Oaxaca Food: 40+ Best Foods in Oaxaca, Mexico

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Last Updated on November 17, 2022 by Audrey Scott

What is Oaxaca food? Which Oaxacan dishes should you seek out and what sort of flavors and spices might you find when you visit this city and region in southwestern Mexico? We spent two months living in Oaxaca to find out and explore Oaxacan cuisine. This Oaxaca Food and Culinary Travel Guide guide shares our favorite Oaxacan street foods, traditional dishes, snacks, drinks, and desserts, plus where to find them in this beautiful culinary city.

If Mexican cuisine ranks as one of the world’s great cuisines (it was the first cuisine to receive UNESCO culinary heritage status), it’s certainly aided in part by what goes on in the kitchens of Oaxaca.

Understanding Oaxacan Food

Oaxacan food: roasted, subtle, rich, layered. Moles, chocolate, tiny avocados that taste faintly like licorice, giant balls of quesillo cheese ribbons, grasshoppers, whopping Mexican pizzas, stunning grilled meats, corn fungus, mysterious herbs like epazote, and more types of chili peppers than you can shake a fire extinguisher at.

This is Oaxacan cuisine.

Oaxaca food guide

Oaxaca. Say it with me: Wa-ha-ka. We won’t lie: when we opted to spend a couple of months in Oaxaca, Mexico its cuisine was certainly a major factor in our decision. After spending several months exploring Central American food in countries further south, we were curious to find similarities and differences.

We used the gourmandish pretext of “We need to discover what Oaxacan food is all about” as an excuse to explore the city's street food, markets and restaurants to eat ourselves silly. We took a Oaxacan cooking class to give ourselves background. We cornered our Mexican landlord each time we saw him to ask about his favorite Oaxacan street food stands and dishes.

Some might say we were obsessed.

I say we were focused.

As friends and readers have made their way to Oaxaca, we’ve sent Oaxacan food information and recommendations in bits and bobs by email. Now it’s time to put it all together to share with you our massive Oaxaca Food Guide (also in Spanish) with 41 recommended dishes, street food, moles, desserts, drinks and more.

Note: Oaxaca, as we use it, will generally refer to the city of Oaxaca, the capital of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, which kindly stretches down to a beautiful coastline in southern Mexico. Oaxacan restaurant and Oaxacan cooking class recommendations are listed within.

Let's dig in! ¡Buen provecho!

Update: This post was originally published in September, 2013 and updated in December 2020 with updates on food-related activities and day trips in and around Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Street Food and Traditional Dishes

1. Tlayudas

Oaxaca Food, Tlayuda
Tlayuda with chicken tinga.

The oft-nicknamed “Oaxacan pizza,” a tlayuda consists of a large semi-dried tortilla, sometimes glazed with a thin layer of unrefined pork lard called asiento, and topped with refried beans (frijol), tomatoes, avocadoes, and some variation of meat (chorizo, tasajo or cencilla, or shredded chicken tinga). It can either be served open, or when it’s cooked on a charcoal grill, folded in half. One tlayuda is often enough to feed two people.

Tlayuda in Oaxaca recommendations: the stand just to the right of the entrance to the Carne Asadas aisle at Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Also, a hole-in-the-wall stand at Mercado de la Merced serves up some mighty fine tlayudas as well.

2. Huitlacoche Corn Fungus Tacos

Oaxaca Food, Huitlacoche
Huitlacoche (dried corn fungus) before it goes into a delicious taco.

Huitlacoche is a corn fungus, but I prefer the term “corn smut.” Earthy, mushroomy, huitlacoche is also very much a texture play.  Make sure to get it fresh, although you can also find it in cans.  Canned corn smut, mmmm.  

This is a seasonal item, but you might be lucky enough to make fresh corn smut tacos like we did at the Seasons of My Heart cooking school in Oaxaca.

3. Enfrijoladas

Oaxaca Food, Enfrijoladas
Enfrijoladas for lunch at Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

Enfrijoladas are essentially fried tortillas served with beans and sauce. The key in Oaxaca is that the beans are stewed with the leaves of the local avocado plant (see more below in the ingredients section). As our Oaxacan landlord's wife would say, “It’s not real frijol if it doesn’t include avocado leaves.”  How about that!

4. Memelas (Memelitas)

Oaxaca Food, Memela
Memela with frijol, quesillo (Oaxacan cheese) and salsas. Oaxaca's breakfast of champions?

A memela is corn round snack or antojito (“little craving”) a little thicker than a tortilla, toasted on a comal (large, flat hot pan) and topped with all manner of stuff: beans, quesillo (local stringy, brined cheese), bits of ground pork with spices or eggs, and various sauces of differing heat levels.

Memelas became our favorite morning go-to snack, probably because a local family had a stand set up just down the street.

Memela recommendations in Oaxaca: Street stand on Oaxaca (Huerto Los Ciruelos) in San José La Noria neighborhood.

