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The food in Oaxaca is complex with strong indigenous roots from the Zapotec and Mixtec groups.
After 6 months in Oaxaca, we share this Oaxaca food guide to help you navigate the traditional and local Oaxaca foods.
From street stands, markets, and restaurants, you’ll find Oaxaca foods and snacks (antojitos) rich in history.
Oaxaca has long been considered the epicenter of Mexico’s traditional food culture.
Part of its gastronomical wealth comes from the many microclimates found within the eight regions of the state.
In 2019, Oaxaca, Mexico was awarded Best Gourmet Destination in Mexico by gastronomy magazine, Food & Travel Mexico.
And in 2020, readers of Travel + Leisure ranked Oaxaca as the top city for food.
You visit Oaxaca to taste mole and sip on Mezcal, the smoky Mexican spirit. And, you don’t leave without tasting chocolate, tlayudas, yolk bread, and more.
Use this comprehensive Oaxaca food guide to help you navigate the local food scene.
Welcome to the emblematic foods of Oaxaca, in the Land of the Sun.
Oaxaca has the most micro-climates than any other state in Mexico and the most endemic plants.
Oaxaca’s gastronomy incorporates pre-Hispanic elements with the diversity of the eight regions and the 16 indigenous groups.
As a result, the food in Oaxaca is one of the most outstanding and colorful regional cuisines in the country.
Oaxaca cuisine is anchored in a few key traditional ingredients that are expressed in Oaxaca foods.
Corn is one example. Oaxaca is considered the birthplace of corn and you’ll find native corn used in tlayudas, blandas (Oaxaca tortillas), tostadas, and more.
Chocolate in Oaxaca dates back to pre-Hispanic times. And for the Zapotecs, chocolate was considered a “drink of the Gods.”
Today, you’ll find cacao in the famous Oaxaca moles, drinks, and desserts.
Even though Mexico in general is known for chiles, the ones from Oaxaca stand out.
There are unique chiles from different regions of the state used in moles and a number of local Oaxaca foods.
Insects and in particular, chapulines or grasshoppers are widely consumed in Oaxaca. A rich source of protein, grasshoppers are typically eaten by themselves as a snack or in dishes.
Oftentimes, you’ll find guacamole with chapulines or tlayudas and tortillas with grasshoppers.
Mezcal, Oaxaca’s ancestral state beverage is ingrained in the local culinary culture. With about 60% – 90% of mezcal, produced in Oaxaca, it is considered the home of Mezcal.
This distilled liquor made from the Agave plant is present on every table and at every celebration.
Check Our Oaxaca Video With Oaxaca Foods and Markets
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How to Pronounce Oaxaca
Before we dive into Oaxaca food, we digress briefly to the origins and pronunciation of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca de Juárez, the capital of the state is situated in the valley of Oaxaca.
The name Oaxaca or Huāxyacac in Nahuatl translates to “on the nose of the guajes.”
This is in reference to the pods of the Guaje tree found commonly in the state.
The Mexican state of Oaxaca is pronounced as WAH-ha-KA. And a person from Oaxaca is oaxaqueño or oaxaqueña depending on gender.
1. Tlayudas de Oaxaca – Oaxaca Style Pizza
Tlayudas also spelled “Clayudas” are of the most iconic and uniquely traditional Oaxaca foods.
This is a traditional Oaxaca street food that is also sometimes referred to as Oaxaca pizza or Mexican style pizza.
Tlayudas consists of a large flat crispy tortilla smeared with refried black beans cooked with asiento or unrefined pork lard.
On top of the black beans is a layer of Oaxacan cheese or quesillo, which is white string cheese similar to mozzarella. The tlayuda is then topped with meat.
Typical meat options are usually beef (tasajo or arrachera), pork (cecina), pork rib (costilla), Mexican sausages (chorizo), or chicken (tinga).
When you add chapulines or grasshoppers, the regional delicacy, you have a uniquely tlayuda de Oaxaca.
Beyond the basic ingredients, you’ll find tlayudas with additional toppings such as shredded cabbage, avocados, or even tomatoes.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: If you are looking for a twist on traditional pizza, try tlayudas instead. Learn to make tlayudas from scratch with our Tlayuda Recipe with video instructions.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants for Tlayudas
Tlayudas are popular throughout Oaxaca and you’ll find them at markets, street vendors, and restaurants.
They are typically eaten in the evenings and are a popular late-night Oaxaca food.
We enjoyed tlayudas at several local restaurants. The price is about 90 pesos (approx. $3.78) with your choice of meat. Keep in mind that tlayudas are quite filling.
El Negro is one of the popular local restaurants that offer traditional tlayudas we particularly enjoyed. They have several locations in Oaxaca and you cannot go wrong with any of their tlayudas.
Another Talyudas restaurant that quickly became our favorite spot is Doña Luchita, located near the market La Merced.
Try the delicious aguas frescas water especially the lemon y pepino con chia to accompany your tlayudas.
Finally, if you are in the Reforma area, Doña Flavia is a lively restaurant popular with locals.
2. Mole de Oaxaca – Oaxaca Seven Moles and Beyond
Mole is a signature Oaxaca food and can be described as a symbol of the state. Mole is a rich, and complex tasty sauce.
Multi-layered, each mole sauce has multiple ingredients and comes in many flavors and colors.
The word mole comes from mulli in the Nahuatl language which translates to sauce or concoction. A good mole is a thing of beauty.
Mole Negro, the Most Famous Oaxaca Mole
The Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca are said to be where mole originated. And, since we were exploring Oaxaca food, we took the opportunity to dive deep into moles in Oaxaca.
To understand mole and Oaxaca’s culinary traditions, we met with Celia Florián, chef and owner of Las Quinces Letras restaurant.
Celia is considered the authority in Oaxacan gastronomy and her restaurant features the rich flavors of Oaxaca foods.
Some refer to Oaxaca as “the land of the 7 moles.” The celebrated Oaxaca moles are mole negro, mole rojo, mole coloradito, mole amarillo, mole verde, mole chichilo, and mole manchamantel.
When we asked Celia about that, she simply laughed. Oaxaca, she emphasized, has eight regions and the moles vary based on ingredients, occasion, and the cook’s personal taste.
However, the most famous mole in Oaxaca is mole negro or black mole. This mole has over 30 ingredients, chocolate and, 6 different types of chile.
This rich sauce is typically served with either chicken or turkey and accompanied with rice.
At Las Quinces Letras, we tried a sampling of five different kinds of moles. Almendrado, Amarillo, Cegueza, Coloradito, and Mole Negro. All the moles were different and ranging from spicy and bitter to sweet.
Oaxaca moles, we learned, are typically not served with beef. Pork and chicken are the most common meats.
The mole sauce also never includes vegetables and those are served separately depending on the options on the menu.
Mole Chichilo – A Pre-Hispanic Oaxaca Mole
As we happily devoured moles with different colors and ingredients, one that stood out was Mole Chichilo.
We had the good fortune of eating mole chichilo with locals in their home and learning about this difficult to find Oaxaca mole.
Isabel, a local whom we met invited us to her mother’s home to taste traditional Oaxacan foods.
For dinner, her mother, Paulina Amalia made us her favorite dish, mole chichilo.
