Are you visiting Oaxaca and wondering what [and where] to eat there? Welcome to Oaxaca food guide! In this blog post, I will tell you about 10+ Mexican dishes you NEED to try in Oaxaca! While some of these dishes are unique to Oaxaca, some are more generic and can be found in other parts of Mexico as well, although, in Oaxaca, they add a special twist to these dishes. I will also share with you my restaurant recommendations so you know where to eat in Oaxaca.
If you’re new to this blog, hi, my name is Liza! Together with my husband Jose, we are exploring the world from London, UK. We both have 9-5 jobs, so we are always trying to make the most of our annual leave. Jose is originally from Mexico, so we go there quite often and have a lot of content about Mexico! Feel free to check out our Mexico travel page.
Alright, without further ado, let’s get started with the best dishes and drinks you MUST try in Oaxaca, Mexico (and hopefully, you will love them, too!)
This post's overview:
- 1 10+ Mexican dishes and drinks you NEED to try in Oaxaca! Oaxaca food guide
- 2 Where to eat in Oaxaca: the best restaurants to try out.
- 3 Some other posts you might be interested in:
10+ Mexican dishes and drinks you NEED to try in Oaxaca! Oaxaca food guide
This year, we spent six amazing days in Oaxaca. We decided to embrace the fact that Oaxaca is considered a culinary capital of Mexico and went on an exploration spree, trying over 10 restaurants in Oaxaca City. Some of the experiences were amazing; some other ones not so. However, each place had at least one dish that was definitely worth trying! So here is the Oaxaca food guide that we wrote for you so you know which dishes to try in Oaxaca!
One of the first dishes I recommend trying in Oaxaca is tamal (tamale). Tamal is a very traditional Mexican dish (although it can be found in many other Latinoamerican countries as well, however, there it has a different name) that is made with masa steamed in a corn husk. Tamales can be either sweet or savoury and are usually eaten for breakfast. Tamales taste a bit like polenta with a filling – e.g. strawberry jam or guava jam.
In Oaxaca, Tamales are usually made with mole (we will talk about mole a bit further in this post) and have a unique taste. It’s definitely an unusual dish, and people usually either like it or hate it!
Tlayuda is another very popular dish that is most commonly found in Oaxaca (and probably originated in Oaxaca as well). Tlayuda is essentially a wrap made with a large baked crunchy tortilla and various fillings. The most common fillings include beans, Oaxaca cheese, lettuce, cabbage, avocado, various salsas (sauces) and either chicken, fish or meat. It’s a very affordable dish that is great to consume on the go!
Another typical thing from Oaxaca is the famous Oaxaca cheese – a fresh cheese that resembles Italian mozzarella. It can be consumed either on its own or, much better, in quesadillas and various dishes where melting cheese is required. If you’re staying at an apartment in Oaxaca and you have a kitchen, you can buy Oaxaca cheese in one of the many markets of Oaxaca! In order to prepare some basic quesadillas, you just need to buy Oaxaca cheese, some fresh flour tortillas, ham (not mandatory) and a sauce like Cholula or Valentina.
The main speciality of Oaxaca is mole (pronounced as Mou-le). Mole can be found almost in every dish in the restaurants in Oaxaca. Mole is a thick sauce that is made of chocolate and chilli (and many other ingredients). There are so many different types of mole sauces in Mexico: black mole, red, pink, yellow, green, to name a few, and each of them tastes different. Mole in Oaxaca is very dark and thick and tastes a lot like chocolate. Just like with many other dishes, you will either like it a lot or hate it! To be completely honest with you, I’m not the biggest fan of mole; however, Jose loves it (it’s actually his favourite dish).
Huitlacoche, or a corn fungus, is a unique mushroom that is abundant in Oaxaca. The primary season for Xuitlacoche is winter, so if you’re visiting Oaxaca for Christmas or New Year (or around this time), you’ll be able to try a lot of dishes that contain Xuitlacoche.
Huitlacoche is normally added to dishes: e.g. to stuffed chills or salads or can be served aside. It tastes a bit like the wood mushroom, in case you’re wondering what to expect.
Hot chocolate / chocolate
Oaxaca is also famous for its chocolate! Oaxaca produces a lot of it, and it’s even used to produce more! You can try a lot of hot chocolate in various restaurants and cafes in Oaxaca; however some of the best hot chocolate is sold in the streets of the city. Look out for hot chocolate stalls!