5. Tetelas

Oaxaca Food, Tetelas
A tetela stuffed with beans, sided with salsa. The triangle shape gives it away.

A tetela is a thin stuffed corn tortilla folded into triangle.

Tetelas recommendation in Oaxaca: Check out the tetelas with refried beans (frijoles) at Itanoni on Belisario Domínguez 513, Colonia Reforma, a laid back little place that specializes in the finer and artisanal points of corn masa and all that’s made with it.

6. Tacos

Oaxaca Food, Tacos
A plate of tacos castillo with a blow-your-mind selection of condiments for under $4.

I know, I know. Tacos are broadly Mexican food not specific to Oaxaca. But damn if we didn’t get some of the best tacos on the planet during our stay in town. A good taqueria focuses on the meat, but doesn't forget that the condiments make the difference.

Our favorite taco place for excellent meat flavor, tortillas and generous high-value condiments: Los Mero Mero Sombrerudos (Universidad 112, Fraccionamiento Trinidad de las Huertas).

You’ll have your choice of taco meat (they’ll even give you a sample taste of all of them if you ask nicely), including al pastor, carnitas and castillo. Our favorite: the castillo, but you can get a plate with any combination (9 pesos/taco). They prepare the meat on the grill right up front. And if Sombrerudos doesn’t float your boat, there are other decent taquerias Oaxaqueños nearby on Universidad Street.

For those of you who are adventurous eaters, consider cow head tacos in Oaxaca.

7. Tamales (traditional, corn husk)

Again, I know traditional tamales are very much a broadly Mexican dish, but get yourself to Oaxaca and check out the tamale recommendation from our landlord (who was also our dentist!).

Tamales Mina is a simple street stand that shows up around 7:30 PM on the corner of Avenida Hidalgo and 20 de Noviembre. The grandmother behind the operation has been cranking out tamales for over 20 years (and our landlord swears the quality hasn't changed). Fillings and sauce are tasty and generous.

Today, her children sell the tamales for her at night. Grandma offers seven tamale flavors and all are good, but the mole coloradito and mole verde tamales were our favorites. Come early as a line forms quickly and they sell out quickly.

8. Tamales Oaxaqueños (or Tamales Hoja)

Oaxaca Food, Tamale
Tamale Oaxaqueño, a work of culinary art.

Banana leaf-wrapped tamales. They look like South American humitas, but they are the Oaxacan alternative leaf-wrapped tamales. Tamales Oaxaqueños feature similar fillings to the traditional tamale, like frijol (beans) or mole negro.

To me, the leaf keeps the moisture in more reliably than the traditional corn husk. And anyhow, it doesn’t get any more beautiful than these.

9. Beer Snacks

Oaxaca Food, Beer Snacks
Beer snack culture in Oaxaca. Pay for the beers, the food is complimentary.

The greatest budget travel tip in the world is right here, people.  Go to the right bar in Oaxaca, order a beer for around $2 and eat all night for free.

Yes, you read that right. They'll just keep bringing out more and more goodies, from fish soup to smoked meats to potato salads to endless bowls of nacho chips. But how, you ask?  

This is the beer snack antojitos culture in Oaxaca. The place you’re likely to hear about most often is La Red, but our favorite was the rooftop of Rey de Oros (Aldama No. 304 location near Mercado 20 de Noviembre). Our preferred Mexican beer for a night of snacking: Victoria.

10. Carnes Asada (cecina, tasajo or chorizo)

Oaxaca Food, Carnes Asada
Carnes asada in Oaxaca: choose your meat and vegetables. Then, en fuego!

Meat-lovers rejoice. Be certain to check out the pasillo de carnes asadas (grilled meats hall) in Oaxaca’s 20 de Noviembre market. It’s a grilled meat saloon. Although busy every day of the week, it's packed with local families on weekends (especially Sundays).

Pick your meat: tasajo (thinly pounded beef, often air-dried to some extent), cecina (similarly thinly sliced pork), cecina enchilada (dusted with chili powder), and chorizo (Mexican sausage). Vegetarians don’t despair: the roasted vegetables are fabulous, as are the various vegetarian sauces and sides. The stand from which you choose your meat will grill everything for you.

Find a spot to sit (it can be tough!) and wait for your grilled goodies to be delivered to your table. The rest is easy. Kick back, enjoy your food and a take in traditional Oaxaca and an atmosphere of families gathered together to share a meal.

11. Goat’s Head Soup

A specialty of the Tlacolula Sunday Market, worth a visit for taste, life and color. Try the goat barbecue (barbacoa) and the goat soup consomme from the drippings. The entire scene is a fiesta.

12. Chile Relleno

Stuffed, roasted fresh poblano peppers. Not native to Oaxaca per se, good rellenos are to be had throughout the various markets in town. What’s even nicer still: some are not dipped and fried in egg batter, but are served naked so you can see the pepper skin and experience the pepper flavor right out front, without the blanket of fried batter.