We were so excited to try this mole as it is one of the famous Oaxaca moles. It is a pre-Hispanic mole that is typically made at home or for special occasions.
The base of this mole is made with a mixture of chiles including black Mexican pasilla chile and black chilhuacle pepper, endemic to Oaxaca.
Unlike other Oaxaca moles, mole chichilo does not contain sugar and its flavors are elaborated with the array of ingredients used.
This mole is also not as thick as other as others making it quite easy to enjoy.
While many moles are served with chicken or pork, this one is accompanied by beef. Layered in our delicious bowls of mole chichilo were green beans and chayote, a type of squash.
Paulina Amalia told us this was one of her favorite Oaxaca foods as it reminded her of her childhood.
The joy on Paulina Amalia’s face as she reminisced about making mole chichilo with her mother was evident.
We truly enjoyed an exceptional mole chichilo that ran much deeper than the flavors
Best Oaxaca Restaurant For Oaxaca Moles
There are many places in Oaxaca, from markets to gourmet restaurants, where you can taste the Mole de Oaxaca.
Here are three restaurants we highly recommend to make the best of your experience with Moles.
There is a section dedicated to moles where you can taste 5 of the seven moles. They also offer a trilogy of moles as well as different preparations to taste moles with appetizers to meat or fish.
Each dish cost between 110 to 205 pesos (approx. $5.16 to $9.62) and is worth every peso.
Another gourmet restaurant we particularly enjoyed is Los Danzantes. On their menu, you find a degustation of four moles with mole amarillo, rojo, negro and, manchamanteles for 145 pesos (approx. $6.81).
Small cups of moles are presented with warm azul tortilla to dip and savor the moles.
It’s a simple though wonderful way to get a taste of moles. We highly recommend choosing the mezcal tasting paired with the mole.
For an additional 40 pesos (approx. $1.88) you get to pair moles with 4 different mezcals. It’s the perfect introduction to Oaxaca foods and drinks.
Carmelita – Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
If you like to venture into local and unpretentious venues, we recommend the food stand of Carmelita in Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Carmelita stand is one of the first stands when you enter via Francisco Javier Mina street.
This is a third-generation food stand or comedor and Carmelita has been running the stand for 25 years. Comedor Carmelita is one of the few places to offer mole chichilo.
Her menu is simple. At lunch, she has two or three dishes of the day. Find soups, chile relleno, or stuffed peppers, mole negro, and more. For 40 pesos (approx. $1.88) you can taste one of her traditional moles including mole chichilo.
3. Chiles Rellenos – Stuffed Peppers Oaxaca Style
With chiles being one of the pillars of Mexican cuisine, you’ll find stuffed peppers all over the country.
Each region prepares them differently, and the ones from Oaxaca are exceptional.
It is common to find chiles rellenos stuffed with cheese. However, in Oaxaca, they are stuffed with shredded chicken and a combination of sweet and savory ingredients.
Known as Chiles Rellenos de Picadillo, they are also made with chile de agua, an heirloom chile from Oaxaca.
As one of my favorite Oaxaca foods, the flavors of the picadillo are simply divine.
Shredded chicken with tomatoes, onions, almonds, olives, capers, raisins, and herbs make the sweet and savory flavors.
Making chiles rellenos is time-consuming. In an Oaxaca cooking class, we learned to make the stuffed peppers using the local, chile de agua.
In the cooking class, we roasted the chiles over a stovetop to peel off the skin. The roasting process, we learned, transforms, and enhances the flavors.
Once the chiles are stuffed with the picadillo mixture, they are lightly battered with flour and dipped into hot oil.
The golden-colored fluffy chiles rellenos are a delightful combination of sweet and spicy notes.
Best Oaxaca Restaurant For Chiles Rellenos
We enjoyed Chiles Rellenos as a main dish at a local restaurant called El Tipico.
El Tipico is a family-owned restaurant located a few blocks from the main park, El Lano. The staff is friendly and the setting is casual and traditional.
They have an extensive menu with different Oaxaca foods to try including a plate of botanas or Oaxaquena snacks.
The chiles rellenos is made the traditional way with Chile de Agua filled with chicken. An exquisite dish for 105 pesos (approx. $4.93)
Additionally, In Oaxaca, you can also find delightful sandwiches, known as tortas made with Chiles Rellenos.
4. Caldo de Piedra – Stone Soup
Caldo de Piedra is a pre-Hispanic dish that honors women and is prepared only by men.
It is a stone soup, a specialty of the Chinantec people, who live near the Papaloapan River, north of Oaxaca city.
The ingredients include shallots, onions, cilantro, epazote, chile, water, fish, and shrimp. All these raw ingredients are cooked together with red hot river stones for about 3-4 minutes.
This traditional Oaxaca food is served in a hollowed-out heat resistant jicara or dried gourd.
Making Caldo de Piedra is a cultural tradition passed down from generation to generation. This soup represents an offering to honor distinguished people.
And for that reason, women do not prepare the soup as they are among those traditionally honored with it.
The preparation of Caldo de Piedra is a sight to behold. Special river stones are heated over coals until they get extremely hot.
Once ready, two or three stones are dropped carefully into the gourd and the soup immediately starts boiling.
And in no time, a heady aroma of herbs and savory flavors hit you. The fish and seafood, cooked perfectly, is intoxicatingly good.
Caldo de Piedra is a symbol of unity, honor, and respect. This ancestral soup is not to be missed in Oaxaca.
It is described as special because it comes from the heart.
Best Oaxaca Restaurant For Caldo de Piedra
Caldo de Piedra restaurant, named after the soup, is the original restaurant that serves this dish. They have two locations, one near Tule, their first restaurant, and one in Oaxaca center on 5 de Mayo.
We visited the restaurant located near Tule, a town famous for having one of the largest trees in the world.
The unpretentious and inviting restaurant is owned by the Gachupín family, who are from San Felipe Usila Tuxtepec.
This is the town by the Papaloapan River where the stones come from. All the ingredients are natural, organic and the stones are only used once.
The restaurant offers only three options for Caldo de Piedra. You can have it with shrimp, river fish, or a combination of the two.
Watching them prepare the soup is a unique experience not to miss. The soup is tasty, filling and the fish perfectly cooked.
Plan for about 200 pesos for one soup (approx. $9.39).
5. Tamales Oaxaqueños or Tamales Oaxaquenos – Oaxaca Style Tamales
Tamales are one of Mexico’s favorite dishes and the ones from Oaxaca have a special place in the heart of all Mexicans.
Tamales have a long history in Mexico and Central America, dating back to 7,000 B.C. in the Aztec empire.
At the time, indigenous people gathered wild “teocintle,” the ancestor of modern corn. Corn was an important ritual food and for the Aztecs and Teocintle was the name of a maize god.
The Olmec, Toltec, and Mayan civilizations of ancient Mexico shared myths around the creation of man from corn.
The word tamal comes from the Nahuatl, Tamalli which means wrapped.
Tamales are made from a steamed masa or corn dough and wrapped in corn husks in many parts of Mexico.
Oaxaca Tamales de Mole – The Most Famous Oaxacan Tamales
In Oaxaca, the tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, a technique that gives added flavors.
