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April 14, 2021

Oaxaca City – Mexico’s Best Kept Secret

HJ-PR co-founder, Fernando gives insight into the best spots for mole, mezcal and street tacos that you’re not going to want to miss if you ever find yourself on this side of the world!

Displaying characteristics typical of anywhere from pre-Hispanic to contemporary Oaxaca, history radiates from the city’s architecture, food, and street art. Colorful buildings, craft markets, and baroque churches tell a rich cultural tale, and despite Oaxaca travel recently increasing in popularity among Mexican’s and tourists, tradition remains at the very heart of the city.

The state of Oaxaca boasts some of Mexico’s most exciting and varied cuisine. Its many climates, from tropical coastline to forested mountains, produce an incredible array of fresh ingredients (some pretty unusual!), and the ancient culinary traditions of the 17 distinct indigenous groups who make up the majority of the population are still flourishing alongside new world ideas and modern gastronomic trends, especially in the capital Oaxaca City, where our founders recently visited for a culinary adventure.

Born and bred in Mexico City, where it’s known for its popular and eclectic food scene, this was my first time in Oaxaca, believe it or not! And if I’m being honest, I think it might be Mexico’s best kept secret. I discovered more flavours and new dishes on this trip than ever before, opening my eyes to a whole new food scene I didn’t know existed, in my own country.

For those who don’t know, Oaxaca is famously known for is Mezcal, Mole, Tlayudas and Chapulines (grasshoppers!).

The first night in the city, it only made sense to start at our local Mezcaleria for an aperitif – or five. Opting for a flight, we tried five of Oaxaca’s famous blends, from fruity to insanely smoky, all set with our personal Mezcal expert who talked us through each serve – did you know Oaxaca produces 120% of the Mexico’s Mezcal?!

After taking a recommendation from a local cab driver (this is something I always do in a new place, cab drivers always know the best spots!), we then found ourselves at a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, one of the most beautiful churches in Mexico, eating grasshoppers!

Tierra del Sol Casa Restaurante, known for their gourmet Oaxacan cuisine, served up an array of flavors for us to try, including some local mezcal cocktails to top it off. It was one of the most delicious meals we have ever eaten!

If you’re looking for something a little bit more low-key, check out Mercado 20 de Noviembre. We had a blast walking around the undercover food market and found some of the most authentic and mouth watering foods. This market is more focused on prepared food – it’s full of little restaurants and vendors to sit and have a bite to eat. There are also a number of bakery vendors (my favorite), and a few artisan food vendors that have things like mezcal, salsa, etc. THIS is the market to go to have a tasty local lunch, at a tiny price.

Tlayudas are a Oaxacan staple, and there is no better place to have them than in Oaxaca City itself. Also known as ‘Mexican pizza’, tlayudas belong to that crucial concept of Mexican cooking/eating – antojitos, which translates as ‘a sudden craving for something’ – a feeling you get all the time strolling around Oaxaca as the air is filled with the most amazing smells from street stalls, cafes, restaurants and mercados (markets) everywhere, producing plate after plate of delicious snacks and full-blown meals.

We went to a locals spot just a shot cab ride outside of the city center, called Tlayudas Doña Flavia Reforma.

Order a tlayuda with your choice of meat – either tasajo (thin grilled steak), chorizo (spicy sausage), or cecina (thin and spicy pork steak). If you’re looking to save room for more food, you can easily share one between two people. They are huge!

We heard Oaxaca is also really good for vegan food – which, if you’ve ever travelled around Mexico, you will know is pretty hard to come by! My two top places for vegan food include, Hierba Dulce and La Matatena Pizzeria. Hierba Dulce is a great little lunch spot located just off the main streets, like many places in Oaxaca, if you don’t know it’s there you will walk straight past it. Tucked away in a pretty courtyard, this place serves up the most delicious vegan mole – they even offer a 7-mole tasting menu, which I highly recommend. Another great thing about this place, they know their mezcal. Over our working (ish) lunch, we enjoyed a mezcal infused local beer, and it was delicious and smokey, as you’d expect!

My wife being gluten intolerant, I spent some time researching gluten free restaurants, to my surprise there were actually a few in the city. A lot of Mexican food is gluten free, naturally, made from corn, but not a lot of places *specialise* in gluten free. La Matatena Pizzeria not only offers gluten free pizzas, but vegan ones too. Hidden within the main historical street in the city, this quaint restaurant creates the tastiest vegan cheese on-site (I know what you’re thinking – how can vegan cheese be tasty), but honestly wait until you try! We ate the hibiscus and caramelized onion pizza, along with vegan hot chocolate (a must in Oaxaca!) – out of this world!

Lastly, I HAVE to talk about Origen. We wondered past this whilst exploring the city by foot and saw lots of people sitting on the upstairs terrace and were instantly intrigued. After checking our Google Maps and finding them on Instagram, we were even more intrigued by the fact Gordan Ramsay had recently visited and named it one of the best restaurants he’d been to in Mexico, so naturally, we had to try.

We booked it for our last night in Oaxaca, to end the trip with something extra special.

“Aoaxaqueñar” is a word that Origen uses to describe its dishes: risottos, ceviches, meats and more are mixed with endemic ingredients that give them an identity. Origen has as a fresh cupboard the enormous amount of ingredients found in the markets, ranches, farms, crops and seas of this land.

The Oaxacan umami is both in different types of corn as in the vastness of herbs, fruits, vegetables, beans and chilies that exist; also in processes such as smoked, tatemados, ferments, slow cooking and more. The elegance of simplicity and harmony are two of the intrinsic hallmarks of the menu, which changes seasonally.

Origen is a space that has its own evolution; And just as in Oaxaca there is a mole for each region, in this place the spices, condiments, herbs and other ingredients are transformed to offer the diner a contemporary approach that opens the doors to techniques and ideas from different parts of Mexico and the world.

So, in short – you gotta go.

There are so many more places we discovered and still have left to discover – but big shout outs to Boulenc (for their AMAZING and insta-worthy breakfasts), Muss Café (for their local and strong AF coffee) and Las Quince Letras (for their almond mole, which might be the best I’ve ever tried, after my grandma’s of course!)

If you ever find yourself in Oaxaca (everyone should at some point in their life!) feel free to reach out for the recs.

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