Above: Cocktail with Oaxacan whisky, Aperol, vermouth, angostura and hibiscus, El Destilado, Oaxaca City

Top Tasting Menus in Oaxaca City

Oaxacan whisky, Aperol, vermouth, angostura, hibiscus, El Destilado

Oaxaca takes food seriously, with a caliber of restaurants that’s surprising for a city of its size. I made our dining reservations as soon as I had my hotels and flights confirmed, though I left a few openings in the schedule for last-minute whims. It’s worth noting that while the Centro is filled with great restaurants, many of the inventive tasting-menu-only places we loved were a 15-30 minute walk from the busy tourist area. We felt perfectly safe walking around at night, though the sidewalks were dark and poorly maintained in some places so you may be more comfortable in a taxi.

In addition to the elegant tasting menus we experienced, we also enjoyed a few casual stops. Muss Café and Amá Terrazza, the coffee shop and rooftop bar at Casa Antonieta, are worth visits even if you’re not staying at the hotel. Across town, Boulenc is a bakery with perfectly crispy croissants and an excellent signature latte made with honey and spices. (They also have a number of housemade jams and mustards that make for excellent souvenirs.) Oaxaca can be hot and sunny even in the winter, so we loved popping into cafés and restaurants for a refreshing afternoon drink of tepache, a kombucha-like drink made from fermented pineapple rind. Our favorite was from La Atolería.

La Cocina de Humo

Chorizo tostada with avocado, Cocina de Humo - Andrew Harper editor

La Cocina de Humo is less of a restaurant and more of an experience. An offshoot of Michelin-starred Levadura de Olla (also in Oaxaca), La Cocina de Humo is chef Thalia Barrios’ “smoke kitchen,” inspired by traditional Oaxacan cooking. We made a reservation for lunch, arriving at a nondescript building a dozen blocks from the Centro. Inside, we were seated at a long table with the only other patrons at the restaurant, a couple from Mexico city, as a young chef prepared a multicourse feast using only a wood-fired clay oven. Early on came a bright beef-and-tomato stew that was complex, umami-rich and utterly divine. But the duck taquito with mole was the highlight of the meal (and of our day). My first bite was transcendent. The chef listed just a few of the dozens of ingredients that give such flavorful depth to the mole, including almonds, chocolate, guajillo and ancho chile. My traveling companion had just tried the famous mole dish at Pujol in Mexico City and claimed this version put it to shame. A slice of corn cake topped with mango compote was a simple yet satisfying end to one of the most memorable meals of my year so far. An array of nonalcoholic beverages accompanied the lunch, including a tepache made with hibiscus and a fermented palm-nut drink. Though the experience was conducted in Spanish, the restaurant can arrange for a translator or an English-speaking chef. Closed Sunday.

Join Andrew Harper today to continue reading our exclusive content.
Above: Cocktail with Oaxacan whisky, Aperol, vermouth, angostura and hibiscus, El Destilado, Oaxaca City

Read More from Our Trip:

Dining Hot Spots on the Oaxaca Coast Magic and Mezcal in Oaxaca