They are also square in shape and sometimes tied with twine for a signature look.
Oaxaca is one of the Mexican states with the most variety of tamales. They differ by region within the state, from the type of dough, filling, and even by family.
Time-consuming to make, tamales are not a typical everyday food. They are mostly eaten for special occasions like Day of the Dead, Christmas, New Year’s, or other family celebrations.
One of the most popular Oaxaca tamales is tamales de mole en hoja de plátano. It is made with chicken with mole negro or black mole steamed in a banana leaf.
There are many more savory versions of this Oaxaca food. You’ll find Oaxaca tamales with yellow mole, green mole, red mole, usually containing chicken.
Non-meat options include tamales with beans, cheese, or tamales with chepil herb.
Tamales Dulces – Sweet Tamales
Tamales dulces or sweet tamales are also popular options. These tamales are made with sweetened dough.
They can include nuts, fruits like pineapple, prunes, raisins, and much more.
Sometimes, these tamales have a pink color from natural food coloring.
While we enjoyed the savory tamales, the chocolate tamale was by far our most surprising and enjoyable sweet tamale.
Dark in color, not too sweet, this is one pre-Hispanic dish not to be missed.
For those who want to make Oaxaca tamales at home, here’s a recipe from Seasons of My Heart, which features pork and mole coloradito or mole negro.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants For Tamales Oaxaqueños
We enjoyed tamales de mole and other savory tamales from Lety, a food stall inside Mercado de La Merced.
Most Sundays after long runs, we would and get tamales at Lety. We first noticed the long line (pre-Covid) of locals waiting by the stand to get their serving of tamales.
All the other tamales vendors were ignored except by locals in a hurry. We decided to give it a try and have since sampled every single one of their tamales.
Our favorites are the tamales de mole en hoja de plátano for 30 pesos (approx. $1.41). We also enjoyed the tamales rajas (filled with peppers and cheese) and chepil herb for 20 pesos each (approx. $0.94).
An excellent restaurant for savory tamales is Levadura de Olla. This gem is located a few blocks away from the church Santo Domingo.
For 110 pesos ($5.16), taste refined tamales that melt in the mouth. One of the best restaurants for elevated traditional Oaxaca foods.
FFor tamales dulce or sweet tamales, we recommend the tamal de chocolate from Casa Taviche at 55 pesos (approx. $2.61). This quaint restaurant serves a blend of traditional dishes made with fresh, local ingredients.
6. Memelas – Traditional Oaxaca Corn and Cheese Snack
Memelas are one of the most traditional and popular Oaxaca foods. They are typically eaten for breakfast, though you can find some street vendors selling them for lunch.
A memela is a thick little tortilla that gets pinched around the edges. A little bit of asiento or pork lard is layered on it.
And, this is followed by a thin bean paste and topped with either queso fresco or Oaxaca quesillo cheese.
Other than cheese, you can have this Oaxaca food with a variety of toppings.
Most vendors will have tinga or stewed chicken, champinones or mushrooms, choripapa or potatoes and chorizo, and more.
For a tasty snack in Oaxaca, you can’t go wrong with memelas.
Memelas are best enjoyed hot. When you see the ladies cooking on the comal, pull up a seat and try one.
This simple and flavorful food in Oaxaca will win you over.
For a glimpse into memelas in Oaxaca, see our Memelas Popular Oaxaca Street Food YouTube video.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants for Memelas
Memelas is one of the most popular street food you can find in Oaxaca.
Our favorite food stall for lunch is Memelas San Augustin located by the San Augustin in the center.
For 15 pesos each (approx. $0.70), you can choose from different styles of memelas. Our favorites memelas from San Augustin are the memelas with quesillo, the memelas with pico de gallo and, the picadillo.
Another location we have yet to taste is Memelas Doña Mago in Reforma open for breakfast and early lunch.
The memelas are known to be rich and hearty.
7. Tetelas – Triangle – Shaped Corn Snack
Tetelas are another local snack food in Oaxaca not to be missed. Like many other Oaxaca foods, tetelas are based on the trilogy of corn, beans and chili.
Shaped like a triangle, tetelas are traditionally stuffed with beans and cheese, and complemented with a spicy chili sauce.
The corn tortilla is prepared and then typically filled with beans in the center.
It is folded inwards, into three parts to form a triangle and then cooked on the comal.
The beans are usually mashed and seasoned and sometimes, cheese is added.
This tasty snack is from the Mixtec region of the State of Oaxaca. They can also be found in the State of Puebla in the areas bordering Oaxaca.
Besides the basic fillings, you can find tetelas made with mushrooms, cheese pork belly, and more.
Some creative tetelas we enjoyed had stewed meat with onions and fresh cheese and one with almond mole sauce.
You can’t miss tetelas in Oaxaca. They are delightful triangular pockets and a tasty introduction to the regional foods within the state.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants for Tetelas
One of our favorite restaurants where to eat Tetelas is called Baltazar. This quaint restaurant is located inside the Mezcaleria Convite, located a couple of blocks west from Santo Domingo church.
The patio is really charming, the atmosphere relaxing and the staff friendly. They offer the best comida corrida or menu of the day for lunch at only 65 pesos (approx. $3.05).
With the menu of the day, you get to taste the traditional tetelas with beans called tetelas sencilla.
They also offer other tetelas prepared with different fillings “a la carte”. For breakfast, simple tetelas are served 25 pesos each (approx. $1.17). While for lunch and afternoon snacks, you find tetelas to share starting at 140 pesos (approx. $6.57).
We highly recommend accompanying your tetelas with their Mezcal cocktails, some of the best in Oaxaca.
Another address for tetelas and traditional Oaxaca foods is Itanoni in Reforma. We enjoyed their tetelas starting at 28 pesos to 52 pesos each (approx. $1.31 to $2.44).
Unfortunately, the service is slow and faulty. Mistakes were made on our simple order and other customers in line experienced the same issues.
8. Oaxacan Empanadas
Ever since we fell in love with the empanadas in Argentina, we’ve always had a soft spot for empanadas in general.
Unlike the empanadas in Argentina, in Oaxaca, they are different starting with the size.
Oaxacan empanadas are made with a large round corn tortilla that is stuffed and cooked on a comal.
The empanada is filled with a stuffing of your choice, folded over and served hot.
One of our favorite fillings was Oaxaca cheese or quesillo with flor de calabaza or squash blossom.
Others we particularly enjoyed were empanadas filled with chicken in a savory yellow or green mole sauce.
Oaxacan empanadas are a must-eat Oaxaca and not to be missed while in the area.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants for Empanadas
One of our favorite place to eat a quick lunch or snack in Oaxaca is La Güerita at the entrance of La Merced.
This empanadas and memelas stand is very popular with locals. They serve generous empanadas filled with traditional Oaxaqueña ingredients.
Find empanadas de quesillo, flor de calabaza, chile rellenos, and more at 40 pesos each (approx. $1.88)
To taste the famous empanadas de mole amarillo, check the Mercado de Comidas in Tulle.
Located about 10km (or 6 miles) from Oaxaca, this quaint town is known for having one of the largest trees in the world.
Most of the food stands serve this local specialty. Prepare to be harassed to take a seat at one of the many comedors inside this large open air food market.
