Above: Zandunga chicken at La Biznaga
We’ve been visiting Oaxaca off and on for several decades, yet never tire of the food. For some arbitrary reason, or maybe so as not to appear arbitrary, I’m going to offer up a menu of restaurants in alphabetical order spread over two volumes.
Our first rental on this trip was next door to a new rooftop restaurant and bar that packed people in at night. We went up for lunch though and found Agavero Cocina y Bebidas a rather peaceful outdoor space.
Agavero features a nice chunky guacamole “crawling” with a respectable amount of chapulines. The poppy seed bun stood up nicely to a hefty Guelagetza arrachera steak burger, while a blue corn tlayuda was artfully covered with an array of fresh vegetables.
Above: Agavero Cocina y Bebidos
Boulenc is a wonderful place to buy artesan breads, gorgeous pastries and their own chunky peanut butter. They have a pizza oven fired up all the time, but the Mister opted for what he declared the best bahn mi he has ever had.
We tend to view Cabuche as an opportunity to get elevated street food in comfort, intended as a compliment. The shrimp taco was overfilled, a good problem to have to handle, and an abundance of quesillo cheese and rajas de chile were piled onto a tostada. The cazon (dogfish) tostada, unusual for the region, reminded me of the fish featured frequently on menus in Campeche.
La Biznaga always has been the first place we hit when we land in Oaxaca. Their perfectly shaken margaritas start our visits off on the right foot. We were so pleased to find the restaurant’s new location offered our old favorites. Instead of a wide-open patio, expect to find intimate dining spaces in rooms of a former residence, with outdoor seating on its front porch or a small patio out back.
In Mexico, they know that watercress, berros, is too good to just put a tiny sprig on a crustless tea sandwich; it’s meant to fill a salad plate. La Biznaga’s version of berros salad features pears, nuts and blue cheese. Hoja santa leaves encase a generous amount of melting quesilo for a hearty appetizer; the rich blackberry mole atop a chicken breast is a refreshingly different interpretation from most; and the combination of avocado and asparagus works wonderfully atop seared tuna. Featured above, Zandunga, chicken wrapped around platanos, was as remembered.
Above: La Biznaga
In contrast, Las Quince Letras transforms its hierba santa and quesillo into a tasty dainty appetizer. Most foodies give Las Quince Letras high praise for the traditional Oaxacan dishes Celia Florian places front and center.
While the menu is large and contains many dishes with which we are familiar and would probably like, we decided to delve into the the flavors of the traditional sauces with which we were unaccustomed. So please do not regard this as a review of the restaurant as a whole, merely as our personal reaction to those flavors in the two main courses we sampled – billed as sabores autenticos.
The Mister ordered a trio of indigenous moles: amarillo, verde and cequeza, which the menu translate to “blindness” mole made from “broken corn.” I placed all my eggs in one bowl so to speak, opting for shrimp mounded in cequeza mole with roasted cauliflower. Unlike the Oaxacan moles we have experienced and loved throughout the years, we found both the yellow and green moles watery and relatively flavorless to our tastebuds. And the cequeza? Oh dear, it did not suit us at all. Its primary flavor seemed black ash. It was more soup-like than sauce-like, with no spoon provided and none wanted. Shrimp and cauliflower could not save the dish for me.
Again, this is not meant as a review of anything but our personal preferences. We tend to celebrate contemporary evolution of recipes more than the purely traditional, and our reactions to these three indigenous moles confirmed this.
Above: Las Quince Letras
More food ahead as the alphabet continues.
1 thought on “Postcards from Oaxaca, Mexico: Restaurants from the letter A through Las”
Yikes, so sorry for your experience at Quince Letras. I’ve never had a bad meal there. I’ve never had her Segueza but thought it was tasty in Teotitlán del Valle at both Tierra Antigua and Tlamanalli, though very different from what one commonly thinks of as a “mole.”
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