Pan y Co., Belisario Domínguez • Bakery • $-$$ • (J)
The Pan y Co. bakery offers a large selection of European-style breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies, everything baked daily with all natural ingredients. The breads are hearty and healthy, yet do not suffer from the "cardboard" taste and consistency of some health-food concoctions, and the sweet breads are syrupy and sugary, though not overly so. Business is brisk throughout the day, so go early to find the best pickings. There's another storefront in the Centro, one-block west of Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
- Belisario Domínguez 612, just west of Heroico Colegio Militar;; Colonia Reforma; Tue - Sat 9 am - 9 pm, closed Sun & Mon; phone 951-513-7104.
Yu Ne Nisa • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (C)
For over twenty years, Chef Ofelia Toledo Pineda has been bringing the unique cuisine of the Isthmus to the city. Her menu, which changes daily, always seems to involve large, multi-course meals, although garanchas, the signature dish of the Isthmus, small fried corn tortillas topped with stringy meat, pickled cabbage, and salsa picante, are usually included.
She runs the restaurant out of the garage of her house in the Reforma neighborhood, about a thirty minute walk north of the Zócalo. Hours are loose, so be sure to call ahead. Or, alternatively, head over to Zandunga, a block west of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, also specializing in the cuisine of the Isthmus.
- Amapolas 1425, north of Laureles; Colonia Reforma; MX$50 - 150; phone 951-515-6982; www.yunenisa.com.
Marco Polo • Seafood Restaurant • $-$$$ • (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.
- Calzado Porfirio Díaz 219; Colonia Reforma; Daily 8 a.m. - 6:30 p.m., closed Tue; MX$49 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-518-4309; www.cocinadelmar.com; email@example.com..
Casa Oaxaca Café • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (B)
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 Café, conforms most closely to traditional Oaxacan cuisine and is by far the least expensive of the lot, without compromising on flavor.
Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, located in the Centro Histórico on Avenida Constitución, south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, as well as Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the intimate 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, located on Calle García Vigil, also in the Centro Histórico.
- Jazmines 508, north of Palmeras; Colonia Reforma; Mon - Sat 7 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; MX$75 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-502-6017; www.casaoaxacacafe.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Itanoní • Oaxacan Restaurant, Vegetarian • $-$$ • (A)
Genetic evidence shows that maize, or corn, was domesticated from teosinte, a grass native to parts of México and Central America. The earliest evidence of this link is some 9000-year-old samples found in a cave in the Rio Balsas valley, in the Méxican state of Guerrero. Since its domestication, maize has spread throughout México and the rest of the Americas, all the while changing and evolving, as indigenous farmers cultivated and then combed their fields, looking for plants with specific traits, saving their seeds and sharing them with neighbors, continuously crossbreeding and coaxing new varieties out of their diverse surrounding. Until today, in México alone, there are fifty-nine varieties of maize, each adapted for a diverse set of conditions — high or low altitude, early or late maturation, dry or wet conditions, and so on.
Recent trade agreements, however, like NAFTA, along with other specific policy decisions in Washington and México City, have allowed large-scale US producers to dump their heavily subsidized, monoculture corn into México, driving down commodity prices by as much as half. Not surprisingly, family farmers in México have not been able to compete. To survive, many have retreated to subsistence, farming only for what they can eat or barter away, while others have abandoned their fields altogether in search of low-wage work in the maquiladoras or north of the border.
Against this ominous backdrop, Itanoní is doing what it can to support the country’s vanishing family farms by using only locally grown ingredients in its recipes. In the kitchen, everything is prepared fresh and grilled over an open fire, creating healthy versions of traditional Méxican antojitos, such as quesadillas, tacos, and tamales. As for vegetarians, this is probably the safest place in the city for them to try authentic Oaxacan cooking.
- Belisario Domínguez 513, east of Jazmines; Colonia Reforma; Mon - Sat 7 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sun 8 a.m. - 2 p.m.; MX$30 - 100; phone 951-513-9223; www.itanoni.com.
Don Camarón • Seafood Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (E)
The only thing missing at this Sinaloa-style seafood restaurant — with its extensive menu of fish tacos, shrimp cocktails, and every possible permutation of filleted fish and whole pescado, including the eyes — are the warm breezes off the Gulf of California, all of which makes this a worthy alternative to the other two seafood specialists in town: La Red and Marco Polo.
- Jazmines 618, corner Heroica Escuela Naval Militar; Colonia Reforma; Daily noon - 8 p.m.; MX$75 - 150; Most major credit cards; phone 951-132-5891; www.restaurantdoncamaron.com.
La Red • Seafood Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (M)
A local favorite, this marisquería inspires repeat visits with its low prices, tasty seafood, and welcoming vibe. There are two La Red restaurants in the city, one in the Centro Histórico, a block south of the Zócalo, the other in the Reforma neighborhood, about a thirty-minute walk north of the Zócalo.
- Belisario Domínguez 225, corner Emiliano Zapata; Colonia Reforma; Daily 12 noon - 8 p.m.; Mex$80-150; phone 951-515-1660.
Pizza Rústica • Italian Restaurant, Pizza, Wine • $$-$$$ • (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.
- Belisario Domínguez 405, corner Emilio Carranza; Colonia Reforma; Daily 1 p.m. - midnight; MX$90 - 200; Most major credit cards.
- 7 de Enero, north side the Gigante supermarket; Colonia Reforma; Daily 7 am - 11 pm; Mex$10 - 40; phone 951-515-2425; www.cepco.org.mx; email@example.com.
La Pasión • Bakery, Tea • $-$$$ • (H)
In a city that is a dream come true for coffee lovers, as luck would have it, to get a decent cup of tea, tea lovers have to schlep just over a mile from the Zócalo to the La Pasión bakery, located in the farthest northern point of the Colonia Reforma. There, they'll find more than a dozen imported black, green, and oolong loose-leaf teas to choose from. That said, La Pasión is primarily a European-style bakery specializing in cakes and pastries, enticingly displayed for you as you step through the front door.
- Violetas 221, half block north Palmeras; Colonia Reforma; Tue - Sun 10 am - 10 pm, closed Mon; Mex$50 - 150; phone 951-513-8100.
The Italian Coffee Company, Colonia Reforma • Café • $ • (W)
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.
- Naranjos 409, corner Amapolas; Colonia Reforma; daily 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Mex$13 - 50; www.italiancoffee.com.
- Manuel Ruiz 409, two blocks north of Baseball Stadium; Colonia Reforma; daily 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Mex$13 - 50; www.italiancoffee.com.