For 25 pesos, you get to taste a restorative and warm empanadas de mole amarillo (approx. $1.17).
9. Empanadas de San Antonio
Empanadas de San Antonio is a unique Oaxaca food that deserves a specific mention.
These specialty empanadas hail from the Zapotec community of San Antonino Castillo Velasco.
These traditional empanadas were made with indigenous corn with chili and local ingredients.
Since the arrival of the Spanish and over the years, the ingredients now include pork or chicken and a variety of herbs.
The cooks of San Antonio are said to add secret ingredients that give these empanadas distinctive flavors.
We tried the empanadas de San Antonio stuffed with chicken. A slightly thick tortilla on a hot comal is filled with a rich yellow mole sauce containing chicken.
It is folded in half and allowed to cook on the comal slowly.
As the empanada is turned gently from side to side, it is allowed to cook until the tortilla becomes crispy.
Served hot, it is a burst of delicious flavors.
Flavorful mole oozing out of the empanada is an experience not to be missed.
Best Oaxaca Restaurant for Empanadas de San Antonio
We found this delicious empanadas de San Antonio at a Saturday tianguis or local market around the city.
Known as tianguis 16 de Septiembre this is a gem to find produce and local Oaxaca food at affordable prices.
At their comal, the ladies from San Antonio prepare the empanadas, and then cook them while you wait.
You can get your empanadas fix for 25 pesos each (approx. $1.17)
10. Garnachas Istmeñas – Corn Snacks with Pork and Pickled Slaw
Garnachas are one of the most famous dishes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Oaxaca state.
The cuisine, known as Istmeño cuisine, can be found at many local eateries in the city of Oaxaca.
The term garnachas comes from Spain, where the term is used to designate a type of grape.
In Mexico, garnachas are snacks that consist of small fried tortillas with various toppings.
The incredibly flavorful garnachas from Istmeño kitchens are typically eaten as evening snacks. They make a great accompaniment to mezcal or local beer.
This Oaxaca food starts with a small fried disc of corn dough, topped with shredded meat, salsa and, picked coleslaw.
For little bites and to taste the surprising flavors from the Isthmus region, sample the range of garnachas available.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants For Garnachas
We ate our favorite garnachas at Expendio de Tradicion. This classy local restaurant proposes a traditional menu with a full mezcal bar.
This was one of our top spots to enjoy Mezcal cocktails. Garnachas are the perfect go-to snacks while sipping on a glass of mezcal or mezcal cocktail.
Plan for about 150 pesos for a plate with 5 garnachas (approx. $7.04)
If you are looking to dive deeper into Istmeña food, we recommend eating at Zandunga.
This restaurant has specialty Istmeña food and is located in the historical center of Oaxaca.
For 450 pesos (approx. $21), we shared a plate of snacks from the Isthmus region, Botana Zandunga, which included tasty garnachas.
11. Molotes de Platano – Stuffed Plantains
Plantains, in various stages of ripeness, appear on many Mexican menus as appetizers, meals, or desserts.
In the southern State of Oaxaca, plantain molotes or molotes de plátano are a celebrated Oaxaca food.
Plantain Molotes are a traditional food from the Isthmus region of Oaxaca. And, you can savor them sweet or savory.
Molotes are small croquettes made from plantains. They are little oblong rolls usually stuffed with either meat, cheese, or beans, depending on the region.
You can find them at markets, local eateries all the up to upscale restaurants focusing on food from Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants For Molotes de Platano
We enjoyed our best molotes de platano at Las Quinces Letras restaurant. Served with an excellent mole coloradito, the molotes were filled with a tasty shredded chicken.
For 110 pesos (approx $5.16), this dish is a great introduction to the Istmeña food in Oaxaca. This was a fine start to our mole tasting at Las Quinces Letras.
Another great Oaxaca restaurant for a different take on molotes is La Olla. The molotes are prepared in an avocado sauce with cheese and a side salad for 60 pesos (approx. $2.85).
12. Sopa de Guías – Oaxaca Squash Soup with Corn Dumplings
While this Oaxaca soup is available year-round. It grows in popularity during the rainy season and when the freshest ingredients are available.
This delicious soup or guias, is a classic of Oaxaca cuisine. The basic ingredients are squash, zucchini, corn, chochoyotes or corn dough and pumpkin flowers.
The chocoyote are small balls of corn dough that add extra texture to the soup.
What makes this soup so special is the use of the tender parts of the squash, obtained during the rainy season.
Our introduction to this Oaxaca traditional soup was at a local’s home. The soup, hot and steamy was tasty with earthy tastes.
The flavors were fresh and the corn and squash very tender. The chocoyote or corn dough balls were surprisingly firm.
They didn’t fall apart in the soup and added a nice contrast to the textures of the other ingredients.
As one of the traditional foods in Oaxaca, look for sopa de guias on the menu and savor the unique flavors.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants For Sopa de Guias
Las Quinces Letras restaurant has a wide range of traditional Oaxacan dishes. They offer various soups from the region including the delicious Sopa de Guias for 170 pesos (approx $8.06)
Served with a tlayuda and tasajo, this soup makes for an encompassing Oaxaquena experience.
13. Piedrazos – Pickled Oaxaca Snack
Popular in Oaxaca and even more so after being featured on Netflix, piedrazos, are a popular street snack.
A typical piedrazos consists of pieces of toasted bread cut into triangles. Once you place your order, the vendor will soak the toasted bread for a few minutes in vinegar.
When the bread softens, pickled onions and vegetables are added.
We had twice, once with quesillo cheese and another time without. Chili powder and worm salt are added for extra flavoring.
The taste of piedrazos is acidic due to the acidic pickled flavors. You either love it or hate it.
After trying it a few times, we were not fans of the mouth-puckering tastes.
Nonetheless, don’t miss the opportunity to try this local Oaxacan delicacy.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants For Piedrazos
To try piedrazos, try this traditional local store called El Pocito. The lady managing the shop specializes in selling aguas frescas or fruit flavored waters and piedrazos.
Located by the Trinidad de las Huertas church in La Noria, It is well frequented and very popular with locals. A local experience unique to Oaxaca.
Oaxaca breakfast known as desayuno, is one of the most important meals of the day.
For locals, the day often begins with a cup of hot chocolate, atole, or coffee. This is accompanied by traditional pastries known as pan dulce.
At about 11:00 am or so, a second more substantial Oaxaca breakfast is eaten. This one includes variations of meat, eggs, and beans.
The following three Oaxaca breakfast dishes are traditional and worth savoring. They are on the substantial side and a good base for a day of exploring.
14. Entomatadas – Tortillas in Tomato Sauce
Entomatadas are a hearty and wholesome breakfast food found all over Oaxaca.
In its simplest form, it is tortillas bathed in tomato sauce served with fresh cheese and protein.
The lightly fried tortillas in the entomatadas are folded in half and topped with a slightly spicy tomato-based sauce.
Accompanying the dish are usually beans and some type of meat or eggs. Fresh cheese and avocado garnish this Oaxaca food.
The depth of flavors can be found in the sauce. Similar to enfrijoladas below, this is a simple and hearty Oaxaca food.
