Neighborhood — North of Independencia, Centro Histórico, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
Restaurants | Sights | Shopping | Spanish Language Schools | Bookstores | Tours | Listings | Sleeping
Most of the restaurants, colonial churches and mansions, museums, artisan shops, and galleries of interest to visitors lie within two or three blocks of the traffic-free Zócalo and the Macedonio Alcalá street, making the city, and especially the Centro, eminently walkable. And the Alcalá, an upscale pedestrian promenade paved with locally quarried green stones and lined with colonial mansions, cuts right through the heart of the Centro, running north-south for six blocks from Independencia to the northwest corner of the high stone walls enclosing the botanical gardens. Indeed, most first-time visitors find, at least initially, that they naturally gravitate to these traffic-free zones, spending a majority of their time here, before venturing out to other parts of the Centro and city.
East of Alcalá
Café la Antigua • Café • $$-$$$ • (E)
The owner, Diego Woolrich, roasts his beans, which he grows organically in the mountains north of Puerto Escondido, on the café's premises. Indeed, it’s not unusual to smell their aroma while sitting in the pleasant courtyard, sipping a cup of his deep, rich brew. The menu features standard Oaxacan fare, as well as a few juices and pastries.
- Reforma 401, north of Abasolo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 9 a.m. - 11 p.m., closed Sun; Mex$50 - 130; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-5761; email@example.com.
Café Brújula, Alcalá • Café, Tea • $-$$ • (D)
Bohemians and bourgeoisie, both foreign and domestic, mingle at this trendy café, known for its excellent fresh-roasted coffee and tempting eats, including such delectables as loose-leaf teas, smoothies, cookies, chocolate cake, muffins, waffles, granola, sandwiches, and, the star of the menu, authentic New York-style bagels con queso crema, served up in an airy colonial courtyard filled with American roots music and wifi.. There's another Brújula, the original, nearby on García Vigil.
- Alcalá 104, half-block north of Independencia; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8:00 a.m. - 10 p.m., closed Sun; MX$15 - 70; phone 951-516-7255; www.cafebrujula.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coffee Beans • Café • $-$$ • (G)
This hole-in-the-wall café brews a stiff cup of joe, the beans grown locally. Here, it's all about the coffee beans, so the menu is limited, just a handful of desserts, sandwiches, quiches, crêpes, and Oaxacan-style breakfasts.
- Cinco de Mayo 400, half-block south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Sun - Thu 8 a.m. - 12 midnight, Fri & Sat 8 a.m. - 2 a.m.; Mex$15 - 100.
Café Los Cuiles • Café • $-$$ • (H)
Exuding a bohemian vibe, this low-key café, popular with locals and foreigners alike, drawn by the fine organic coffee, the free wifi, and the tasty grub, is a fine spot for hanging out, studying the days' Spanish lessons, meeting up with fellow travelers, or maybe just sitting, listening to the burbling of the fountain in the shady interior courtyard out back. The kitchen dishes up mostly Oaxacan staples, along with some imported favorites, such as granola, waffles, salads, sandwiches, and soy burgers.
- Plazuela Labastida 115-1, Plaza de las Virgenes; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Mex$15 - 100; phone 951-514-8259; www.cuiles.com; email@example.com.
Gaia • Vegetarian Restaurant • $$ • (J)
If the idea of quesillo, fresh tomato, and herbs stuffed between two thick, hearty slices of multigrain bread, washed down with a hot cup of green tea, appeals to you for lunch, then you are going to love this place. In addition to sandwiches, the menu offers a nice choice of breads, fruits, soups, smoothies, salads, and omelets. Dinning is in a shady interior courtyard, which it shares with its trendy next-door neighbor, Café Los Cuiles, making this good place to hang out for an hour or so, planning the day’s activities, or maybe just taking a break from them.
- Plazuela Labastida 115-3, Plaza de las Virgenes; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; MX$50 - 100.
