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.
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; email@example.com.
Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante • Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine • $$$-$$$$ • (C)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, may be his finest, with dining available, depending on the mood, either downstairs in the immaculate courtyard among the city’s elite or upstairs on the terrace with views of the imposing south wall of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the intimate 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, located two blocks west on Calle García Vigil, as well as Casa Oaxaca Café, located about a kilometer northeast of the Centro in the Reforma neighborhood.
- Constitución 104-4, between Cinco de May and Reforma; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 1 - 11 p.m.; MX$120 - 250; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-8531; www.casaoaxacaelrestaurante.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Reservations recommended.
Casa Oaxaca (Restaurant) • Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine • $$-$$$$ • (D)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the small 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, is by far the most intimate and romantic, with patrons dining outdoors in the tranquil courtyard of a lovingly restored colonial home.
Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, located two blocks east on Avenida Constitución, south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, as well as Casa Oaxaca Café, located about a kilometer northeast of the Centro in the Reforma neighborhood.
- García Vigil 407, north of Bravo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Most major credit cards; phone 951-514-4173, 951-516-9923; www.casaoaxaca.com.mx; email@example.com; Reservations required.
El Andariego • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (E)
Set in a lovingly restored colonial mansion, the hotel Parador San Miguel retains many of the excesses of that era — stain glass windows, wrought iron gates, green granite columns, and, and ... the list goes on and on. Inside, the wide corridors lead to twenty-three hand-carved cedar doors, each opening to a spacious room or suite with a high ceiling, the decor exclusively handcrafted Oaxacan or Méxican. (Check availability or reserve online at booking.com.)
The hotel's upscale restaurant, El Andariego, every bit as refined as the restored colonial mansion it resides in, features fine renditions of Oaxacan classics — the moles here are as good as any in the city. For comida, bargain hunters will be pleased with the always tasty menú del dia, served after 1 p.m., costing a mere 80 pesos. The only downside to this place is the disappointing wine list, which is limited to a few South American and Spanish vintages.
- Independencia 503, one block west of the Zócalo; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Daily 7:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.; MX$80 - 200; Most major credit cards; www.paradorsanmigueloaxaca.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restaurante Catedral • Oaxacan Restaurant, Wine • $$$-$$$$ • (F)
From early in the morning until late in the evening, it’s luxury all the way at this upscale Centro Histórico Oaxacan, where superb cooking, gracious service, and a refined decor attract the upper strata of Oaxacan society. Dine indoors beneath the high ceilings and viga beams or outdoors, weather permitting, beneath the sky in a stone-slab courtyard with a tranquil fountain at its center, classical music softly playing in the background. Topping it all off is the wine list, featuring vintages from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and France. Somehow, this all comes at a reasonable price, with the main entrées costing between one and two hundred pesos. Check online for the complete menu.
- García Vigil 105, one block north of Independencia; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; Wed - Mon 8 a.m. - 11 p.m., closed Tue; MX$120 - 250; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-3285; www.restaurantecatedral.com.mx; email@example.com.
Los Pacos • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (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.