Zandunga — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
• 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.