15. Enfrijoladas – Tortillas in Pureed Black Bean Sauce
Enfrijoladas are a common Oaxaca food typically eaten at breakfast. While they look distantly related to enchiladas, they are completely different.
Made with beans, corn, and chiles for extra flavoring, enfrijoladas reflect the pillars of Mexican cuisine.
The black beans and chiles combined with tortillas lightly browned in oil, transform this simple Oaxaca food into a breakfast feast.
Preparing this local Oaxaca food calls for black beans cooked in avocado leaves and chiles and herbs. Each cook adds their own special touch to their enfrijoladas recipe.
In addition to the black beans which create a thick and flavorful sauce, it is also served with protein. Fresh white queso fresco cheese and a slice of tasajo or thin cut of beef accompany the tortillas.
A filling and tasty dish, this is another of Claire’s favorite local Oaxaca breakfast foods.
16. Enchiladas Oaxaca – Tortillas Dipped in Mole Sauce
Enchiladas are a classic Mexican dish. They are generally corn tortillas, bathed in a sauce, and typically served with cheese, onions, and parsley.
Each region of the country has its specialty and Oaxaca is no exception.-
In Oaxaca, enchiladas with mole coloradito are a common Oaxaca food.
Tortillas dipped in a layered dark colored mole sauce served with a protein of your choice.
At a local market, we were seduced by the enchiladas with mole coloradito.
The rich dish consisted of three fried enchiladas, with pork, beef, and cheese. Topping the dish were raw onions and parsley.
The dark sauce, we learned, had spices and chocolate. Therefore, it was no surprise that this Oaxaca food was rich with a surprising spicy bite.
Even though you may have had enchiladas before, don’t miss trying traditional Oaxaca style enchiladas.
Best Oaxaca Restaurants for Breakfast
Entomatadas, enfrijoladas, and enchiladas are dishes that you will find on the same menu of restaurants serving breakfast in Oaxaca.
Although these are typically breakfast food, you will find them served until lunchtime. We enjoyed these hearty dishes served for lunch at the markets of Oaxaca
At Mercado La Merced, you will find the long standing Fonda Rosita.
One of their specialties is enchiladas verde y rojas as well and other hearty Mexican breakfast dishes like chilaquiles.
A serving of entomatadas, enfrijoladas or enchiladas cost 40 pesos without meat (approx. $1.88). Add meat or eggs for an extra 20 pesos (approx. $0.94).
Another well-known breakfast restaurant at La Merced is Fonda Florecita. Unfortunately, closed due to covid, we didn’t have the chance to eat there.
One of our best entomatadas was a small comedor at Mercado Candiani. Two young ladies manage the last comedor on the right end side as you enter the market.
The entomatadas were made with a flavorful homemade tomato sauce and firmed dipped tortillas served with fresh cooked eggs. This savory breakfast is a treat for 40 pesos (approx. $1.88)
For a traditional Oaxaca breakfast in a restaurant setting, we recommend La Olla. This traditional restaurant served typical Oaxaca foods for breakfast.
Try the enchiladas de coloradito with chicken for a hearty breakfast at 120 pesos (approx. $5.63)
Local and Traditional Oaxaca Desserts
Like Oaxaca food, traditional desserts vary according to the region from which they come.
The local desserts can be fried, baked, or based on fruits, corn, squash, and more.
Oaxacan sweets also include the use of chocolate baked into bread or pastries or in a liquid form.
Ice cream and frozen drinks are also consumed as well as sweet versions of dishes like tamale dulce.
And, for special events like the day of the dead and around the holidays the variety of Oaxaca desserts multiplies.
Following, are five traditional Oaxaca desserts not to be missed.
16. Nicuatole – Traditional Corn Based Oaxacan Dessert
Nicuatole, also known as Nicuotol or Necuatolli is a pre-Hispanic Oaxacan dessert with Zapotec origins.
A popular local food in Oaxaca, you’ll find at markets or sold by street vendors.
This dessert is an odd corn-based gelatinous treat sold in a mold or cut up in slices. It has a pink colored layer that is natural or made using pink dye.
The texture of nicuatole is similar to jello and is simultaneously soft and firm.
In addition to the corn dough, it also includes water or milk, cinnamon, natural sugar, and vanilla.
The taste took us some getting used to. The corn flavors are heavy and slight vanilla and cinnamon add a smooth finish.
We didn’t find this local Oaxacan dessert to be sweet but rather pleasant and satisfying.
We enjoyed nicutaloe with two different types of corn. One with the regular white corn and one with blue corn.
While they looked different, they both tasted the same.
These traditional Zapotec flavors are not to be missed in Oaxaca.
Best Places to Eat Nicuatole in Oaxaca
Nicuatole is a traditional Oaxaca food that you will find only as a street food.
One of the best food stands to try nicuatole is at the tianguis around La Merced on Sundays.
There you can find nicuatole with the two different types of corn for only 8 pesos (approx. $0.38).
17. Nieve de Leche Quemada Con Tuna – Oaxacan Burnt Milk Ice-Cream
Nieves are frozen treats popular across Mexico. The name means “snow” and the origins are ancestral from the Aztec empire.
Each region of the country has its own and celebrated flavors. In Oaxaca, it is burnt milk with prickly-pear fruit or leche quemada con tuna.
It was hot when we first arrived in Oaxaca. And, the first tip we got from locals was to try Oaxaca’s popular frozen treats.
Burnt milk was intriguing and the combination with a light fruit sounded refreshing.
The white and creamy burnt milk surprisingly tasted like burned milk. It’s a little smoky and not too sweet.
Surprisingly, the contrast with tuna or prickly pear fruit worked well together. Although it sounds strange, it quickly became one of my favorite treats.
While leche quemada con tuna is a specialty Oaxacan dessert, don’t miss trying mezcal flavored nieves.
Best Places to Eat Oaxacan Ice-Cream
One of the popular places to eat ice-cream in Oaxaca is the ice-cream stand by the church Santo Domingo.
We particularly enjoyed the leche quemada ice-cream with a light burnt taste. For 30 pesos (approx. $1.42) you can taste two flavors served in a small plastic cup.
The most famous ice-cream shop in Oaxaca is Manolo Nieves. This artisanal ice-cream shop, behind Santo Domingo, has been making ice-cream since 1857.
It was the first ice-cream shop in Oaxaca and it’s known for creating unique flavors.
You will find surprising Oaxacan flavors like crema de mezcal, tamarind with chapulines or chepil with sour cream.
You can sample many flavors before making a selection. A cup with two scoops costs approximately 60 pesos (approx $2.84).
18. Oaxaca Regional Pastries
Traditional Oaxacan sweets come in many mouth-watering forms. Every time we walked into the bakery section of our closest market, La Merced, we always discovered something new.
Like in most of Mexico, the pan dulce or sweet breads take center stage as they are a common Oaxacan breakfast food.
Beyond pan dulce, Oaxaca has regional sweets that sweet lovers will enjoy.
One of the most typical regional treats are nenguanitos, which are little biscuits stuck in groups of five.
Another one you’ll see everywhere is empanadas lechecilla which are stuffed with custard and coconuts.
There are other Oaxaca sweet specialties like barquillos, Oaxaca besos or kisses, roscas and many more.