Café Gecko • Café • $-$$ • (K)
With the location down pat — a half-block south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo on the sometimes traffic-free cobblestone Cinco de Mayo — this place follows through with excellent coffee and tasty eats, delivered by agreeable waiters in a tranquil courtyard overflowing with vines, tropical plants, and flowers. The menu is geared to gringos, including a mix of salads, sandwiches and desserts, all reasonably priced.
- Cinco de Mayo 412, half-block south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 9 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., closed Sun; Mex$20-100; phone 951-516-2285.
La Rústica • Italian Restaurant, Pizza • $$-$$$ • (R)
There are three Rústicas in town — one named La Rústica, and the other two Pizza Rústica. They all serve from the same menu and charge the same prices. Of the three, however, La Rústica has by far the best cooking and service, along with the more refined dining.
Conveniently located in the Centro Histórico, at the intersection of Murguía and Alcalá, La Rústica is housed in a beautiful old building, its front entrance opening to a spacious vestibule, two stories high, upstairs the dining room, its ceiling held high by arches, Italian opera softly playing in the background, evoking the Italy of old. The best seats in the house are the balcony-front tables with views of cobblestone Alcalá below, though they accommodate only two. As expected, the waiters are attentive, but not overly so. And yet, even though this place has all the makings of fine dining, the kitchen somehow manages to muck it up with uninspired, but still edible, pastas and pizzas — which, come to think of it, more or less describes the culinary accomplishments of all the Italian restaurants in the city. One last point: the wine list of mostly Italian and Spanish vintages is sparse, but at least there is one.
As for the two Pizza Rústicas, one is in the middle-class Reforma neighborhood, about a thirty minute walk north of the Zócalo, and the other one, just like La Rústica, is on Alcalá in the Centro Histórico, though a couple of blocks north of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. The Reforma Rústica, with its hand-made wooden furniture and low-slung Spanish tile roof, has a downscale, rustic Mediterranean vibe to it. The cooking, however, falls short of even La Rústica, although anyone who happens to be in the neighborhood and is jonesing for a slice, or even a whole pie, should have no compunction about dropping in. The same cannot be said for the Rústica north of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, because even though the cooking is more or less the same, the dining area is hot and stuffy and generally unpleasant. So, except for quick slice para llevar, it is best to steer clear of this one, especially with La Rústica a short five minute walk away.
- Murguía 101, just east of Alcalá; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 1 p.m. - 2 a.m.; MX$90 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-501-1318.
Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante • Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine • $$$-$$$$ • (C)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, may be his finest, with dining available, depending on the mood, either downstairs in the immaculate courtyard among the city’s elite or upstairs on the terrace with views of the imposing south wall of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the intimate 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, located two blocks west on Calle García Vigil, as well as Casa Oaxaca Café, located about a kilometer northeast of the Centro in the Reforma neighborhood.
- Constitución 104-4, between Cinco de May and Reforma; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 1 - 11 p.m.; MX$120 - 250; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-8531; www.casaoaxacaelrestaurante.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Reservations recommended.
Los Pacos • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (G)
Wafting out of the kitchen of this longtime Centro Histórico Oaxacan are the wonderful fragrances of thick, rich moles being poured over carnes, making for some delicious repasts. Dine downstairs in a formal setting or upstairs on the terrace with fantastic views of the city, especially at night. Wine aficionados will be disappointed by the small and uninspired selection. Check online for the complete menu.
- Abasolo 121, east of Cinco de Mayo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat noon - 10 p.m., closed Sun; MX$90 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-1704; www.lospacos.com.mx; email@example.com.
La Olla • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (B)
Large plates of inexpensive, soul-satisfying Oaxacan food keep a steady stream of dedicated locals, long-time visitors, and expats coming back for more at this Centro Histórico bistro, which fronts the equally popular Casa de las Bugambilias B&B. Traditional soups, tlayudas, filleted fish wrapped in hierba santa, and carnes slathered in moles negro y rojo are just a few of the items on the menu worth mentioning. The rest are posted online. Anyone interested in learning about Oaxacan cooking should attend one of the classes taught through the affiliated Casa de los Sabores. Call or stop by the restaurant or B&B to reserve a spot in class.
