Sunday, October 25, 2009

Trip Report: Oaxaca - The Restaurants, pt. 2

...continuing on... We were getting much more comfortable knowing the city, and this is the point where we started to feel the pressure of our trip coming to an end. It was around this time that we walked to the observatory, walked the entire length of los arcos and explored a bit more around Juárez Park which is a very neat neighborhood worth more exploration.


Breakfast - La Antigua
I had settled into my routine of morning chocolate con agua with whatever breads were avalable, and Tyler with his coffee and eggs.

Lunch - El Escapulario
We were recommended this restaurant because of its affordable food and "great view of the mountains." Well, we can vouch for the affordable food, but the view is not so great, although you can see the mountains (if you sit at one table and look through the powerlines).

We had actually walked by many times and ignored it because of the fancy sign - too fancy for our tastes.

Menu del dia was kiwi juice, squash blossom sopa with bread.

Chicken with rice and a tomatillo sauce.

And another chicken dish with a spicier sauce.

As you can tell from my comments, the meal was fine but not memorable.

Dinner -We were supposed to go to Caldo de Piedra but they were closed for the evening meal, so we ended up at La Casa del Tío Güero. Caldo is known for its namesake - stone soup. They apparently bring you a bowl of soup and drop hot stones in to heat it. Maybe next time. Tío Güero was a desperation meal since we were both famished and kinda of lost. Nice decor and typical food.

Post Dinner - Arabia Café
But for after dinner drinks we stumbled upon this fun place!

Definitely not high dining, but unique versus many of the other restaurants that look very similar and have near identical menus. This is where the hipsters go and its near Juárez Park. Tyler had a Torres Diez brandy and I had michelada - a bloody mary like beer drink.

Those drinks were followed by a chocolate fondue.

Lunch - Itanoni
This was the most anticipated meal only because I was given some beans from Rancho Gordo's owner to give to Amado, the chef/owner of Itanoni. The café isn't the easiest to find because of its low-key store front, but its a wonderful story in the making. From Frommers:
This business began as a tortilla shop. The owner then decided to branch out into making other things besides tortillas. He is dedicated to preserving different forms of native corn and makes use of their varying characteristics in the cooking. The dishes are simple and safe, and include traditional antojitos such as tacos, quesadillas, memelitas, and a couple I had never heard of: tetelas, and his own "de ese." I like these last two a lot. You can get them with a variety of fillings, including bean, cheese, mushrooms, huitlacoche, and others.

Some nice juices to get us started - jamaica and kiwi. And here's the set-up.

They had three of these ovens on the grounds - I forget their official name, but they're similar to a small horno with a concave top for grilling. These were gas powered. The cooks ground the corn in front of you and worked their metates patting out the tortillas while you watch. Here is much of their menu to give you an idea of what they serve:

And the obligatory memolita con queso.

My favorite was the tetala (triangular filled tortilla) which oozed with cream. You can find a nice writeup by another blogger HERE.

One of the fun aspects was that you ordered sushi style. The server brought you the slip and you checked the various items. We ate our fair share, sampling much of what was on the menu.

Of all of the restaurants we visited, this was one of our favorites. The food wasn't unique or exemplary in flavor, but again, Amado is trying to do it right, and those tortillas really were something special.

Dinner - El Che
Here was our splurge meal. We had walked so much that day and wanted a nicer meal. Nicer by Oaxacan standards runs around $50 per person (v. $5-10). Coincidentally the local orchestra had set up for a street performance that night right outside the window so we had great live music while we dined. I had octopus Veracruz style...good but not outstanding.

And I asked which desserts were made in-house and was told two, one being apple strudel.

Our final day and we were finally leaving the city. We had the joy of taking a second class bus, which isn't as hard as finding the right but. And, the buses were coralled at the best market in town - totally overwhelming. We headed out to Teotlitlan del Valle where you're dropped by the bus on the side of the highway and start walking the two miles up into town. Eventually a cab will come get you for a couple of bucks to finish the trip. We ate at the relatively famous Tlamanalli, run by the Menodoza sisters who offer authentic Oaxacan and pre-Hispanico foods. When we asked a guy in TdV about the restaurant, telling him that we heard it was the best food in the entire valley, he laughed and said, "Well, some people lie."
Lunch - Tlamanalli Teotlitlan del Valle
Purple corn tortillas with guacamole

Squash blossom soup with a filled tortilla.

