Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Final restaurant round-up

Rooftop restaurants in Oaxaca are so seductive because, aside from the churches, the scale of the architecture is low. The views are of the streetscape below and the colorful tile domes silhouetted against mountainous backdrops.

Mezquite Gastronomia y Destilado fits in that category, plus, the menu is appealing and mezcal cocktails are refreshing. The amuse bouche of elote esquisito leaves you wondering if you could simply order a huge bowl. The appetizer of chunky guacamole was way more than the two of us could finish, but so good we did try. An ahi tuna tostada was perfect for a warm afternoon, and the cochinita pibil sandwich is a hearty meal. Seafood topping linguini was fresh and plentiful, and the coconut flan dessert with a mezcal sauce disappeared quickly.

The open second floor of Tr3s 3istro overlooks the zocolo, perfect for people-watching. The noises from the enormous public square below can be overwhelming, but only for the jaded. Mexicans tend to sit in the back of the restaurant to avoid the noise, freeing up the ringside seats for those of us wanting to take in the ever-changing scene. The service at Tr3s is polished and professional, but, for some reason, we ordered two salmon dishes. The fillets were cooked perfectly, but seemed so boring in comparison to everything else we had been eating. Our fault, not the restaurant’s. Definitely think it is worth visiting and ordering something more Oaxacan. And, there’s the perk of that plaza perch.

Mexita Restaurante, on the other hand, is out of the main tourist zone. One of our favorite things about this Italian restaurant is that the chef makes his own red wine. The arugula salads are always fresh and come in three sizes; the smallest one is enough for two. The seafood topping one pizza was so good, but it completely turned the center of the pie to soup. The house pizza loaded with arugula and blanketed with prosciutto, though, was perfect.

El Destilado Tapas Bar and Restaurant is known for its multi-course dinners of small plates, which we did not have an opportunity to experience. The huge portion of ceviche we tried at lunch time at the mezcal bar was quite fresh and flavorful.

Pilar Cabrera of Restaurante La Olla has been offering cooking classes at Casa de los Sabores for years. We opted for simply getting waited on and fed at La Olla. Had not expected the chiles pasillas rellenos in tacos to be fried, but the deeply complex flavors of chiles pasillas stand up to batter much better than fresh poblanos. The fish was good, but the stars of the meal were tender, grilled pulpo tostadas.

El Morocco Restaurante provides a total change of pace. Caramelized onions topping many of the couscous dishes add a whole different dimension of flavor to them.

La Popular is indeed popular, but I got off to a bad start there. Part of its reputation rests upon it salads and vegetables, particularly grilled eggplant. None were listed on the blackboard. I asked if there were any salads, and the waitress simply said “no.” Vegetables? She again said “no” with no other explanation. So I moved onto other choices. The Mister raved about his torta, but the shrimp quesadillas were completely flavorless. The nicely provided condiments perked them up considerably, but, after so many extremely great rustic corn tortillas elsewhere, these were simply wimps. Right after our dishes were served, handsome salads started appearing at tables around us. When asked about them, the waitress said the kitchen did not offer them until 3 p.m. So, maybe give La Popular a try, but don’t go in at 2:45; wait until 3 p.m.

El Pochote Organic Market in the Xochimilco neighborhood was two blocks from our apartment in Oaxaca. The Friday and Saturday market is patronized more for its food booths than quantities of fresh produce. There are ample tables in the shade, but we tended to pick up tamales wrapped in banana leaves and chickpea-and-greens frittatas for later meals at home. On Fridays, El Pochote seems to attract mainly ex-pats, but Saturdays bring out local families. Shopping certainly is enhanced by the mezcal tastings offered by two of the market’s vendors.

Hope the earlier posts and this help you plan your agenda in Oaxaca.


Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Final flavorful food photos

Aside from Los Danzantes and La Biznaga mentioned in an earlier post, we patronized other restaurants worth suggesting. Again, will mainly let the photos do their own self-promotion.

  • Mexita Restaurante definitely is in the running to become a place we enjoy going to multiple times during a trip, but, alas, we didn’t visit until the last week. In the past year, the Italian restaurant moved out of the historic center to the Reforma side of the city, which seemed to have changed the profile of its customer base from overwhelmingly American to mainly Mexican. The individual-sized arugula salad is ample for two, and we split a stunningly gorgeous seafood pizza.
  • We fell in love with Origen a year ago, yet only went once this time. We loved the casual intimacy of the small inner courtyard, where you could feel the chef-driven kitchen pulsing beside you. Now there is a more formally appointed dining room upstairs. The innovative takes using regional Oaxacan ingredients were still beautifully prepared and are recommended, but we ourselves were unprepared for the stiff, more traditional atmosphere.
  • Café Bistrot Epicuro offers Italian Mediterranean dishes in its quiet interior. Its grilled shrimp and calamari platter and its seafood linguini are well presented, but my favorite part is the eggplant amuse-bouche. More please.
  • La Teca is a homey spot. Because it is actually a home. Pass through the tables set up in the almost garage-like entryway if the front door through the family’s living room is not open, and head back to the pleasant little patio. The food presented is Istmos-style. Unless you haven’t eaten in days, don’t be persuaded to order the works. The multi-course meal is both too expansive and expensive. The food is heavy, so stick to one or two items al a carte.
  • Gourmand Delicatessen presents a major change of pace. The small deli is a spot we order whole Spanish tortillas to take home for breakfasts or dinners. Sandwiches, sliders (particularly the eggplant one) and salads are all good, and Gourmand bakes their own rolls and bagels.
  • We keep looking for a good Sinaloan seafood spot in Oaxaca. We tried off-the-tourist-track Don Camaron this time. The ceviche was good, and the smoked marlin taco was something I’d never had before. But maybe one of the places with the lines running out the doors on a Sunday might prove more atmospheric.
  • A bright interior cozy patio surrounded by a book store characterizes La Jicara, offering numerous vegetarian options. The lentil and carrot tostadas were wonderfully refreshing.
  • Not a destination if you are on the other side of town, but the little Trattoria y Pizzeria fronting Conzatti Park is a nice neighborhood pizza place. The apple and gorgonzola pizza was simple and had a wonderfully thin crust, and the server delivers an amazingly addictive dish of olive oil loaded with thin crisp slices of caramelized garlic as a complimentary starter.
  • We loved picking up earthy breads from Pan y Co, and would pick up freshly roasted and ground coffee from a shop on a pedestrian plaza-like street running off Los Arcos and almost next door to chef Susannah Trilling’s new storefront offering her Seasons of My Heart moles and chocolates. So new even her website doesn’t list it and its address yet, and so new she herself was standing in it arranging things and talking to us about her products and classes. Sorry, those aren’t very helpful directions…. Maybe next time, in addition to wining and dining, I’ll break down and take one of her cooking classes.