13. Jicama

Oaxaca Food, Marinated Jicama
Jicama dusted with salt and chili dust, perfect with a day-ending drink.

Mexican turnip or root, sometimes referred to as the Mexican yam. We’d find them served fresh, room temperature or chilled, and crispy as antojitos or snacks, dusted with salt or sugar and chili dust to go alongside a margarita or beer.  

Our favorite was a somewhat upscale variety we found at La Biznaga García Vigil No. 512.

14. Empanadas

Oaxaca Food, Empanadas
Empanadas warmed on a comal.

Not the South American dough pocket empanadas you may be accustomed to, Oaxacan empanadas look a lot like a big memela (but with larger, thinner dough) and are stuffed and warm-roasted on a comal (a large, metal pan used throughout Mexico for cooking tortillas, memelitas, and tlayudas, as well as roasting peppers and other vegetables).

Our favorite empanada vendor hails at the local market in San José La Noria neighborhood on Jorge L. Tamayo Castellanos Avenida next to the fire station, but you'll also find a great selection of empanadas cooked up to order at the Tlacolula Sunday market and Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

15. Entomatadas

Oaxaca Food, Entomatadas
Entomatadas, lunch at the 20 de Noviembre market in Oaxaca.

Tortillas stuffed with quesillo, covered with a tomato-based sauce and topped with fresh cheese. Simple, hearty, good. A common lunch menu item at stalls throughout the 20 de Noviembre market.

16. Enchiladas

Oaxaca Food, Enchiladas
Enchiladas and mole colorado at Oaxaca's Etla market.

Enchiladas, which you’ll find all over Mexico, are simply tortillas pan-fried with a chile sauce and served with some onion and cheese. Sometimes you’ll find them stuffed with meat or cheese, other times spicy tortillas alone.

In Oaxaca, you'll usually find enchiladas covered in a traditional Oaxacan mole sauce (see below for more on moles).

17. Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles is a dish composed of lightly fried tortilla strips or quarters topped with a wide-ranging regional and local variety of stuff not limited to salsas (green salsa verde seemed most common), meat (e.g., shredded chicken), refried beans, cheese like queso fresco or cotija, Mexican cream, and onions. Maybe even an egg.

Typically an early day breakfast, lunch, brunch or somewhere in between offering.

18. Hibiscus Horn Cones

Oaxaca Food Appetizer
Hibiscus stuffed fried tortillas.

Tortilla horns stuffed with seasoned hibiscus (or jamaica, the same reddish-purple stuff of jamaica agua fresca drink fame). Available at La Biznaga (García Vigil No. 512). A change-up from the traditional.

Oaxacan Moles

Oaxaca is also known as the land of the seven moles.

We always say that our mothers make the best mole. But on the Day of the Dead, everyone shares their mole with everyone else so we all know who really makes the best mole in the village,” Yolanda, our cooking class instructor, explained how proper mole preparation is a highly respected skill.

She continued: “You have to burn the peppers and then soak them to remove the bitter. If you don’t take the bitter out of the chili peppers, people will talk badly of you.

Talk about social pressure in the kitchen.

But what is a mole anyway?

It’s a style of sauce made from roasted ingredients that are then ground together and slow simmered to allow the varied flavors to blend and play off one another in a way that no single ingredient might be detected. The result: rich, complex, diverse, complementary flavors.

Oaxaca Mole Ingredients
Ingredients to make mole coloradito.

Oaxaca culinary fame is derived in great part from its seven varieties of moles. You'll find moles served on top of chicken, meat or enchiladas, as well as tucked inside empanadas and tamales. But not every mole is one that you'd eat every day. Like a party dress, some are reserved only for very special occasions.

19. Mole Negro (black sauce)

This is the most famous of all Oaxacan moles, perhaps because of its complexity and heavy reliance on chocolate.

“This is not a mole where you wake up in the morning and say on a whim, ‘I’m going to make mole negro today.’ It takes a lot of time to make and get it right,” Yolanda reminded us.

Mole negro ingredients include a selection of dried chiles (chilhuacles negros, guajillo chiles, pasilla chiles, ancho negro (mulatto) chiles, chipotle chiles) with seeds taken out and then soaked in water and blended with chocolate, bread, etc.

20. Mole Colorado (red sauce)

One of the members of Oaxaca’s seven great moles. Mole Colorado (or Mole Rojo) sauce is made with a variety of peppers (pasilla, ancho and others), almonds, chocolate and a host of sweet and savory spices.

21. Mole Coloradito (little red sauce)

Oaxaca Mole Coloradito
Chicken with mole coloradito.

Based on market menus in Oaxaca, mole coloradito is among the most popular. Similar to mole colorado, it features a few more green leaf spices along with chiles guajillo, pasilla and ancho, lending it a color slightly less deep than that of the mole colorado.

