Oaxaca’s colonial centre doesn’t lack restaurants. One common “problem” is actually deciding where to eat. After spending six weeks in the city, I’ve compiled this mini-guide to help you with this task. It was tough, but someone had to do it. 🙂

Meal times

Mexicans start the day with a coffee and perhaps a pastry, and don’t have their first real meal of the day until 11:00 am or so. Consequently, early risers may have trouble finding food early in the morning. (If you’re out and about at 7:00 AM, Café Brujula might be your best bet, although I find their food overpriced.)

The main meal of the day, la comida, is from about 2 PM until 4 PM, with the Mexican families rarely arriving before 3 PM. Thanks to the menu del dia, usually offered on weekdays, you can fill yourself up for little money. I ate out every day for this meal!

With such a big meal taken so late, dinner is usually a much smaller affair. Many restaurants close by 6 or 8 PM since Mexicans often just snack at home. The more expensive restaurants and bars remain open until later, sometimes offering entertainment.

Types of food

Oaxaca has some of the best and most varied food in the country, and is the home of mole, the generic name given to thick and complex sauces made from dozens of ingredients. Moles are so rich that unless you have stellar digestion, you may want to consume them in the afternoon (for comida) rather than in the evening before going to bed.

Chicken in an "estofado" mole sauce (Las Quince Letras, Oaxaca)

Chicken in an “estofado” mole sauce (Las Quince Letras)

Other typical foods of the region are tlayudas (Mexican pizzas) with toppings laid out on a large crispy tortilla (sometimes folded). I personally find them a little dry. Popular snack foods include quesillo, a type of stringy cheese, chocolate (sweet and crumbly, ideal for making hot chocolate) and, if you’re feeling adventurous, chapulines, which are basically fried grasshoppers. I would love to tell you that they taste like chicken, but I draw the line at eating bugs! Sorry.

A Mexican specialty called "alambre" (Don Juanito, Oaxaca)

A Mexican specialty called “alambre” – grilled meat and vegetables with cheese (Don Juanito)

Besides Mexican food, you can also find salads, seafood, sandwiches, pastas and pizza, and if you know where to look, “ethnic” food such as Indian, French, and Argentinian, even sushi!

Vegetarians are well catered for in Oaxaca. Even vegans should be able to find something without too much effort. Here are a few vegetarian-friendly places to get you started:

  • 100% Natural, Dr. Liceaga 115 – southern edge of Llano Park (healthy food, some Asian-inspired dishes)
  • Campane, Garcial Vigil 403 (Italian, several well-marked vegetarian dishes)
  • La Jicara, Porfirio Diaz 1105
  • Calabacitas, Alcala 802
  • La Biznaga, Garcia Vigil 512 (vegetarian menu del dia on Tuesdays)

Vegetable burritos at La Biznaga (Oaxaca)

Vegetable burritos at La Biznaga

Keep in mind that most places close on Sunday, and some also close on Monday. Unless otherwise noted, all the places below are in the historical centre.

At the time of writing, the exchange rate is about 12 pesos to the Canadian dollar, and a little over 15 pesos to the US dollar.

Breakfast

I mostly self-catered for breakfast, as my AirBnB room and apartment both offered a kitchen and fridge. Typical Mexican breakfast food revolves around the staples of tortillas, refried beans, cheese, meat, and runny green and red sauces, with varying levels of spicyness. Go to any food market in late morning (20 de Noviembre, La Merced) and you can get your fill for a few dollars. Don’t expect English to be spoken though.

Talking of markets, Oaxaca has a few organic markets. El Pochote, in the Xochimilco neighbourhood, north of the centre, sets up in front of the church of Santo Tomas on Fridays and Saturdays. A more permanent installation (mostly restaurants) can be found in the south of downtown on Calle Rayon near the corner of Xicotencatl. They are a good choice for Mexican breakfasts and lunches.

Stall at organic market El Pochote (Oaxaca)

Stall at organic market El Pochote

If you’re looking for more North American style restaurants with good espresso coffee, I recommend:

  • Café Cultural Fica, Reforma 406 (excellent coffee, egg dishes, sandwiches)
  • Cofetarika, Alcala 403, interior 9 (quiet spot with view over an interior courtyard)
  • El Sol y la Luna, Pino Suarez 304 (Israeli brunch on week-ends)

An egg dish called "shakshuka" (Israeli brunch, El Sol y la Luna, Oaxaca)

An egg dish called “shakshuka” (Israeli brunch, El Sol y la Luna)

Lunch (comida)

When it comes to comida, you have a huge amount of choice. Most places offer a menu del dia, which consist of two, three or four courses, with an agua fresca (flavoured water – like a diluted juice) for a set price. You can find those for as little as 35 pesos, but you get what you pay for. For better quality and more satisfying meals, you’ll be paying between 60 and 125 pesos. The number of courses goes up with the price but always includes a soup or salad, and a main course. At the higher end of the scale, you also get a shot of mezcal (similar to tequila), another thing the Oaxaca region is famous for.