- Reforma 402, north of Abasolo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8 a.m. - 10 p.m., closed Sun; MX$60 - 175; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-6668; www.laolla.com.mx; firstname.lastname@example.org.
West of Alcalá
- García Vigil 205, cross street Morelos; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 6 am - 9:15 pm, closed Sun; approx Mex$2 - 3 per item.
Pan y Co. • Bakery, Natural Food • $-$$ • (B)
The Pan y Co. bakery offers a large selection of European-style breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies, everything baked daily with all natural ingredients. The breads are hearty and healthy, yet do not suffer from the "cardboard" taste and consistency of some health-food concoctions, and the sweet breads are syrupy and sugary, though not overly so. Business is brisk throughout the day, so go early to find the best pickings. There's another storefront in the Colonia Reforma neighborhood.
- Allende 113, corner García Vigil; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 9 am - 9 pm, closed Sun; phone 951-513-7104.
Coffee Nuevo Mundo • Café • $-$$ • (C)
A favorite of coffee aficionados, this cozy coffeehouse, tucked away in an open-air hallway, just may brew the deepest and richest cup of java in the city, along with offering a modest assortment of tasty sandwiches and some truly exquisite sweet rolls. So far, so good. How, then, to explain the bagels, which, tragically, are buns masquerading as such? Bagel purists should steer clear. All is not lost, though, because right around the corner, Café Brújula, another of our favorites, offers authentic New York-style bagels con queso crema, and excellent coffee to boot. That said, the bagel failure aside, we still highly recommend Nuevo Mundo.
- Bravo 206, half-block west of García Vigil; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sun 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Mex$10 - 60; phone 951-501-2122; www.cafenuevomundo.com; email@example.com.
Café Brújula • Café, Tea • $-$$ • (D)
Bohemians and bourgeoisie, both foreign and domestic, mingle at this trendy café, known for its excellent fresh-roasted coffee and tempting eats, including such delectables as loose-leaf teas, smoothies, cookies, chocolate cake, muffins, waffles, granola, sandwiches, and, the star of the menu, authentic New York-style bagels con queso crema, served up in funky-rustic digs filled with American roots music and wifi. A second Brújula was recently opened nearby on Alcalá, the busy pedestrian promenade cutting through the heart of the Centro Historico.
- García Vigil 409, half-block north of Nicolás Bravo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8:00 a.m. - 10 p.m., closed Sun; Mex$15 - 70; phone 951-516-7255; www.cafebrujula.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flor de Loto • Vegetarian Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (L)
Update: As of the summer of 2012, Flor de Loto has come under new ownership and management, although it has kept the same name. Once strictly vegetarian, the new menu now includes some seafood and meat items. A complete review of this place will be conducted the next time this writer researches the city.
- Morelos 509, half-block west of Díaz; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Commida and Dinner; MX$50 - 100; phone 951-514-3944.
La Manantial Vegetariana • Vegetarian Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (M)
In the rustic interior courtyard of an old colonial mansion, a burbling fountain at its center, this strictly vegetarian restaurant serves up mostly lighter versions of traditionally heavy Oaxacan staples, along with a few favorites of the meat adverse such as veggie burgers. The all-you-can-eat Saturday buffet (2 -6 p.m.) is worth dropping by for, especially if it's looking like a lazy rest of the day.
- Tinoco y Palacios 303, just north of Matamoros; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m., closed Sun; MX$60 - 100; phone 951-514-5602.
Café Royale • French Restaurant, Wine • $-$$ • (N)
For anyone craving a crêpe in this city of moles, Café Royale offers French food in a casual atmosphere at a reasonable price, using organic ingredients when available. Disappointing, though, was the lack a wine list, the only options a house red and white. That said, the red, a Cabernet Sauvignon, wasn't bad.
- García Vigil 403, corner with Bravo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8 a.m. - 11 p.m., closed Sun; MX$50 - 100; phone 951-514-3239.
