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.