100% Natural • Vegetarian • $$-$$$ • (H)
It' hard enough to find a decent health food restaurant back home, much less while traveling abroad. This place, even though it's a national chain, is an exception, modeling its entrées, appetizers, and drinks after Western-styled health food, and pulling it all off. Though mostly vegetarian, the menu does have some meat and seafood dishes on it, so vegetarians should be careful when ordering, and don't hesitate to request substitutes.
For breakfast, try a stack of the excellent multigrain hotcakes, a real bargain at 55 pesos. Be sure to specify miel de maple, though; otherwise, a jar of honey just may materialize on the table instead. After that, for comida or dinner, there's long list of familiar entrées to choose from. For specifics, check the menu online.
- Dr. Liceaga 115, across the street south side of El Llano Park; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; daily 7 am - 11 pm; Mex$50 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-132-4343; www.100natural.com.mx.
Marco Polo • Seafood Restaurant • $-$$$ • (D)
There are two Marco Polo restaurants in the city, one set in the historic center of the city, the Centro Histórico, across the street from El Llano park, where patrons dine in a large garden overflowing with ferns and other tropical plants, the second restaurant, with similarly lush outdoor dining, located in the middle-class Reforma neighborhood, about a thirty minute walk north of the Zócalo. Open for breakfast and comida only, both locations bake and grill some of the finest seafood in the city, drawing in a steady stream of customers throughout the day. The comida specials always feature a fresh fish of the day, usually red snapper, baked outdoors in wood-fired adobe brick ovens. In addition to seafood, the menu has some traditional Oaxacan dishes, including (budget travelers take note) breakfast specials for 49 pesos, which come with unlimited refills of coffee and, if requested, a basket full of warm, filling corn tortillas.
- Pino Suárez 806, across the street from El Llano park; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Daily 8 a.m. - 6:30 p.m., closed Tue; MX$49 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-513-4308; www.cocinadelmar.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
El Escapularío Restaurant • Oaxacan Restaurant • $-$$ • (C)
From its second-story perch in a weary-looking old colonial building, this Centro Histórico Oaxacan serves up large portions of authentic Oaxacan food for a mere pittance. For breakfast, the regional egg dishes are an especially good deal, with most costing less than 50 pesos. As for comida and dinner, the specialties of the house, large plates of rich, spicy moles poured over pollo or some other carne, are fine, inexpensive choices as well. And, of course, everything comes with a basket full of warm corn tortillas. This is also a good place to try chapulines for the first time, the tiny red grasshoppers that are a local delicacy. A word of advice, however: Drowning the crunchy critters in a thick mole sauce will help make them go down easier.
- García Vigil 617, corner Quetzalcoatl; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Daily 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.; MX$35 - 110; phone 951-516-4687.
La Casa del Tío Güero • Oaxacan Restaurant, Vegetarian, Cooking Classes • $$-$$$ • (B)
With an eclectic interior aesthetic bordering on kitschy, this place serves mostly traditional Oaxacan grub, as well as a decent selection of vegetarian entrées. The chef also offers weekly cooking classes for MX$400. Call or stop by to reserve a spot in class.
- García Vigil 715, one block north of Quetzalcoatl; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 7:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun 8 - 5 p.m.; MX$50 - 120; phone 951-516-9584.
María Bonita • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (A)
Perhaps it is the dining room, airy and bright, filled with natural light, the floors tiled and polished, immaculate, the white walls adorned with colorful paintings, creating a feeling of lightness. Or maybe it's just the cooks doing more with less. But this place somehow manages to create lighter versions of traditionally heavy Oaxacan classics without compromising on flavor.
- Alcalá 706-B, southeast corner of Alcalá & Humboldt; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m., closed Sun; MX$60 - 120; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-7233.
Cocina Económica Isabel • Oaxacan Restaurant • $-$$ • (E)
In an interior patio lined with red bricks and overflowing with tropical plants, Cocina Económica Isabel serves up large portions of traditional Oaxacan food for next to nothing, making it a dream come true for budget travelers. For the best deals, stick with the multi-course económica breakfast (8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m., 35 pesos) or the afternoon comida corrida (1 - 5 p.m., 50 pesos). Be sure to ask for a basket full of warm, filling corn tortillas; otherwise, you may end up with white bread and margarine as a side.
- Cosijoeza 200, east of Los Libres; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Sun; MX$35 - 70; phone 951-515-5210.
Café Arabia • Café • $-$$ • (K)
Cooled in the afternoon by the spillover shade from Conzatti Park, this neighborhood café, with its starkly modern interior, is yet another place in the Centro churning out a fine cup of brew. In the kitchen they like to mix it up, serving standard Oaxacan breakfasts, as well as some travel favorites, such as waffles, croissants, muffins, baguette sandwiches, and salads.
- Corner of Reforma and Jacobo Dalevuelta; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 8:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., closed Sun; Mex$40 - 100; phone 951-515-9886.
Casa del Ángel • Vegetarian Restaurant, Yoga • $-$$ • (C)
Located in the rear of the building, the studio offers yoga classes daily except for Sundays, along with meditation, dance, and tai chi on selected days. The full schedule of classes is posted online. Up front, in the quiet courtyard, the tiny café serves from a rotating menu of Indian, Méxican, and European cuisines, depending on the day. Everything is all natural and vegetarian, of course.
- Jacobo Dalevuelta 200, just east of Reforma; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Café open Mon - Fri 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.; MX$40 - 100; phone 951-518-7167; www.casadelangel.com.mx.
- Xólotl 118, corner Félix Díaz; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Daily 8 a.m. - noon, 5 - 9 p.m.; MX$12 - 40.
Pizza Rústica • Italian Restaurant, Pizza • $$-$$$ • (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.
- Alcalá 803, half-block north of Humbolt; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Mon - Sat 1 - 10:30 p.m., closed Sun; MX$90 - 200; Most major credit cards.
- Díaz Quintas 117, corner Margarita Maza; North of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Centro Histórico; Daily 1 - 11 p.m.; MX$100- 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-512-9252; Reservations recommended.