El Andariego • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (E)
Set in a lovingly restored colonial mansion, the hotel Parador San Miguel retains many of the excesses of that era — stain glass windows, wrought iron gates, green granite columns, and, and ... the list goes on and on. Inside, the wide corridors lead to twenty-three hand-carved cedar doors, each opening to a spacious room or suite with a high ceiling, the decor exclusively handcrafted Oaxacan or Méxican. (Check availability or reserve online at booking.com.)
The hotel's upscale restaurant, El Andariego, every bit as refined as the restored colonial mansion it resides in, features fine renditions of Oaxacan classics — the moles here are as good as any in the city. For comida, bargain hunters will be pleased with the always tasty menú del dia, served after 1 p.m., costing a mere 80 pesos. The only downside to this place is the disappointing wine list, which is limited to a few South American and Spanish vintages.
- Independencia 503, one block west of the Zócalo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 7:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.; MX$80 - 200; Most major credit cards; www.paradorsanmigueloaxaca.com; email@example.com.
Pizza Nostrana Spaghettería • Italian Restaurant, Pizza, Wine • $$-$$$ • (S)
Decent Italian fare, attentive waiters, and old-world digs draw visitors and locals aplenty to this Centro Histórico trattoria across the street from the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. The small wine list features vintages from Italy, Spain, and South America, mostly.
- Alcalá 501, corner Allende; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 1 p.m. - 11 p.m.; MX$100 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-514-0778.
Mezzaluna • Italian Restaurant, Pizza, Wine • $$$-$$$$ • (T)
Slinging hearty plates of pasta and wood-fired horno pizzas, this reliable Centro Histórico Italian has rescued many a traveler whose taste buds have become saturated with Oaxacan cooking. Dining is available indoors beneath the high ceilings and viga beams or, weather permitting, upstairs on the roof, which the waiters charitably refer to as la terraza, with stunning views of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo to the east and the mountains on all sides. Rounding it all out, the small but respectable wine list features mostly Italian and South American vintages.
- Allende 113, just east of García Vigil; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 1 p.m. - 11 p.m.; MX$100 - 250; phone 951-516-8195.
La Biznaga • Méxican Fusion, Wine • $$$-$$$$ • (U)
Named after a large, barrel-shaped cactus native to northwest México, La Biznaga is a favorite of long-time visitors and affluent locals, drawn by its nueva mestiza sensibility, which ingeniously blends little-used local ingredients with more familiar ones, and the agreeable ambiance, where patrons dine in the rustic courtyard of a colonial mansion, surrounded by paintings and art installations, multiform music softly playing in the background. Topping it all off are the friendly, professional waiters and the small but respectable wine list. The retractable tarp above the courtyard makes this a good place to retreat to when the summer rains inevitably come.
- García Vigil 512, half-block north of Allende; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun 2 - 8 p.m.; MX$100 - 250; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-1800.
Restaurante Catedral • Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine • $$$-$$$$ • (F)
From early in the morning until late in the evening, it’s luxury all the way at this upscale Centro Histórico Oaxacan, where superb cooking, gracious service, and a refined decor attract the upper strata of Oaxacan society. Dine indoors beneath the high ceilings and viga beams or outdoors, weather permitting, beneath the sky in a stone-slab courtyard with a tranquil fountain at its center, classical music softly playing in the background. Topping it all off is the wine list, featuring vintages from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and France. Somehow, this all comes at a reasonable price, with the main entrées costing between one and two hundred pesos. Check online for the complete menu.