During the holidays and for special events, there are even more Oaxaca desserts to choose from.
While the colors and shapes are tantalizing, we, unfortunately, found many to look better than they tasted.
After much trial and error, we did find out trusted favorites.
Oaxaca desserts and treats are part of the local gastronomy and they must be explored.
Best Places to Eat Oaxacan Pastries
One of our favorite stores for Oaxacan pastries is called Dulce Memos. This local bakery specializes exclusively in regional sweets.
You will find nenguanitos, empanadas lechecilla, barquillos and more. The best thing is that they have small samples giving you the opportunity to taste several kinds.
Small sizes cost 8 pesos (approx. $0.38) while larger sizes go for 14 pesos (approx. $0.66).
19. Pan de Yema – Traditional Egg Yolk Bread
This is a traditional sweet bread from the town of Santo Domingo Tomaltepec, in Oaxaca’s central valleys.
This bread is soft and airy and is named for the use of the whole egg with flour and yeast.
The bread is shaped like a half-sphere and must meet certain measurements in diameter and height.
Pan de Yema is typically eaten at breakfast to accompany hot chocolate. While it has a sweet smell, it is actually not sweet at all.
It’s a little dry and holds its consistency very well when dunked in chocolate.
This bread is very important culturally, and part of the local identity. For holidays like the Day of the Dead, there is a special pan de yema bread.
These loaves are sold with a skinny face pierced into the bread, representing the dead.
A unique and important Oaxaca food, don’t miss Pan de Yema.
20. Pan de Tlacolula – An Oaxacan Treasure
Pan de Tlacolula is one of my favorite Oaxacan desserts. The bread is from nearby Tlacolula de Matamoros, where the majority of the residents are dedicated to baking bread.
This bread also goes by the name pan de cazuela and is an accompaniment to hot chocolate.
What I love about this bread are the flavors. The bread tastes of cinnamon and anise, but also of butter and melted chocolate in it.
It is typically cooked in a wood oven. And it’s peculiar shape comes from the original use of clay pots. Though, today it is cooked in molds.
You’ll find the Tlacolula bread all year round. Don’t miss sampling this exquisite and beloved Oaxaca food.
Best Places to Eat Pan de Yema and Pan de Tlacolula
One of the best places to eat these sweet Oaxaca foods is at Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
Further from the meat market alley, there is a section of the market dedicated to bakeries. They have both Pan de Yema and Pan de Tlacolula.
Pan de Yema typically goes for 8 pesos (approx. $0.38). While we found Pan de Tlacolula ranging from 20 to 30 pesos (approx. $0.95 to $1.42).
Traditional Oaxaca Drinks
In the book Beverages of Oaxaca, authors Cave and Bonilla, highlight 77 traditional beverages in the eight regions of Oaxaca.
For a deeper investigation into local Oaxaca drinks, we recommend getting this book.
In the interim, here are a few traditional Oaxaca local drinks to quench your thirst.
21. Oaxaca Mezcal
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the agave plant native to Oaxaca, also known as maguey.
Characterized by its smoky flavor, its unique taste is due to the process of cooking the maguey before the distillation.
The maguey is at the center of traditions and rituals since the pre-Hispanic time.
With over 120 varieties of maguey or agave plants, Oaxaca is a privileged region for the production of mezcal.
The Mezcal production ranges from industrial to ancestral. In Oaxaca, you are more likely to find family-run businesses making mezcal using artisanal processes.
Mezcal can be made from 40 to 50 different types of agave giving each mezcal a unique taste and flavor.
Many palenque or mezcal distilleries are located around Santiago de Matatlan, located 1 hour east of Oaxaca city.
This small village is often the departure point for mezcal distillery tours or palenque tours.
Not surprisingly, mezcal is one of the most popular drinks in Oaxaca. You will usually find mezcal in Oaxaca restaurants and bars before wine or beer.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: To visit a palenque or local distillery, we recommend taking a tour and visiting the different production processes. Most of the tours proposed in Oaxaca center are tailored to only show you the industrial production.
For a more in-depth and knowledgeable tour, check Oaxaca Drink Tour. This tour is run by long-time mezcal experts. They will show you the ancestral and artisanal mezcal production processes and you will taste various mezcals along the way.
Best Bars in Oaxaca To Taste Mezcal
Oaxaca has a plethora of places to choose from when it comes to tasting mezcal. Here are a few of our favorite places.
El Cortijo is the oldest brand of Mezcal in Oaxaca. You can taste their artisanal mezcal at their quaint mezcaleria near Santo Domingo.
The knowledgeable staff will give you a great introduction to mezcal and mezcal tasting.
Another charming place to try mezcal is Casa Convite. In addition to tasting mezcal, there is a small exhibit where you can learn about the making of mezcal.
All around the patio, you will see pots of different types of maguey used to make mezcal.
Baltazar, the restaurant inside Casa Convite, offers excellent mezcal cocktails as well as mezcal to sample.
A mezcal glass is typically between 70 and 180 pesos (approx. $3.311 to $8.51) while cocktails range from 90 to 140 pesos (approx. $4.26 to $6.62).
22. Pulque – Nectar of the Gods
We first discovered pulque on a Polanco food tour in Mexico City and enjoyed its tasty flavors and unusual consistency.
It is an important pre-Hispanic traditional beverage.
Pulque is a milky, viscous beverage made by fermenting the sap, known as mead, from certain types of agave.
Within the state of Oaxaca, the Mixteca region is important for the production of pulque.
As huge fans of pulque, we would eagerly buy this traditional beverage at the local markets.
Slightly sparkly, pulque is said to have an alcoholic content of around 4.25 % up to as much as 8%. It is slightly sweet, with sour flavors.
Some have described the taste as similar to Kombucha.
Pulque has high nutritional value and curative properties. It contains amino-acids, proteins, vitamins, and much more.
This ancestral drink is not only tasty, it is economically important to the Mixtec region.
On your travels to Oaxaca, don’t miss this intriguing traditional beverage.
Best Bars in Oaxaca To Taste Pulque
In Oaxaca, it is common to find pulque sold by the liter at the tianguis. The ladies from the Mixteca region come to Oaxaca to sell their produce.
They typically come with a large jar of pulque and sell it until it runs out.
It costs 35 pesos for 1 liter (approx. $1.66) and can be ordered by the glass as well.
To taste pulque in a restaurant setting, visit El Tendajon. This charming restaurant in the center of town offers delicious pulque and curado on their drink menu.
I enjoyed curado with guava which is sweetened pulque with guava. An exquisite beverage not to miss for 40 pesos (approx. $1.89).
23. Oaxaca Chocolate – Ancient Divine Beverage
Chocolate in Oaxaca is a fundamental part of the local diet.
It is characterized by its rich flavor. It is a traditional breakfast drink and also consumed at parties.
Originating in Mexico, cacao which was considered sacred was cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs.
It was believed to have divine properties and considered a ‘delicacy of the Gods’.
In Oaxaca, markets, especially those in the Historical Center, are filled with aromas of chocolate mixed with almonds and cinnamon.
Oaxaca chocolate is consumed in a variety of ways either hot or cold. At breakfast, hot chocolate made with boiling water rather than milk is preferred.