22. Mole verde (green sauce)

Oaxaca Food Mole Verde
Mole verde enchiladas from the Noria Market.

A mole made to show off local herbs and greens, mole verde can feature any number of the following items: epazote, hoja santa, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, poblano peppers, jalapeño peppers, parsley, spinach and nopales (cactus leaves).

23. Mole amarillo (yellow sauce)

Given that this sauce is more often red than yellow, the name always threw us off. Mole amarillo is a less complex mole made from guajillo an ancho chilies that almost looks like a sort of Mexican marinara. What makes it different from the red moles is that absence of nuts, chocolate and sweet bits like raisins.

Moles we haven't tried…yet

The remaining two moles are more difficult to find in the markets and in the every day. We confess that we did not try them, but wanted to highlight them among the “7 Moles of Oaxaca” and as something to seek out for the food curious among you.
1. Mole Chichilo
2. Mole Manchamantel (literally, tablecloth staining sauce)

Key Ingredients of Oaxacan Cuisine

24. Avocado leaves (hojas de aguacate)

Not any old avocado leaves, but avocado leaves from the Mexican avocado (Persea drymifolia) that impart a flavor of anise or licorice. This is an important flavor in the Oaxacan frijol (beans). Best toasted on a comal, a concave or flat Mexican griddle. Absolutely unique and delicious, and essential to local Oaxacan cuisine.

25. Avocado Criollo

An avocado where you can eat the skin! Criollo avocados are a local Oaxacan variety that are usually quite small and feature a soft skin that you can actually eat (a bit of an odd sensation, really). Much like its leaves which are used to flavor bean pots and other dishes, the avocado features a subtle anise flavor.

26. Epazote

Don’t eat epazote by itself, but be aware that it’s one of fine subtle herbs that makes Mexican food (and Oaxacan food) taste so good. From the Aztec words for skunk and sweat, epazote is that inimitable flavor of pepper, mint and something wild that you’ll typically find stewed into various dishes.

Rumor also has it that epazote decreases flatulence. Perhaps that’s why it's stewed into beans and onions to make frijoles de la olla. Epazote is also referred to as wormseed and Jesuit's tea, among others.

27. Chapulines (Grasshoppers)

Chapulines: you must try them. Think crunchy like popcorn shells and eaten voluminously like potato chips.

Chapulines are ideal on top of a tlayuda. Maybe that’s why when you buy a tlayuda at the Mercado 20 Noviembre, the chapulines vendors will gather 'round.

28. Quesillo (Oaxacan cheese)

We joke that quesillo is like string cheese or mozzarella, but with a bit more of a salt tang because it is brined.

At the market, quesillo is often stored in long white ribbons that are wound, unwound and cut like a ball of yarn or trim at a fabric shop. About two meters of quesillo equals one kilo. It’s best to eat or use quesillo fresh, since storing it for any length of time in the refrigerator will alter its consistency.

29. Peppers

Oaxaca Chili Peppers
Dried chili peppers at Oaxaca's Juarez Market.

Wow, Oaxacan peppers! Ancho, poblano, pasilla, chilaca, chile negro — you name it. Some of them go by multiple names.

The one best known to Oaxaca is the pasilla chile. But beware, if you come shopping for a particular pepper that you need for a recipe, you ought to come armed with a photo of the one(s) you need, as names are often applied interchangeably.

Some are easy-going, some are en fuego. Where to begin?

Take a walk through any market (Mercado de 20 Noviembre pepper section will overwhelm) and you will be blown away, almost to tears, by the vast selection of fresh and dried peppers on offer. Each one has its purpose, whether it’s a dried pepper for a specific style of mole a fresh one for stuffed pepper (chile relleno). Habanero peppers are not used as often in Oaxaca as they are in nearby Yucatan and Chiapas.

30. Chocolate

Oaxaca Chocolate
Cocoa beans before they become chocolate at Chocolate Mayordomo

Chocolate has been a staple of this region since ancient times. It is not usually eaten, but instead is used in drinks and also as a crucial defining ingredient of Oaxacan cuisine, including in several of its famous moles.

The aroma of freshly ground chocolate literally takes over the streets around the 20 de Noviembre market; this is a hub for the region’s chocolate producers. Be sure to visit Chocolate Mayordomo where chocolates of varying intensity and sweetness are ground from fresh cocoa beans (cacao).

31. Chicharrón

Fried pork skin. You can certainly try it on its own as a snack, but you might also get it thrown in atop a tlayuda or other dish for crunch and flavor.

32. Hoja Santa

Hoja Santa (“sacred leaf”) is a popular Mexican herb used to flavor various chocolate drinks, soups, stews and Oaxacan mole verde. The fresh leaves, used to impart a faint pepper licorice flavor, are sometimes also used to wrap tamales (see tamales hojas). The dried leaves can be used as a seasoning, but they are more flavorful when fresh.

