Mexico,  Travels

Oaxaca: colour and heart

Since my trip to Oaxaca City (pronounced wa-ha-ka) last Spring, several friends have planned/are planning trips to this colourful city and have asked for recommendations.  B and I were lucky to meet an American (J) who had been living there for some time on our second night in Oaxaca.  He introduced us to all the best restaurants and hip bars in town.  Most of the places we went to were featured in season 5 of Somebody Feed Phil, which aired a few months after our trip.  It was so fun to watch that episode and see on-screen all the places that we’d been to, including the little street taco vendor that B and I walked by every night on our way back to our Airbnb.  I felt privileged that we essentially stumbled our way into all these places before the rest of the world found out about them.

Here are my best recommendations for Oaxaca City…

Casa Oaxaca – a beautiful restaurant with a very romantic rooftop dining area where I had made reservations well in advance.  We had a delicious meal there the second night where the octopus and dessert were the highlights.  Casa Oaxaca is also shown on that episode of Somebody Feeds Phil and is one the the last meals he has there, if I recall correctly.

Selva Bar – tucked inside the Los Danzantes restaurant, this cocktail bar is muy trendy and gorgeous.  It was Selva’s third anniversary party and it was industry folks only, but somehow B and I ended up here with our new American friend’s group of friends.  I felt like we’d stepped into a scene from the roaring twenties, Mexican edition.  As we sat there with J, we got the inside goss on the who’s who of the food scene in Oaxaca.  There was the chic French owner of Selva with her stylish bob and blunt bangs, the “Prince of Oaxaca”, who’s family owned several restaurants in town, and R – the owner of well regarded Origen, and on and on.  Though you may not get to experience an industry party, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy the setting and cocktails.  It even made it onto the list of 50 best bars!

Speaking of cocktail bar and also featured in Phil, Sabina Sabe is another good one.  We popped in for a drink one night before dinner.

Origen – Creative Oaxacan food presented beautifully.  J suggested we go for dinner and because he knew the owner, he came by to say hello, brought out some special mezcal with gold flakes and had some with us.  Felt very VIP 🙂

Levadura de Olla – another one featured on the show.  We shared a meal here with some new friends we met on our walking tour.  K and M were major foodies and had quit their jobs and were travelling for a year.  We were all super impressed with the food.

Besides eating and drinking your way through all the best restaurants in town, there are a few other things that are worth exploring.  We did a day trip with a guide to Hierve de Agua (natural wonder of a petrified waterfall) which included some stops in neighbouring towns to explore some local artisans.  Oaxaca is the cultural heart of Mexico and the neighbouring towns are all specialized in various crafts like handmade textiles, pottery, etc.  We also got the chance to stop at a Mezcal distillery to see how this smoky alcohol is made.  Without going into too much detail, Mezcal is made from Agave and gets its smoky flavour from the pina plants being roasted in fire pits before the fermentation process begins.  If you’re a fan of Mezcal, Oaxaca is your mecca and the best ones are found in nondescript glass bottles with handwritten labels.  Locals bring empty bottles to their favourite local producers and buy straight from the source.  Personally, I love the smoky flavour that mezcal gives to cocktails but I am not a fan of sipping them on their own, despite trying many types!

Finally, if you love food and cooking, I highly recommend a cooking class.  We found one on Airbnb experiences and were taken to the beautiful home of Sonja where Sonja and her son run daily cooking classes for visitors.  We tried what felt like dozens of infused mezcals, ate bugs, made tortillas, salsas, and stuffed our faces full of mole and other delicious food.  I’ve taken cooking classes in many countries over the years and this one did not disappoint.

Oaxaca is such a gem, especially for food and culture buffs, I highly recommend it.  Final tip – if you want to go straight from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, there is another option other than flying through Mexico City or taking a “vomit bus”.  There is a local airline that flys super small 12 seater planes between Oaxaca and Huatulco and Puerto Escondido.  Book early!