Accompanying the hot chocolate is typically chunks of pan de yema, dunked into a frothy cup.
Other common Oaxaca breakfast drinks made with cacao and corn are atole and champurrado.
Oaxaca chocolate is also found in mole negro, or black mole an emblematic Oaxaca food.
Tejate, made with chocolate and corn is a refreshing option.
And finally, Oaxaca chocolate sold in bars or tablets is a tantalizing sweet treat.
We especially enjoyed hot chocolate made with water and accompanied by pan dulce.
Once you taste Oaxacan hot chocolate, you’ll easily understand why it is a favorite and preferred beverage. You can find Oaxaca chocolate on Amazon.
Best Places in Oaxaca to Drink Chocolate and Chocolate Atole
For a traditional breakfast in Oaxaca, don’t miss out on eating at Comedor Mary in La Merced market.
Her stand is the first one as you enter or exit the food court by the parking lot.
Mary prepares the chocolate and chocolate atole in a traditional manner. To whip up the hot chocolate, a wooden hand whisk called molinillo is used.
A bowl of Oaxaca hot chocolate costs 20 pesos (approx. $0.95)
Choose one or several freshly made pan dulce to dip into your hot beverage.
Add 10 pesos for each of the sweets (approx. $0.47).
24. Tejate – Native Oaxaca Floury Water
Tejate is a pre-Hispanic drink from the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. It is made with toasted corn, cacao seeds, cacao rose, mamey seed, and water and hand-stirred.
The name comes from Texatl in the Nahuatl language which means floury water.
And, it’s distinguished by the white and lumpy foam on its surface, from the cocoa flower or Rosita de Cacao.
It is typically served in a colorful jícara, a half-circle shaped gourd.
Tejate is typically made by women known as tejateras. And, the knowledge and skills are passed down from generation to generation.
As one of our favorite traditional Oaxacan drinks, be sure to taste delicious tejate in the city.
It is refreshing, healthy, and not sweet.
Support the women who preserve Oaxaca’s heritage and gastronomic traditions.
Best Places in Oaxaca To Taste Tejate
Tejate is typically a street food drink and can be found mostly in markets. Our best tejate experience was at the exit of Mercado 20 de Noviembre on Francisco Javier Mina street.
The older lady serving tejate was smiling and laughing at us taking a video of her and her stand.
We also enjoyed it at tianguis 16 de Septiembre. One tip is to ask to have it without sugar which is the original way it was served.
Plan for about 15 pesos for a small bowl of tejate (approx. $0.71)
Some vendors might add sugar which the original drink doesn’t require.
We recommend drinking it without sugar and make sure to request “sin azucar” (without sugar).
25. Agua de Chilacayote – Oaxaca Sweet Squash Water
In the markets of Oaxaca, it is very common to find a drink prepared from the pulp of the chilacayote, a type of pumpkin or squash.
This squash is said to have originated in Mexico, though it is also found in parts of South America.
Chilacayote comes from tzilacayotli, in Nahuatl which translates to smooth pumpkin.
The drink itself is slightly sweet and refreshing. The texture is halfway between water, and a milkshake. Though floating inside the drink are strands of pumpkin.
This water gets its sweetness from the use of cinnamon, raw sugar like panela or piloncillo.
Chilacayote is typically served with a spoon to allow you to scoop up the pumpkin.
Besides being used in sweet water, chilacayote pumpkin is also used in savory stews and moles depending on the maturity.
While we didn’t love it as sweet water, we much preferred the pumpkin cooked in a dish.
Nonetheless, when you see the vendors at the local markets with this thick brownish drink, don’t hesitate to try it.
Best Places in Oaxaca To Taste Chilacayote
One of the best markets to find Chilacayote is the Mercado la Cosecha. From Wednesday to Saturdays, you will find small organic vendors selling organic produce.
Several food stands sell food and drinks that you can taste at the open-air tables installed in the center.
One of the stands sells fresh Chilacayote drinks for 25 pesos (approx. $1.18).
You can accompany your drink with tlayudas, garnachas, and other traditional Oaxaca foods.
26. Cerveza Artesanal de Oaxaca – Oaxaca Craft Beer
The Oaxaca craft beer scene is relatively new and continues to grow each year.
Although Mexico’s beer scene is dominated by the national brands Corona, Victoria, or Modelo, Oaxaca craft beers are here to stay.
In Oaxaca, while mezcal is by far the alcoholic drink of choice, beer is often found on the tables, along with mezcal.
There are several craft breweries springing up in Oaxaca. Santísima Flor de Lupulo, Teufel, 951, and Tumba 7 are amongst the small craft beers and breweries in town.
Although the breweries in Oaxaca are relatively small, the craft beer selection is surprisingly extensive.
Craft beers are about 2 to 3 times more expensive than national beers starting at about 80 pesos (approx. $3.78).
But, they are much more exciting to experience than mainstream beers.
Try the Portfirio, a stout beer made with mezcal, or the Tumba 7 a lighter blond beer.
Claire’s favorite was the 951 and with so much offer, you are sure to find one that suits your tastes.
Best Bars in Oaxaca To Taste Craft Beers
One of our favorite rooftop bars in Oaxaca was La Mezcalerita. Located behind Santo Domingo Church, this unpretentious bar has a charming rooftop.
The beer and mezcal selection is quite impressive and you can find tasty snacks to accompany your drink of choice.
To taste Oaxaca craft beers at a restaurant, check El Tendajon. They have an extensive selection of craft beers, along with mezcal and pulque.
The food menu is delicious with contemporary Oaxaca food to enjoy with the drink selection.
Locally Celebrated Oaxaca Food Products
At the foundation of Oaxaca cuisine are unique ingredients, chile peppers, and essential Oaxaca herbs.
The unique local food products come from all over the state and are used in the creation of the world-famous Oaxaca foods.
In the following section, we highlight the unmissable Oaxaca cheese or quesillo. The much-beloved chapulines or grasshoppers.
And finally, three local meats you ought to try in Oaxaca.
27. Quesillo – Oaxaca Cheese
Oaxaca cheese, also known as quesillo is a white, semi-hard cheese. The cheese is from the town of Etla, which is about 30 minutes away from Oaxaca city.
The cheese, sold in small balls, is stringy, a little salty with a mild flavor. It melts easily and is used in quesadillas, tlayudas, and many more Oaxaca foods.
The origins of quesillo cheese are fascinating. Apparently, in 1885, legend has it that 14-year-old Leobarda Castellanos García from Etla invented the cheese.
As the story goes, she was in charge of taking care of curdled milk to make cheese. Distracted, she forgot and the “curd” passed the point to make cheese.
To hide her mistake from her parents, she poured hot water on it, resulting in a chewy mixture that tasted great.
Her parents tried the mixture and loved the exquisite flavors. They called it “quesillo” and it gained acceptance amongst the locals.
Not only is quesillo, Oaxaca’s iconic cheese, it is also one of Mexico’s most important cheeses.
Savor the tastes of quesillo in several local Oaxaca foods like tlayudas or memelas.
28. Chapulines – Grasshoppers a Local Oaxaca Food Specialty
Chapulines or grasshoppers are a regional delicacy and a popular snack food.
