Dan and I met up with my parents in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico last week. We arrived on Monday after a day of flights via Atlanta and Mexico City. My parents arrived a day ahead of us, traveling from their home outside Guadalajara and spending a few days at the beach on the south coast of Oaxaca (the state). We left on Saturday, so had five nights and four full days of food and fun.
We really went there for the food, which is distinct to the region.
Everything we ate was good (honestly, I can’t think of anything I had that wasn’t good), but we had two amazing meals. One was at a restaurant called La Biznaga on our second night in a fun part of town just north of the main downtown/Zocalo area. The area has a lot of other restaurants and also art galleries, coffee shops, and bars. My father was talking about his ceviche appetizer for the rest of the trip. Dan and I split a salad, I had the zanduga (pollo, mole de guayabas, y platano macho), and Dan had the milpa alta (puntas de filete c/ nopales, jalapeños, y cilantro). I also had a locally brewed pale ale on draught. My mom ordered this cheese covered in hoja santa leaves, which we saw a lot in dishes. The leaf has a slight anise-y flavor, but not overpowering.
The second amazing meal was our last night, at Casa Oaxaca Cafe, which is the third Casa Oaxaca restaurant in the Casa Oaxaca family (the others being Casa Oaxaca and Casa Oaxaca Restaurante). It’s located about a mile and a half from the zocalo (city center) in a more suburban-y area. We walked there, and it was really nice to go through different areas. This location is the least fancy of the three and was relatively casual, but was still fine dining. The service was AMAZING, as was the food. Really. One of the best overall dining experiences I’ve had in a long time. Dan and I had mezcal cocktails, and we ordered a Mexican wine made with nebbiolo grapes that we all really liked (which was a pleasant surprise… I don’t think of Mexico as a wine-growing place, and I’m definitely no wine connoisseur, but we really thought it was quite good and interesting). We split a ceviche appetizer and Dan also ordered some octopus taquitos that I tried one bit of. I had arrachera de res (tenderized beef, grilled), rajas con cream (slices of poblano peppers with creme), and papas quebradas (which I think might also be mashed potatoes, but in this case was fried potato pieces). Dan had beef tongue and beans (it’s not on the menu online right now, so I can’t remember what all the dish had in it). He decided to order the weirdest thing on the menu. He likes tongue – he eats in tacos sometimes, so it wasn’t a totally new thing for him – but I don’t think he’d ever had a hunk of it like that. I had a bite. It was not unpleasant :-).
Aside from those meals, I ate a lot of mole (which comes from Oaxaca!). And some fresh stuff like salads and juices, and some simple meat and beans dishes. Oh, and this very simple but amazing poached whole fish wrapped in an hoja santa leaf and stuffed with cheese and an amazing tomato and onion sauce.
So that was the food. We also tasted several mezcals. Mezcal is mostly made in Oaxaca, from the maguey plant (a type of agave). Mezcal is made from 30 something types of maguey plants, one of which is the type that tequila is made from. So tequila is a mezcal. We got to visit a mezcal distillery and learn about the process (and see some of it in action!). Dan and I also went to the very small and somewhat bizarrely-decorated small mezcalaria (mezcal bar) to taste more.
And believe it or not, we didn’t just eat. We also spent time walking around Oaxaca, peeking in the churches, and touring the nearby sites – including the widest tree (in the world? I think?) in Tule and natural mineraly springs called Hierve el Agua (The Water Boils) which run over the side of a cliff leaving mineral deposits that make it look like a waterfall. Dan and I also spent a day mountain biking. The trail was actually a mountain road, not single track. The first hour and a half was all. up. And then we got to ride down! It was hard and a bit scary and exhilarating. And the views were great. I’m definitely glad we went.