Mezcal is another of Oaxaca’s specialities: it’s a strong alcoholic drink that resembles whisky in its smokiness. The popularity of Mezcal is still rising; however, just in the last 5 years the sales of Mezcal have grown over 10 times worldwide. If you haven’t tried Mezcal yet, now it’s a good time to try. Pretty much all the restaurants in Oaxaca have at least 3-4 brands of Mezcal they serve; however, if you find a specialised bar (Mezcaleria), you would be able to taste so many different brands and types of Mezcal.
If you want to take Mezcal tasting to the next level and perhaps even buy some Mezcal, in this case, I recommend either renting a car and going to Matatlan or buying one of the Mezcal tasting tours that would take you there. Matatlan is the place, where most of Mezcal distilleries are concentrated!
You can visit a typical palenque (e.g. Palenque Mal de Amor)- a place where Mezcal is manufactured and take a tour that will explain you the making of Mezcal. You can also taste Mezcal there (for free) and buy some bottles for a very appealing price (30% cheaper than in Oaxaca) and 300% cheaper than anywhere abroad. Matatlan is only 30 minutes driving from Oaxaca city.
Here are the tours that would take you to some of the best palenques in Matatlan:
Pozole (red and green)
Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup. Its recipe is quite complex; hence, not all restaurants offer pozole. Moreover, there are even special restaurants called “pozolerias” that specialise in pozoles. There are two types of pozoles: red and green. Red is spicier, as it has a lot of chillies, while green is milder as it’s frequently based on green tomatoes and cilantro.
Pozole is one of my favourite soups in Mexico, and it’s absolutely delicious, so I definitely recommend trying it.
Enchiladas is another dish found all around Mexico, and that is definitely worth trying on your trip to Oaxaca. Enchiladas look like based wraps. They are made of corn tortillas, a filling (e.g. chicken or beef) and a sauce. There are dozens of ways to prepare enchiladas, so each restaurant has its own signature enchiladas!
It’s a very filling dish, and it can be vegetarian or pescatarian as well!
Queso Fundido / Molcajete
Queso Fundido, served in a Molcajete, is a unique Mexican dish, and it’s a perfect dish for sharing. Basically, it’s melted cheese in an Aztec-style stone pot. A lot of restaurants also add a variety of vegetables and sometimes even meats to the dish to enhance the flavour!
Mexican ceviche / Aguachile
And the last but not least in this Oaxaca food guide is Mexican seviche! One of my favourite Mexican dishes is ceviche! While Peru is most famous for its ceviche, there is also a different Mexican variation of this popular seafood dish. Mexican ceviche is prepared with fresh white fish marinated in citrus juice for quite a long time. Mexican ceviche also often includes other seafood or pieces of chillies, tomatoes, horseradish and other vegetables. It is often served in a cocktail cup or in a bowl, and it has a lot of liquid.
Aguachile is a variation of ceviche, where shrimp is the main ingredient. It is often served with avocados and onions, and it’s marinated for a much shorter time!
Where to eat in Oaxaca: the best restaurants to try out.
Now let’s talk about the best restaurants to try in Oaxaca. During our time in Oaxaca, we had a chance to visit a lot of different restaurants, from bakeries to fancy restaurants for dinner. There were 5 of our favourites:
Los Danzantes was our absolute favourite restaurant in Oaxaca. Every single dish was unique, innovative and very delicious. Moreover, the restaurant itself is stunning! If you can only visit one restaurant in Oaxaca, let it be Los Danzantes!
This is the best place for breakfast and lunch in Oaxaca. Poulenc has a lot of popular western dishes as well as some amazing Mexican pastries. It’s a great place to read a book or work for a while as well!
Casa Oaxaca is one of the best restaurants for ambience. They have a lovely roof terrace in the heart of the city, from where you will be able to see the busy streets of Oaxaca City, street musicians and various art fairs.
Another innovative restaurant with truly unique dishes was Origen Oaxaca. It’s on the pricier side; however, dishes there are certainly worth trying!
Expendio Tradicion is a great place for both food and cocktails. They offer a nice twist on traditional Mexican dishes and the cocktails are definitely great!
I hope you enjoyed reading Oaxaca food guide and found some interesting and exciting dishes to try in Oaxaca! I think you will love Oaxaca (both city and the food) just like we did!
Some other posts you might be interested in:
Mexico road trip: Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca
Cancun vs Riviera Maya: the best place to visit
Where to stay in Tulum: a guide to different areas
Coyoacan – the best place to visit in Mexico City
Driving to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato from Mexico City