- García Vigil 105, one block north of Independencia; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Wed - Mon 8 a.m. - 11 p.m., closed Tue; MX$120 - 250; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-3285; www.restaurantecatedral.com.mx; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Los Danzantes • Méxican Fusion Restaurant, Wine • $$$-$$$$ • (Y)
The walk through the long, drab hallway of the centuries old colonial building that fronts the Los Danzantes restaurant does nothing to prepare you for the arresting sight of the courtyard that is the Los Danzantes restaurant. Enclosed on one side by the exterior wall of a vine covered colonial building and on the other three sides by high walls of abode bricks laid geometrically and illuminated by spot lights. The floor is earthy flagstone. Rounding this all out is a tranquil fountain lit and flowing into a huge pool. This one of the most striking dinning spaces anywhere. Not to be outdone by the surroundings, the menu — which seems designed to please all palates — fuses traditional Mexican cuisine with the contemporary to create innovative and delicious pasta, seafood, poultry, meat, and vegetarian dishes. Desserts are first-rate. Waiters are attentive, yet not overly. They also run La Cava, a Wine and Mezcal package store with possibly the best selection of wines in the city. So it is no surprise their wine list is excellent with a emphasis on Méxican vintages, but still a respectable selection from Spain, Italy, France, Chile, and Argentina. Recommended is the house red on the Los Danzantes label (their blend of four Méxican varietals). If on a budget, Los Danzantes is the one place to make an exception for.
- Alcalá 403, half-block north of Bravo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 1:30 - 11:30 p.m. (bar closes at 1 a.m.); MX$150 - 250; Most major credit cards; phone 951-501-1184; www.losdanzantes.com/web/restaurantes/oaxaca.
Zandunga • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (A)
In eastern Oaxaca the North American continent narrows to a thin strip of land, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (teh-wahn-teh-pek), separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean by only a couple hundred kilometers. There, the two mighty sierras of southern México converge and shrink to a mere plateau-like ridge a couple hundred meters above sea level. As the elevation descends, the climate turns hot, steamy, tropical. And with the change in climate, there comes a change in cuisine, the cooks of the Isthmus drawing from their surroundings, using what is most readily available to them — namely, seafood and tropical fruits.
Zandunga brings this unique cuisine to the city, serving up large, multi-course meals, which always begin with totopos, fried tortillas unique to the Isthmus, and minilla, a spicy fishmeal, as an appetizer. Next come garanchas, the signature dish of the Isthmus, small fried corn tortillas topped with stringy meat, pickled cabbage, and salsa picante. After that, indulge in one of the many house specialties, such as pork stewed in estofado, a slightly sweet mole-like sauce, or deep-fried plantains rolled in masa de maíz, corn dough.
Also a specialist in the cuisine of the Isthmus, chef Ofelia Toledo Pineda runs a small restaurant, Yu Ne Nisa, out of her garage in the Reforma neighborhood, about 30 minutes north of the Zócalo on foot.
- García Vigil 512-E, north of Allende; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 2 - 11 p.m., closed Sun; MX$75 - 150; phone 951-516-2265.
The Italian Coffee Company, Alcalá • Café • $ • (•)
The Italian Coffee Company is a national chain of Cafés trying way too hard to be México's version of Starbucks, mimicking everything from the friendly baristas and the many concoctions involving coffee to the mediocre gourmet coffee itself, which always tastes like it's trying to please as many palates as possible, and invariably comes up short. So, before passing on one of the many locally owned coffee shops in the city serving excellent gourmet coffee, a few of which roast their own beans on the premises, ask yourself, "Did I really travel a thousand miles or more to drink mediocre gourmet coffee at a Starbucks knockoff?" That said, with at least half a dozen Italian Coffee Company coffee shops scattered throughout the city, in a pinch, there is usually one close by, making it easy to pop in for a quick cup of café para llevar. And that is how it makes itself useful.
- Alcalá, across the street from Iglesia de Santo Domingo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; daily 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Mex$13 - 50; www.italiancoffee.com.
Casa Oaxaca (Restaurant) • Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine • $$-$$$$ • (D)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the small 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, is by far the most intimate and romantic, with patrons dining outdoors in the tranquil courtyard of a lovingly restored colonial home.
Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, located two blocks east on Avenida Constitución, south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, as well as Casa Oaxaca Café, located about a kilometer northeast of the Centro in the Reforma neighborhood.
- García Vigil 407, north of Bravo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Most major credit cards; phone 951-514-4173, 951-516-9923; www.casaoaxaca.com.mx; email@example.com; Reservations required.