The name is derived from the Aztec language, Náhuatl, and means “insect that jumps like a rubber ball.
Chapulines have been a popular sauce of protein since pre-Hispanic times.
After being thoroughly cleaned, they are marinated with garlic, lime, salt, and chili and then toasted on the comal.
In Oaxaca, you can find chapulines at markets and restaurants. They are typically eaten as a snack or with guacamole, tostadas, tlayudas and memelas.
Even though we did not eat chapulines by themselves as a snack, we enjoyed their earthy flavors with guacamole and tlayudas.
As a regional specialty and local Oaxaca food, don’t hesitate to try this tasty and crunchy snack.
29. Salchicha de Ejuteca – Ejuteca Sausage
From the city of Ejutla de Crespo, in Oaxaca’s Central Valley comes the Ejuteca sausage.
This famous sausage is the economic engine and cultural identity of the city.
These sausages are made by hand and passed down from generation to generation. The exact ingredients and preparation methods are not widely known.
Ejuteca sausages are made with fresh beef, cooked with wood, and flavored with spices like cumin, bay leaves, and more.
You’ll find Ejuteca sausages at local markets like La Merced, or used as toppings or fillings for sandwiches and more.
So important are Ejuteca sausages that they are seeking recognition, as part of the cultural and gastronomic heritage of Oaxaca.
The Ejuteca sausage is more than just a sausage. It is the original dish of the city of Ejutla de Crespo and not to be missed while in Oaxaca.
30. Salchicha Oaxaqueña – Oaxaca Red Sausage
Similar to the Ejuteca sausage is a striking red sausage from Oaxaca. You’ll typically find it referred to as Oaxaca sausage or Salchicha Roja (red sausage).
This local Oaxaca food consists of beef or a mix of beef and pork cooked over wood with a variety of spices.
The red color, we learned from our butcher, is plant-based and used mostly for aesthetics.
Similar to Ejuteca sausages, you find Oaxaca sausage at local markets like La Merced. It is also used as toppings for tostadas or fillings for sandwiches or tortas.
A tasty and not spicy sausage, we ate it regularly at home to accompany a cucumber salad.
31. Tasajo – Thinly Sliced and Salted Beef
Walking through any of the local Oaxaca markets, you are likely to stumble onto meat hanging down from vendor stalls.
In between the sausages or sometimes displayed on the counter is where you’ll find this traditional Oaxaca food.
Tasajo is made from beef that is salted and dried in the open-air or with wood smoke for better preservation.
This traditional Oaxaca food is enjoyed by all. It has a taste and tradition that runs deep in Oaxaca.
When buying tasajo at the local markets, we’ve noticed different grades in the meat. Vendors have told us the cheaper cuts have more fat.
At restaurants, tasajo accompanies tlayudas, enchiladas, or eaten with a side of vegetables, guacamole, chiles, and more.
At first, we found tasajo hard and chewy. But, after buying it at different butchers and eating it at various eateries, we grew to love this Oaxaca food specialty.
You can find tasajo cooked on the spot at the pasillo de las carnes asadas in Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
This meat market alley is the main attraction at Mercado 20 de Noviembre. You can either buy grilled tasajo to-go for 200 pesos per kilos (approx. $9.46).
Or you can savor the flavors and smoky atmosphere at one of the fondas inside.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: To dive deeper into the local fondas or restaurants and dishes at Mercado 20 de Noviembre, take a guided food tour. This Oaxaca private market and street food tour will take you to the tasty stands around the market, where you’ll sample and learn about Oaxaca food culture. This 2.5 hours tour with your bilingual guide will leave you knowledgeable and deliciously satisfied. Eat light before the tour.
32. Oaxaca Chile Peppers
You already know chiles are used in Mexican food. However, did you know that out of the 64 varieties of chile peppers available in Mexico, 25 are from Oaxaca?
Oaxacan chiles make up the backbone of Oaxaca cuisine. The chiles come in all colors and in addition to herbs and spices, they flavor local Oaxaca foods.
The following are five essential chile peppers used in the food in Oaxaca.
Chile de Agua
Chile de Agua, also known as water chile, is an endemic chile from the central valleys. It is lemon-green to red in color and appreciated for its mild smoky flavors.
We discovered this chili in our Oaxaca cooking class and continued to cook with it throughout our stay.
This deep dark colored Chile Chilhuacle is one we enjoyed in Oaxaca moles, especially mole negro.
This is an expensive chili and its use dates back to pre-Hispanic times. Unfortunately, chili is in danger of extinction and is cultivated in the Cañada region of the state.
Chiles Costeños from the coastal region of the state has great cultural importance.
It is a thin, small chili pepper that is predominantly red in color. You can find it in salsas, enchiladas, and in some moles.
We discovered Chile Tabiche, also spelled Chile Taviche, while eating at the Oaxaca restaurant with the same name Casa Taviche.
Daniel Garcia, the chef, and owner introduced us to this triangular shaped chile from his hometown of Ejutla de Crespo.
Daniel makes a tasty salsa with this chili, and it is also used in some moles and sauces.
We highly recommend the Casa Taviche lunch menu. Starting with the salsa taviche, this three course menu comes with aguas frescas for 110 pesos (approx. $5.20).
Daniel cooks traditional Mexican food with native Oaxacan ingredients served in a tasteful presentation.
From the Sierra Norte region of the Oaxaca state, comes another endemic chili known as Chile Pasilla Mixe or Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca.
We enjoyed the smoky flavors of this chile in a number of chicken dishes.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: One chili sauce we fell in love with is Salsa Matcha or Salsa Macha. It is said to have originated from either Oaxaca or Veracruz, with pre-Hispanic beginnings. This sauce consists of a mixture of dried chiles, nuts, and vegetable oil. We enjoyed the bold and not too spicy flavors of salsa macha on toasted corn tortillas or as a topping to meals. If you want to try Mexican chiles in an unusual and tasty sauce, Salsa Macha is available on Amazon.
33. Essential Herbs in Oaxaca Food
The food in Oaxaca is a beneficiary of the abundant micro-climates and huge biodiversity.
The cooking retains strong indigeneous roots from the Zapotec and Mixtec communities which continue to thrive today.
Many Oaxaca foods use local herbs from the state and that can be traced back to pre-Hispanic roots.
While the following list of herbs is not exhaustive, we share some of the common herbs we discovered in dishes or at the markets.
Chepil is commonly found in the local tamales de chepil. It’s little leaves tucked into the tamales or sprinkled on white rice has smokey, green bean flavors.
Served alongside tlayudas is chepiche, a slender herb with a strong smell and flavor. You’ll also find it in soups, tamales and an accompaniment to meats.
Hierba Santa, a plant with large heart shaped leaves with anise flavors. It is used in soups, mole sauces and also to wrap tamales or fish.
The black beans you’ll enjoy in Oaxaca , will undoubtedly be cooked with epazote, an aromatic herb with jagged edges.
Derived from the Nahuatl word that means “stinky sweat”, this herb has medicinal properties to fight intestinal parasites.
Pitiona, a verbena-like herb is prized for its aromatic mint and lemon scented foliage. It is used extensively in Oaxacan food like soups, bread, cocktails, and more.
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Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.