33. Squash Blossoms (Flor de Calabazas)

If you are hanging out in Oaxaca for a while and have access to a kitchen, try finding squash blossoms at one of the local Oaxaca markets. Take them home and make deep fried squash blossoms, cheese-filled squash blossoms, or even squash blossom soup. Or take the easy way out and find a market vendor who fries squash blossoms with onions and poblanos and tucks them with some quesillo into an empanada or quesadilla.

Oaxaca Drinks

34. Tejate

Oaxaca Drinks, Tejate
A tejate vendor at the Etla Market.

An indigenous drink (from the Mixtec and Zapotec people) made of corn, cacao, and other unusual bits like the seeds of the mamey (or zapote) and flor de cacao (or Rosita de cacao). As such, the drink is mildly chocolatey and earthy. It feels like it ought to do something transcendental to you.

We tried our hand at a couple versions, including at one of the stands in the main hall of Oaxaca’s Etla market.

35. Hot Chocolate

Yes, you have to try real hot chocolate. Even though you may be accustomed to taking it with milk (de leche), try it local style with water (de agua).

Wherever you buy it, be certain to ask for it nice and frothy, preferably using a hand-spun frother called a molinillo. A good place to try several types of chocolate is Chocolate Mayordomo.

36. Coffee

Though coffee culture suffers south of the Mexican border (it is getting better), it’s alive and well in Oaxaca. So alive and well, I might go so far as to say I’ve had some of the most consistently good coffee ever in my life in Oaxaca. Just check it out and let us know. Best coffee in Oaxaca? We say Cafe Nuevo Mundo.

37. Beer

If you drink beer, you must drink beer in Oaxaca, so you can be a world beer aficionado.

Corona? I’m sorry, but I try to avoid touching the stuff. Pacifico and Negra Modelo are OK, but our favorite refreshing go-to beer: Victoria.

38. Mezcal

Oaxaca Mezcal Tasting
Mezcal tasting at a mezcalaria just outside of Oaxaca.

Growing up, I always thought of mezcal as dirty, like an outlaw tequila. It was probably the agave worm, which by the way does not appear in all bottles of mezcal. So what is it?

I go to Oaxaca and I find the real story (or at least the story told by Oaxaquenos): a smoky, double-distilled roasted mash made from the heart of the maguey plant (of the agave family) called a piña (as in pineapple, which is not surprising as the maguey hearts look like enormous barrel-sized pineapples hearts).

Tequila, by the way, is a specific type of mezcal made from the blue agave.

Experience this yourself with a half day tour that includes mezcal tasting right from the source. Or, if you really want to go deep into the subtleties of mezcal, sign up for this organic mezcal tasting at a local mezcal cooperative.

39. Margaritas

By no means am I a margarita expert, but I certainly enjoyed a margarita (or two) on the rocks in Oaxaca. Blended margaritas are for the beach. The margaritas at La Biznaga were our favorite. But, be careful after a few of them…

Oaxaca Fruits and Sweets

40. Tuna Ice Cream

No, it’s not what you think. Tuna is the name of the colorful fruit tip of the prickly pear cactus. In and around Oaxaca, you can find ice cream, ice milk and bright slushy-type stuff made from tuna the fruit, not the fish from the sea!

41. Oaxaca Fruit and Juice

I know, I know. You are thinking super lame entry, right? But here’s the deal, the fruit in Oaxaca is excellent and is often quite inexpensive if you know where to look. Fruit is also a great way to balance out all those heavy foods and to rehydrate. Eat your fruit!

And if you are lazy, it’s often sliced up for you, ready to eat.

You'll find the traditional stuff like watermelon, pineapple and a little further afield like papaya or mango on the street or near markets. Check out the fruit stands at the southeast corner of 20 Noviembre market. To go further still, don’t forget to poke around, be curious and check out the following fruit in whole form or in juice: guanabana, zapote, chico, zapote, chamoy and maracuya (passion fruit).

I’m a fruit-by-itself kind of guy, but the Oaxacan locals love fruit cut in a bag and dashed with chili pepper, lime juice and salt. Surprisingly, it’s particularly refreshing on a hot day.

If you find yourself in Oaxaca, you gotta juice. Juice stands abound throughout Oaxaca's streets and in its markets. One of our favorite juice stands: Jugos Angelita stand at the Sanchez Pascuas market. Try one or two of the cleansing blends, especially after a night of — you guessed it — margaritas.

Oaxaca Day Tours and Other Things to Do

Although most of the two months we spent in Oaxaca was focused on work, we did have some fun along the way. In addition to taking this Elta market visit and cooking class, we got out a bit to explore nearby historic and natural sites.

We booked our day tours by just walking around and seeing who had a tour leaving that day or the next. However, if you have limited time or are bit more organized than us and want to book in advance we can recommend using our partners, Get Your Guide and Viator. They both offer Oaxaca day and food tours with no booking fees and free cancellation up to 24 hours before.

