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Mark Dedrick

Oaxaca, Mexico

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One of the best things I've ever eaten was the wood-oven cooked octopus at Marco Polo. Just looked online, though, and there's some grumbling that the place has gone downhill (apparently Rick Bayless recommended it on PBS). The best meal I had was at El Naranjo (where I also got a great cooking lesson from their chef), but it looks like they've moved to Austin, TX. Sorry, but I'm blanking on the names of the other restaurants I went to.

Definitely check out the markets, get some ice cream from the vendors around the zocolo, drink lots of mezcal, eat grasshoppers, eat Oaxacan cheese, go to Monte Alban, buy lots of art... I loved Oaxaca.

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I never followed up on this, which I feel bad about. I'm going off of my admittedly shaky memory, but I hope this can be helpful to someone at least.

Pitiona - Fantastic, and fancy, dining experience. I sat in the same seat Harrison Ford sat in the night before. The chef came from El Bulli and there's all sorts of fancy techniques involved but it's not pretentious, everything tasted delicious, and service was fantastic. They've got a great (Mexican) wine list, and a sommelier who is excellent, and who speaks great English. I'd recommend it.

La Biznaga - Really great. Can't remember at all what I ordered, but I remember we all enjoyed it.

Los Danzantes - Among our group of three two of us thought Pitiona was our best meal, one thought Los Danzantes. It was great. Really extensive selection of mezcals as well.

La Olla - I'd avoid it. Food was mediocre, and there's no excuse for eating a meal like that in Oaxaca. Also, this is unlikely to be an issue, but be advised that alcohol sales are prohibited in Mexico 24 hours before the day of an election. So, if there's an election on Sunday, you can't buy booze from 12 am on Saturday until 11:59 pm on Sunday. This was an unfortunate complication for us.

Cafe Brujula - Great coffee place.

La Mezcaloteca - It's an appointment-only tasting room for mezcal, a non-profit dedicated to appreciation of the spirit and preservation of traditional methods. We just stumbled in and were able to talk our way into three seats, but I'd recommend reserving in advance. We knew very little about mezcal before this trip, and we learned a ton at this place. Very much worth it.

El Union - This is a very interesting mezcal tasting room. They bottle their mezcal in recycled bottles (I've got a 1L Bacardi bottle, my friend bought some in a 20 oz plastic water bottle), and they ladle tastes for you out of giant glass jars. They spoke no English when we were there, but it was fascinating.

Del Maguay - A bit of a different mezcal tasting experience, this place looks like a high end office reception area, and the mezcals they pour are quite expensive (some over $100 a bottle, while the "expensive" mezcal I purchased at El Union was $4). They are, however, quite good, and you can find their stuff in DC. Worth doing.

Mercado 20 de Noviembre - Some of the best food I had in Oaxaca was in various markets, including this one. Great menudo, tamales, moles, etc throughout, and the market in general is an incredible experience. Strongly recommended.

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My wife and I met a friend in Oaxaca this past week, and spent four nights there. It remains one of my absolute favorite places to visit. It's beautiful, and such a vibrant and alive city, and extremely walkable. I also don't know that it's possible to eat better anywhere in the world. Here are some restaurants and bars we visited while there:

Criollo - I have loved every single Enrique Olvera restaurant I've been to, and Criollo is no exception. There's no menu at all, which was mildly annoying as it would have been nice to confirm the specifics on what exactly we were eating, as my Spanish is very mediocre. That said, this was a spectacular meal. Total cost for three people for seven courses, with beverage pairing, was about $250. The exchange rate in Mexico is really working in our favor right now. 

Pitiona - The most disappointing meal we had our entire trip. It was my favorite spot last time I was in Oaxaca, but didn't come close to measuring up this time around. Service was very weird at the very beginning, and then non-existent at the end. The savory courses were good, but the two desserts were among the worst I have ever eaten. One was, literally, a flavorless ball of ice. 

Origen - Great meal. Duck carnitas with mole rojo was awesome, as was the pork. Service was also fantastic. The entire meal, including cocktails as wine, was $100 for three people. 

Los Danzantes - Really cool room, and great vibe. I think the food here is good, and they have a fantastic Mexican wine list. It's not operating on the same level as Origen or Criollo, but it's still a very good restaurant. 

