They say there are over 300 churches in Puebla.

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Go shopping at the best folk art boutiques in town — La Monarca, Bosque de Oyamel — operated by Celia Ruiz.

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Don’t miss OCHO30 for beer and botanas. No one else does!

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Make your way to adjacent San Andres Cholula when you need a thirst quencher Michelada and your tummy starts to rumble. Oder the Michelada “sin salsa” — pure Victoria beer and lime juice, with a heavily salt and chile rimmed glass.

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You will be amazed at the great kitsch, excellent hospitality and delicious food. Especially the pizza! Beware. It’s packed and you may have to wait. But, well worth it.

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With owner Agustino and friends Celia and Peter on left. OCHO30 pizza.

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Take your taxi back to your hotel and collapse.

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Where to Stay: Descanseria Hotel for Business or Pleasure, owned by the El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant group, with excellent location, restaurant, ambience and prices.

How to Get There: ADO GL bus from Oaxaca to Puebla CAPU, about $45 USD. Estrella Roja bus directly from Mexico City airport to Puebla 4 Poniente bus terminal, about $16 USD.

Where to Eat Chiles en Nogadas: El Mural de los Poblanos.

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Today, I return to Oaxaca, just in time for the last Guelaguetza performance and the best street life in Mexico.

Too Much Fun and Where to Eat in the Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain, is a food and wine lover’s paradise. It is one of the best tourist attractions in the city. Here, your eyes can be bigger than your stomach. So, watch out!  Most dishes are huge enough to share by two people.

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Remember you can always order more. Unless you take a grazing route through the market nibbling on cheese, red wine, raw oysters, crusty bread, Spanish ham, olives and the most divine desserts I’ve ever seen.

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On our first full day in Barcelona, we roamed the market in search of El Quim tapas bar (recommended by friends) and never found it until after lunch.

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The allure of plates of fresh cooked shellfish was too compelling to dismiss. We scouted the restaurants to determine which one was the most packed with locals and settled on El Cochinillo Loco (The Crazy Pig), which we walked by thrice before deciding.

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The fresh shrimp, langostinos, clams, oysters, mussels, octopus, squid, sea bass and other unidentifiable frutos del mar were piled high and our eyes got bigger just looking.  So, we waited for two seats to open up and sat between two local couples immersed in platter sharing. It was 2:00 p.m. Boqueria_49 Best-11By 4:00 p.m. we had finished our sangrias, had too many leftovers, and become best friends with our lunch neighbors.  We were happy to divide the remains with them since we couldn’t carry out to our hotel!

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Then, one couple ordered a bottle of Spanish cava (sparkling wine) while the other bought a basket of fresh organic strawberries. The strawberries landed in the sparkling wine. Of course! I have many more photos of all of us hugging, laughing and giggling, too many to publish here.

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I can’t imagine a better way to get a cultural immersion and practice Spanish than to share lunch and a bottle of wine with Ines Natera, who works at the Universidad Politecnica Catalunya and her husband.

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Then, my sister reminded me we had a dinner reservation three hours later at the Michelin 1-star restaurant Alkimia. How were we ever going to get our appetite back? Since dinner doesn’t really start until 9:00 p.m. we were hopeful.

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So we said goodbye to our friends and set out for a market walkabout. By now, our eyes could not deceive us and it was easy to pass by the chocolate covered berries, the nougat, the dark chocolate coated orange rinds, and the custard tarts… (well, not really)

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the freshest fruit, bottles of sweet red vermouth, mounds of crustaceans, farm vegetables, sardines, anchovies, and every imaginable food gift perfect for a special friend (or yourself).

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To walk it off, we took a circuitous route back to our hotel through the medieval old quarter of Barcelona bordering La Rambla, and then into the narrow streets where locals were celebrating Sant Jordi Day with gifts of flower bouquets for sweethearts and books for beaus.

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We didn’t take home the emu eggs or crustaceans or pintxos or tapas. We did bring home Catalunya olives, vermouth, Iberian ham, super ripe stinky goat cheese, and lots of chocolate.

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And, what did we do on our last day in Barcelona. Stock up with a final visit to the Boqueria market, of course, followed by a run through the basement food section of El Cortes de Ingles at Placa Catalunya. Can you tell? I’m in love with Spain (second to Mexico, of course).

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Boqueria Market Eateries

  1. El Quim (Located mid-section of the market on one of the center aisles. It’s a very small bar. You could miss it. Great tapas.)
  2. Bar Central. There are two locations in the market. I like the one with long bar in the back.
  3. El Cochinillo Loco, Portico Sant Josep 6-8, Tel. 93 119 19 54

Footnote: Since returning to Oaxaca earlier this week, I haven’t done much except sleep, eat, visit with a few friends and venture out for a few afternoons in search of wifi service. I have none at the casita, so my communication is limited. I’m sitting in the wonderful fresh breeze at Tierra Antigua Restaurante in Teotitlan del Valle, with a delicious lunch and internet. Hallelujah. In celebration of small wonders.