Here are a few tours and experiences we recommend. (Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links where the price stays the same to you, but we earn a small commission if you book something.)

Oaxaca City Tours

  • Oaxaca Street Food Tour: Taste over 25 different types of Oaxacan street foods and specialties (included in price) as you visit three of the city's main fresh markets and street stalls areas. As markets are a main focus of this 4-hour tour you'll learn about the ingredients, spices and flavors that make Oaxacan cuisine so unique. If you want a shorter food tour and market option where you choose which foods you want to sample then check out this 1.5 hour Oaxacan street food tour.
  • Private Oaxaca Food Tour: Sample over 20 different local Oaxacan specialties at locally-owned restaurants to understand and taste the full breadth of Oaxacan cuisine. This 4-hour food tour takes you through the historic center so you'll enjoy a mini walking tour at the same time. A portion of the tour fees goes to a local NGO. If you would like to expand your knowledge of mezcal at the same time then check out this private food and mezcal tour.
  • Oaxacan Cooking Class: One of the best ways to really learn about and appreciate a cuisine is by taking a cooking class. We took this full day (9AM – 6PM) cooking class in Oaxaca that includes a visit to the Etla market followed by cooking several dishes (soup, appetizer, tacos, mole, etc.). If you are looking for a shorter experience, check out this half-day Oaxaca cooking class with a local chef that includes a market visit and a then cooking a changing menu of different types of tortillas, salsa, soup, appetizer, mole and dessert. Many cooking classes will adjust their menus to vegetarians, but you can also select a fully vegetarian cooking class.
  • Half-Day Oaxaca City Tour: One of the ways we often orient ourselves when we arrive in a new city is by taking a walking tour. This provides us a background on the history and culture of the place, an overview of the main historical sights, and ideas on where we want to continue our exploration. We find that the walking tour guides often have great food and restaurant recommendations, too.
  • Oaxaca Street Art Bike Tour: We find that street art tours are a great way to get to know a city and also to learn about local cultural, political and historical context through the imagery and messages in the street art. Oaxaca has some truly incredible street art and murals all throughout the city. So colorful, full of cultural expression, and unique. We wish we had been able to take this tour when we were there to have been able to really learn about the artists and understand better the messages and context behind the art. If you prefer to explore on foot than by bicycle, select this Oaxaca street art walking tour instead.

Day Trips Near Oaxaca City

  • Full Day Tour Around Oaxaca: We did a full-day trip very similar to this and really enjoyed it, especially the visits to Hierve el Agua waterfalls and mineral baths, Mitla (1,000+ year old Zapotec archeological site) and the Mezcal distillery. It's a lot packed into one day, but if you were to organize all of this independently with public buses it would take several days to fit all of this in.
  • Monte Alban and Villages: We visited Monte Alban on our own via public bus and while we enjoyed visiting this UNESCO Zapotec archeological site, I think we would have enjoyed and appreciated it even more if we had a guide to explain more to us about what we were seeing, background on Zapotec history and culture, and the significance of this site. This full-day tour also takes you to nearby historical towns and villages to learn even more about the Zapotec civilization and culture, and its impact on Oaxaca and Mexico today. If you have limited time, you can take a half-day tour that focuses only on Monte Alban.
  • Microfinance and village tour: For a unique experience to get a better understanding of rural and village life outside of Oaxaca city, consider booking a microfinance tour with En Vía, a local social enterprise. You'll have a chance to learn about how microfinance programs work and meet some of the women participants to see how they have used their small loans to build their own businesses and enterprises. You'll also get a delicious home-cooked lunch as well. Money from the tours go to supporting the women involved and providing a source of funding to the NGO. One of our friends volunteered with En Vía years ago and shared these beautiful stories.

Where to Stay: Oaxaca Hotels and Apartments

During our two-month stay in Oaxaca we spent a few days in an Airbnb place until we found our own apartment to rent for the remainder of the time. If you're going for a shorter stay we'd recommend staying near the markets or historic center. A few ideas for hotels and apartments that would be centrally located and easy to get around on foot.

  • Hotel Casona: Located in a 19th century palace with a beautiful courtyard, Hotel Casona is in a great location just a block away from the main square and Cathedral, as well as close to the 20 de Noviembre Market and other main sites. This hotel is on the pricier side, but you can often find deals for it and it's a nice splurge.
  • Casa Tobalá: Good location just a couple blocks away from the Zocaló square and located right next to the main markets. This hotel also has a nice rooftop terrace with views over Oaxaca and a cute courtyard area to hang out. A good medium-priced hotel option.
  • Casa Azecenas: Located in a colorful, traditional building in Oaxaca's old town with a rooftop terrace to enjoy breakfast. Casa Azecenas is located about 10 minutes away from the markets and main square, so it is good for those who want a quieter location in the old town.
  • Juub Apartment: If you want a bit more space, including your own kitchen to either cook things you find from the market or bring back prepared food from the market, then consider choosing an apartment for your stay in Oaxaca. Conveniently located at around 5-10 minute walk to the main markets, Cathedral and squares.
  • Find more hotels in Oaxaca via Booking.com. The list above of hotels and apartments in Oaxaca is just the beginning of what's available.