Cabuche - Great lunch spot. We ordered huaraches, which I'd never had before, but which are masa dough with beans mashed into it, and then topped with various things. We had carnitas and a beef version which were both awesome. We also several of the tacos de guisado, and all of them were great. It's right in the center of town. 

Mercado 20 de Noviembre - Great market, and one of my favorite places in Oaxaca to eat. I don't remember the exact names of the stands we ate at, but our methods are typically to wander around and pick one that looks good and that's busy. There's a particular section of this market that's a long, narrow corridor with meat vendors on both sides yelling at you. You order your meats by the kilo, pick out what you want, and they'll grill it up and bring it to you. Somebody else will sell you tortillas, salsas and limes, and another person will come over and offer to sell you beer or soda. 

PAN:AM - Wonderful coffee and pastry spot right by our hotel. 

Cafe Brujula - Another good coffee spot. They have two in the Centro, the newest one is right by Santo Domingo. 

La Mezcaloteca - Within the city of Oaxaca this is probably the most informative mezcal experience you can have. You need to book a reservation, and you can then order some number of flights of mezcal. You can pick either specific flavor profiles you want, or which types of maguey you want, or what sort of production methods you're interested in and they'll pick out three mezcals to fit those criteria. All of their offerings are very, very small batch (the largest we tried out of 12 mezcals was a 100 liter production), and you can buy bottles from them as well. 

Union de Palenqueros de Oaxaca - A rather surreal mezcal tasting experience. It feels a bit like you're in a garage. 

Del Maguey - It's not a bad idea to visit this spot as kind of a baseline for the rest of the mezcal tasting you'll do, but all of their stuff is available in the US. 

Mezcaleria In Situ - Very cool bar with an incredible selection of mezcal. 

Mezcalogia - Another cool bar. The cocktails here were only ok, but they have a great mezcal selection, and they're very interested in teaching people about it. 

Los Amantes Mezcaleria - Tiny little mezcal bar, but worth visiting. They pour only their only label, but they have really good stuff. 

Gozobi - Great rooftop. We stopped here late afternoon one day and enjoyed cocktails while looking out over the city. 

Sabina Sabe - Cool bar, extensive mezcal selection. It had been recommended to us for cocktails but we didn't particularly like the look of the list, so we just ordered flights of mezcal. 

El Destilado - Fantastic bar, and the best cocktails we had in Oaxaca. Great mezcal selection as well. 

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One other thing I'll mention about our trip was our mezcal tour we did on Friday, which was one of the coolest things we did on the entire trip. We booked with Alvin, who operates under the name Mezcal Educational Tours. We traveled throughout the Oaxacan countryside and visited five different palanques, and saw every single aspect of mezcal production happen. We also saw different types of production, including crushing by hand and by horse, clay pot distillation and copper still distillation. We also tasted an incredible variety of mezcals poured for us by the mezcaleros, and learned so much. Very cool experience, and if anyone is interested I can send you Alvin's information. 

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I am going to Oaxaca at the end of the month. THANK YOU!!!!

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@Mark Dedrick how did you feel about raw fruits/veg in Oaxaca? I usually avoid them as a general rule when traveling to developing countries, but salsas etc are delicious and everywhere.

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12 hours ago, ALB said:

@Mark Dedrick how did you feel about raw fruits/veg in Oaxaca? I usually avoid them as a general rule when traveling to developing countries, but salsas etc are delicious and everywhere.

I ate everything I was served, as did my wife, and we had no issues at all. That included lettuce and tomatoes on top of our tlayudas, onions and cilantro on tacos, and several different salsas. 

Oh, and your lodging is probably already sorted, but if not we stayed at La Quinta Real, and it was fantastic. I'd strongly recommend it. It's a very cool space, a former convent, and the location couldn't be better. 

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On 7/10/2018 at 11:27 AM, Ericandblueboy said:

It never occurred to me to go to Oaxaca in the summer.  How’s the weather?

I've now been twice in the summer and the weather has been pretty great both times. It's pretty high above sea level in the capital (over 5,000 feet), and that moderates the temperature pretty well. Last week we had highs in the low 80s and lows in the low 60s. Quite pleasant to walk around. 

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