And on the last day of the trip...molé

Tyler had the pollo Azteca from the pre-Hispanico menu.

Overall, very pricey but a good meal. Best in the valley - no.

Dinner - Casa María Lombardo
No pictures, but this is a nice pizza house where the pizzas are fired in hornos. We avoided it because pizzas felt so out of place, but actually there is a local food that is a cousin to the pizza. If I remember right it was the tleyuda.

That's it for the food pics. Tomorrow I'll sort through my thoughts on Oaxaca as a foodie destination.


Tri2Cook said...

Sounds like a great trip. A refreshing break from the everyday if nothing else. I've been reading the reports as you posted them but wanted to wait until you finished your food reports to jump in. So I'm kinda picking up a "great experience but nothing mindblowing or thought altering" feel. Do you think it's because it just wasn't as remarkable foodwise as you hoped or do you think the fact that you live in an area already heavily influenced by the type of food you experienced took away some of the potential wow factor for you? I'm looking forward to your thoughts on viewing it as a foodie destination. I've always had this image in my head that it would be amazing... now I'm wondering.

Gfron1 said...

That question is the core of my next post which I'm struggling with. I'm heading out for a drink tonight in hopes of clearing my thoughts on Oaxaca as a foodie destination.

Kate said...

Great posts!

Yes, La Biznaga is one of the best. Much better than Los Danzantes and most of the other restaurants recommended on TripAdvisor, like El Naranjo. El Naranjo was beautiful when Iliana de la Vega owned it (she sold the restaurant to a guy from Connecticut after the crisis of 2006), but now it's just plain awful.

But you're not staying through los dias de muertos, then? What a shame! My husband and I are living down here until the end of January, our second six-month stay in two years (he's an archaeologist and works in a Zapotec village right next to Teotitlan del Valle). Muertos is quite interesting and filled with wonderful food, from the chocolate etole out in Oxo or the snacks and mezcal out in Etla for the comparsas, or the traditional pan de yema and chocolate you can have out in the more family-oriented celebrations in Tlacolula valley.

From what I can see in your posts, you've missed some excellent street food which is where you find the real heart of Oaxacan cuisine. Do not fear the street food. We've been coming down here every year since 2003 for my husband's work, and the only times we've been sick have been from eating at 'reputable' restaurants and cafes. Plus with the swine flu fear, the hygiene has gone way up. Many street vendors have hand sanitizer gels for you right at the counter. Remember to use sanitizer after being on the bus or in a cab and you'll cut down your chances of getting sick considerably.

Tlayudas Libres on Los Libres is a late-night favorite -- the street is packed with locals after 10 or so and well into the morning, with people double-parking in front of the stand to pick food up on their way home. It's quite a scene. The empanadas at Mercado Merced can't be missed -- one of the women there was written up in the NY Times a few years ago, deservedly so. I prefer the stand closest to the door, but they're both great. Then there are memelitas at either of the Pochote organic markets (there are two now, one on Rayon near Xicotencatl and one up in Xochimilco in the church courtyard) or tamales from either the woman up on Abasolo or the other woman down near the Alameda. Hot chocolate at Brujula, coffee at Nuevo Mundo, mole out in San Agustin de Etla at Juquilita Comedor (her tortillas are amazing!!) and some freshly grilled meat, cebollas and chiles served on a fresh tlayuda found deep in the Sunday market in Tlacolula. I guess you need to come back!

And definitely check out before your next visit. Ron keeps the site up to date with all of the latest news on the markets and restaurants in the valley. Remember to go the markets (not just Juarez and 20 de Noviembre) and strike up conversations. You'll be amazed what you discover! Nieves, barbacoa, and empanadas in Tule; traditional Mixe food (maag) at a family's house in La Chigolo. The food is great, but it's the experience of meeting locals and eating with them that really makes Oaxaca special.