You can also book your secure Oaxaca airport transfer in advance to ensure that you have a driver waiting for you when you arrive.

Gluten Free Eating in Oaxaca

If you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance there's good and bad news about gluten free eating in Oaxaca and Mexico in general. On the positive side, many traditional dishes are made from corn. On the negative side, sometimes flour and bread makes their way into moles and other traditional sauces when you least expect it. It's important to always be careful and ask questions.

To help you navigate Oaxacan food so that you can eat local, but also gluten free and with confidence, check out this Latin American Spanish gluten-free restaurant card and Gluten Free Guide to Mexico created by our friend, Jodi. The restaurant card explains in detail, using local food names and language, your needs as a strictly gluten free eater, including common problems regarding cross contamination, so that you get the meal you want and need. (Bonus: You can use it when you travel in any Spanish speaking Latin American country, from Mexico to Chile.)

© Jodi Ettenberg DBA Legal Nomads 2019

Jodi has celiac disease herself so she understands first-hand the importance of being able to communicate gluten free needs in detail and educate waiters and restaurants on what this means in practice. She created her series of Gluten Free Restaurant Cards in different languages to help celiac and gluten-free travelers eat local with confidence, and without communication problems or getting sick.

Note: These gluten free restaurant cards are not part of an affiliate plan or a way for us to make money. We are extremely fortunate that we can eat everything, but we've seen the challenges of others who are celiac or have food intolerances where every meal can potentially make them sick or cause pain. These detailed gluten free cards were created to help prevent that from happening and make eating out fun and enjoyable when traveling.

So that's it, folks. Get yourself to Oaxaca and explore, eat heartily, and eat well! Anything we missed, leave us a comment!

¡Buen provecho!

Other Food Guides From Unusual Destinations That You Might Enjoy:

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

50 thoughts on “Oaxaca Food: 40+ Best Foods in Oaxaca, Mexico”

  1. @Rhonda: That’s the goal. Sorry about the timing. Next time, we publish before lunch. If you adore the food in Mexico, definitely make an effort to visit Oaxaca if you haven’t been. Buen provecho!

    @Pauline: Wa-ha-ka…glad that works! I think we’ve all been there twisting our heads and tongues about how to pronounce Oaxaca.

  2. OMG guys.. I JUST finished a big lunch but you made me hungry all over again. I adore the food of Mexico and your descriptions and photos nearly did me in!

  3. It’s 4PM EST in the afternoon, I had a late lunch, and thanks to that amazing list of delicious food, I am now hungry again! Also, thank you, thank you, thank you, for typing out how you’re suppose to pronounce Oaxaca. For the longest time, I’ve been saying this in my head: O-axe-sa-gah… TOTALLY wrong!

  4. I think I have just entered the food coma zone. Seriously, they all sound amazing, flavorful and must tries. You have done a terrific job of explaining the local food and the pictures are drool-a-licious.

  5. @Joanne: Coma-inducing? Maybe this piece is a little too thorough 🙂

    Thanks so much for the compliment. We aimed to honor our Oaxaca eating experience as best we could.

  6. You had me at cheese ribbons. This list looks so good, and makes me detest the salad I’m currently eating. I’m thinking I’ll need this list as a resource for when I visit Mexico!

  7. Incredible resource of mouth-watering food. This list makes me want to immediately fly to Oaxaca to taste everything. Hope you guys are both doing well!

  8. @Mark: Doing well. Eating well. Glad you enjoyed it. Get thyself to Oaxaca!

    @Dallas: Ha ha. Was talking about those ribbons last night to some Mexican friends. We were all doing the hand gestures, unraveling the cheese.

    Sorry that you detest your salad. Hoping your next meal is beyond detestation 🙂

  9. No wonder Mexico has such an obesity problem. Everything looks great, and there are about 30 more things there than I’ve ever heard of.

  10. BotH my parents are from Oaxaca and let me tell you the food my parents made always had y friends wanting to visit more often. I only been to Oaxaca once and that was when I was like 8 and all I remember are the tacos I ate there

  11. @Eytan: Glad we introduced you to some more bits of Oaxacan and Mexican food. Was an enlightening visit for us.

    @Johnny: We’re envious. I bet you ate really well growing up. Thanks for the comment!

    @Ivan: Thanks!

