Travel
Oaxaca is home to 16 indigenous cultures, with the Zapotecos and Mixtecos the most widely recognized. An underdeveloped state, Oaxaca relies heavily on tourism, fruit and vegetable crops, and handmade crafts to support its economy.
While its sandy beaches and archeological sites are a calling card for tourists, Oaxaca’s rich culinary heritage will whet your appetite for more. Called the Land of the Seven Moles, each of Oaxaca’s regions is known for its unique version of this spicy sauce.

Chef Scott Conant has been fortunate enough to spend time in this amazing part of the world with his family. The allure, he says, is the culture, the food, and the people. “Some of the best food I have had in my life has been in the state of Oaxaca,” he exclaims. “The city is stunning. Walking through the markets, you get an instant snapshot of pre-Spanish influences in the grilled meats and local delicacies, like chapulines and tranchulas. Then to visit the churches and see that European influence creates an interesting juxtaposition that gave me a whole new perspective of Mexico overall. Oaxaca made me want to jump in a car and drive around the whole country to experience more of it.”

Stay Here
a stunning historic hotel dating back to the 1570s
Quinta Real Oaxaca is a stunning historic hotel dating back to the 1570s. Originally the Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena, it retains original frescos and restored tiled floors to this day. Over the years, it became a jail, while the church side became council buildings. Part of it is still used as a school. caminoreal.com
Visit This
considered the most splendid church in town
The Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán is considered the most splendid church in town, with its Baroque facade and an interior nearly entirely decorated with 3D relief. The Spanish Dominican order protected the indigenous people in Mexico. The church is part of a cultural center that also houses the Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca and an ethnobotanical garden.
Monte Albán is an UNESCO site that comprises a series of ruins — pyramids, courts, and tombs — with a man-made platform, Gran Paza, in the middle, all of which were carved out of the mountain. It is the oldest and most impressive pre-Columbian site in Latin America. whc.unesco.org/en/list/415
Eat At
a gastronomic experience for all five senses
Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante is a gastronomic experience for all five senses. Fresh salsa made tableside, traditional flavors, and warm Mexican service. casaoaxacaelrestaurante.com
an old house converted into a bar and restaurant
Expendio Tradición is an old house converted into a bar and restaurant. With a 140-year history of making mezcal, the Chagoya family opened Expendio Tradición for guests to enjoy their liquor. Using local materials to transform the restaurant into a stunning space, it is matched by fiercely inventive dishes. And, yes, you can buy the mezcal to take home. expendiotradicion.com
La Teca is a favorite of locals and tourists. If you feel like you’re eating in the chef’s home, it’s because you actually are! Try typical Oaxacan classics like tamales and garnachas along with a wide variety of mezcal and local beer. facebook.com/pages/Restaurante-La-Teca/495974060448357
Savor These Spices
a fragrant herb whose big, floppy leaves are used to wrap and flavor local cheese
Hoja Santa — or holy leaf — is a fragrant herb whose big, floppy leaves are used to wrap and flavor local cheese or wrap tamales, meats, and fish for steaming. It’s also cut into strips for soups and egg dishes or dried as a seasoning. Flavors have been compared to licorice, sassafras, eucalyptus, and tarragon.
Pitiona is a lemon verbena indigenous to Oaxaca and used in moles and other sauces, as well as soups and even breads.
a pungent herb with oregano, anise, citrus, mint, and even tar notes
Epazote is a pungent herb with oregano, anise, citrus, mint, and even tar notes. Usually added at the end of cooking, it’s most often used to season black beans and rustic dishes.
Taste These Indigenous Ingredients
Jicama is a Mexican root vegetable served fresh, either cool or at room temperature. It’s also cooked into a crispy snack and dusted with salt, sugar, or chili.
a very small fruit with soft, edible skin
The criollo avocado is a very small fruit with soft, edible skin that’s comparable to an apple peel.
Chapulines or grasshoppers (yes, grasshoppers) are a local specialty you must try with lime and salt. It’s ideal as a tlayuda topping!
Oaxacan cheese
Quesillo is Oaxacan cheese, a semisoft, white, string-like cow’s-milk cheese similar to mozzarella. Salty and mild, it’s perfect for quesadillas.
Eat These Local Dishes
A tlayuda or Oaxacan pizza is a large, dried tortilla topped with beans, tomatoes, avocados, and meat or shredded chicken.
Garnachas, the ultimate street food, are appetizers using thick masa cakes as a base to top with meats, beans, and chiles with a sauce and cheese.
a fragrant herb whose big, floppy leaves are used to wrap and flavor local cheese
traditionally filled tamales wrapped in banana leaves
Tamales Oaxaqueños are traditionally filled tamales wrapped in banana leaves.
Try a Mole or Two…
curry-like Oaxacan sauce
You have seven versions of this delectable curry-like Oaxacan sauce to try, made famous for its deep, rich, simmered flavors of roasted ingredients like tomatoes and onions, cooked with 15 to 30 herbs and spices. Moles are served on top of chicken, meat, or enchiladas, as well as hidden inside empanadas and tamales.
And Sip These
a smoky, double-distilled mash made from the heart of the agave plant
Spanish for “oven-cooked agave,” mezcal is a smoky, double-distilled mash made from the heart of the agave plant. Although the succulent is found in many parts of Mexico, most mezcal is made in Oaxaca.
Tejate was once the drink of the Zapotec royalty. And for good reason: it’s hard work to make! It contains toasted corn, rosita de cacao, cinnamon, and the seeds and flowers of the mamey fruit. Mildly earthy and chocolaty in taste, it’s sweetened with sugar water.
Hot chocolate the Oaxacan way means skipping the milk. Try it local style with water, preferably nice and frothy with a dusting of cinnamon.