Main course as part of a 3-course menu del dia (Nanixhe, Oaxaca)

Main course as part of a 3-course menu del dia (Nanixhe)

I had good food at all of these places:

  • Cabuche, Hidalgo 1017 (open on Sunday. Menu del dia on weekdays. Interesting local specialties)
  • Nanixhe, Abasolo 103 (nice courtyard, friendly service, 60-80 pesos menu)
  • El Quinque, Alcala 901 (healthy food, nice presentation, only nine tables, 60 pesos menu)
  • Casa del Tio Guero, Garcia Vigil 715 (open on Sunday, free shot of mezcal on your second visit!)
  • La Jicara, Porfirio Diaz 1105 (several vegetarian choices, menu for 90 pesos)
  • Las Quince Letras, Abasolo 305 (4-course menu for 95 pesos)
  • La Olla, Reforma 402 (4-course menu Mon-Sat for 115 pesos including shot of mezcal)
  • La Biznaga, Garcia Vigil 512 (2 large courses + coffee/tea + mezcal for 115-125 pesos. Vegetarian on Tuesday)
  • Don Juanito, M. Bravo corner of Porfirio Diaz (Mexican specialties at affordable prices. Large portions.)

Chile en nogada, my favourite Mexican dish (Casa del tio guero, Oaxaca)

Chile en nogada, my favourite Mexican dish (Casa del tio guero)

Dinner

For dinner, you are ordering à la carte, so meals tend to be more expensive. However, the servings will usually be larger.

Here are restaurants where I enjoyed nice meals at night. (You will notice that some are repeated from the lunch section.)

  • La Biznaga, Garcia Vigil 512 (great fish dishes, mole, soups)
  • Campane, Garcia Vigil 403 (crepes, salads, pastas, burgers)
  • Los Pacos, Abasolo 121 (one of the best spots for mole. Cheaper than La Olla)
  • El Quinque, Alcala 901 (closes at 8 pm and doesn’t serve alcohol; bring your own. Huge servings of delicious fish and meat dishes.)

The crepes at Campane make a perfect light dinner (Oaxaca)

The crepes at Campane make a perfect light dinner

This is a budget blog, so all my recommendations so far have been for reasonably-priced restaurants. However, if you’re looking for a fancy place to splurge, the following establishments come recommended by others (both people I met, and TripAdvisor reviews), but I didn’t try them myself.

  • Casa Oaxaca, Constitucion 104A
  • Los Danzantes, Alcala 403-4
  • Mexita, Dr. Frederico Ortiz Armengol 105 (Colonia Reforma, Northeast of downtown)
  • Catedral, Garcia Vigil 105

Bakeries

If you’re looking for a pastry, or a loaf of bread, you will find many bakeries scattered around downtown. Here are the ones I kept going back to:

  • Boulenc, Porfirio Diaz 222A (rich pastries, breads, sandwiches. They bake pizzas on Thursday and Friday from 3 PM)
  • Pan & Co, Allende 113 (European-style bread and, if you can find it, a chocolate muffin with the texture and taste of a brownie!)
  • A tiny place marked PAN (bread) tucked into one of the arches on Rufino Tamayo street. If you can’t find it, ask at Café El Volador. Go in the morning and get a scone fresh out of the oven. Bread available later in the day. Sometimes quiches.

This sandwich is from Cafe Cultural Fika, but bakery Boulenc also makes delicious sandwiches (Oaxaca)

This sandwich is from Cafe Cultural Fika, but bakery Boulenc also makes delicious sandwiches

Ice cream

Nieve at Plaza Soledad (Oaxaca)First of all, let me say that Oaxaca’s “ice cream” is not gelato. It is more similar in texture and taste to sorbet, and is called nieve (snow). You can find it in many small shops (including one on Alcala just north of Santo Domingo).

Plaza Soledad (next to Soledad church) offers a quiet square surrounded by several open-air nieve shops. The atmosphere is pleasant. You can watch the balloon sellers and musicians, then visit both Soledad and San Jose churches. Try unusual nieve flavours like tuna (cactus fruit), mezcal, or elote (corn).

What and where to drink

Mexico produces a surprising number of beers. You can find them in bars and restaurants for 25-35 pesos, or in stores for 11-15 pesos a can/bottle. Don’t limit yourself to just Corona and Dos Equis!

Mexico also makes wine, surprisingly. Some of it is not half bad. Red wine is often served at the wrong temperature though (either super cold or way too warm). A good bet, if you’re curious to sample some Mexican wines is Tastavins, a tapas and wine bar located at Murguia 309. They open at 6 PM.

To get a view with your drink, consider Café Praga, Allende 106A (they use heating lamps when it gets chilly on the rooftop) or its competitor across the road, Café Crespo (better view but higher prices).

If you want a good margarita, go to La Biznaga or Zandunga (try the tamarind margarita) around the corner on Garcia Vigil.

Margarita at Biznaga (Oaxaca)

Having a margarita at Biznaga

I’m no expert on mezcal, but you can hardly walk a block in the centre of Oaxaca without seeing a shop selling mezcal, a mezcaleria (bar to drink mezcal) or advertisement for tours to a mezcal factory. Bars and many restaurants also serve it. Go make your own discoveries!

For coffee, see my previous article about the best Coffee in Oaxaca.

There, you have it. All my favourite affordable places to eat in Oaxaca. Buen provecho!

Tags: