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.
Casa Oaxaca Café • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (B)
All three of Chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo’s "Casa Oaxaca" restaurants infuse their Oaxacan dishes with Mediterranean flavors to great effect. Throw in some snappy, professional waiters and extensive wine lists and you have three the finest restaurants in the city. This one, however, Casa Oaxaca Café, conforms most closely to traditional Oaxacan cuisine and is by far the least expensive of the lot, without compromising on flavor.
Still, both of his other restaurants are standouts as well, especially Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante, located in the Centro Histórico on Avenida Constitución, south of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, as well as Casa Oaxaca, the restaurant of the intimate 7-room boutique hotel of the same name, located on Calle García Vigil, also in the Centro Histórico.
- Jazmines 508, north of Palmeras; Colonia Reforma; Mon - Sat 7 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; MX$75 - 200; Most major credit cards; phone 951-502-6017; www.casaoaxacacafe.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yu Ne Nisa • Oaxacan Restaurant • $$-$$$ • (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.
Casa de Cantera • Guelaguetza, Oaxacan Restaurant • (K)
Catering to domestic and foreign tourists, this restaurant stages mini-guelaguetza performances nightly, starting at 8:30 p.m. and costing 140 pesos. For dinner, a set, multi-course meal of Oaxacan food is served during the show, though not included in the price of admission. The restaurant is located in the middle-class Reforma neighborhood, a couple of kilometers north of the Zócalo, about a thirty-minute walk. Not interested in hoofing it, especially at night? A steady stream of cabs queue up at the taxi stand on the north side of the Alameda de León. However, before schlepping it all the way up here, be sure to call ahead and make a reservation for the show, particularly during the low seasons.