  12. can’t believe you missed chilaquiles especially with salsa verde and enfrioladas – with the flavor of herba de conejo in the beans. Find these at Palapas de Raul if no one local has them.
    also Estufada – a type of mole with chicken usually and served with capers and olives.
    the wonderful creative rices at the comedors – simple with the flavor of chepil or chepiche – I have even had one with the juice of passionfruit added.
    Your picture of memelitas was odd to me – all the ones I eat tend to be more oval shaped and thicker. My neighbor makes them soft on the inside and crisp on the outside – heaven.
    check out Merced market for wood oven baked empanadas of corn smut, tongue, tinga de pollo or medula (bone marrow). the name is Las Gueretas – I think.
    Wonderful small special comedors – casa de la chef – santo sabor – open table
    Tamale from the Etla market. Mole coloradito and flor de calabaza with a parsley jalapeno masa are my favorite.
    pork spine with purslane in salsa verde
    Chilis en nogada – always around sept but year round at AZUCENA ZAPOTECA – a great restaurant near San Martin Ticajete – they have interesting local zapotec specialties also.
    And can’t forget the broccoli looking veggie – Huauzontle and the leaf of the amarnath plant – quintiles.
    next time you come – and you know there will be a next time – call this woman – she is of both mixtec and zapotec heritage – has worked with susanna trilling and even been mentioned in the NYT.
    She will show you the best of the best.
    Yolanda Giron

  13. Go big or go home – no “top 5” posts around here, it must be an encyclopedic 40! I always associated tuna with Mexico but ran into quite a lot of it in the Canary Islands as well. On the weekends you find lots of families wading through cactus patches skillfully picking tuna.

  14. Oh man, this is like an encyclopedia to Oaxacan food! I have spent barely any time in Mexico — I think I want to go for a month just to eat!

  15. So much food! Oaxaca looks like a food Mecca and definitely a place I have to visit (along with Mexico in general). Everyone of the dishes sounds amazing!

  16. @Teri: Ah yes, I knew I missed something. Chilaquiles. Please forgive me!

    Regarding memelitas, are you referring the circular memelas? Or the triangular tetela photo? All the memelas we ate were round (oval-ish or not).

    Thanks a million for the terrific additions!

    @Casey: Love the image of tuna picking.

    Next time we’ll try to tone it down on the food front. No mention of numbers in the next article 🙂

    @Susan: That was our intent. A Oaxacan food encyclopedia. Obviously, there’s a lot to add, but hopefully this is a healthy start.

    @Alex: Yes to all of it. Give Mexico a good. It’s a large country, so you’ll have to take it — and Mexican cuisine — in chunks.

  17. Yes, memelitas are memelas – usually oval in my neighborhood. I do love the tetelas at Itanonis-never found them anywhere else.

  18. Many thanks for your mouthwatering selection of Oaxaca goodies. My husband and I will be there in a few weeks for the Day of the Dead celebrations and look forward to sampling every item!!

  19. Oh wow, great food shots. Exploring and tasting the different foods are some of my favorite parts of traveling. Looks like Oaxaca has some pretty great options!

  20. Hey Daniel!

    That food looks absolutely amazing, and you definitely can’t find Mexican cuisine as authentic as this in the U.S.! If you had to eat 1 of these 40 foods for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Thanks for the great article, and If you and Audrey ever come to Indianapolis, IN let us know!

  21. @Francis: From what we’ve heard, the Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca are HUGE!! And, it’s the time for mole negro. Have a wonderful time and happy eating!

    @Tyler: Oaxaca is a pretty fabulous place for foodies. So many great flavors and options.

    @Daniel: Answering on behalf of Daniel here if that’s OK 🙂 That’s a tough question you ask. But if I had to choose just one I think it would be tacos – as long as we got all the condiments to go with them 🙂

    @Ale: In Oaxaca we had beans made with epazote and we also had beans made with avocado leaves. Both were good, but we preferred the flavoring of the avocado leaves.

    @Peggy: It is!

  22. Hi!
    I do think you missed chilaquiles and enchiladas. Those you get all around Mexico, but still, they deserve a place in your great list.
    The “mole verde” is different. The description you used for mole verde is actually just green salsa, and the picture is for enchiladas (which can be made with green or red salsa). Mole verde’s consistency is thick. Its main ingredient is “pepita” (which is a seed similar to the sunflower seed, it is covered by a light brown membrane and the seed itself is green. You guys should also try it. In mexico it is sold roasted and with salt)

  23. Damnnnnn….. this post is hunger inducing. The salsas in particular just look SO good. You guys do by far the best food posts of any travel blog.

  24. @Elisa: Thanks for the suggested additions and also the guidance on mole verde. Mole verde seemed to be a sticky, confused one both in our experience and during our post-trip research. Sometimes it would be salsa-esque (still called mole verde when served to us) and other times with that roasted pepian/pepitoria squash (pumpkin?) seed richness. But we’ll take your word that the real salsa verde is the rich stuff.

    @Kathryn: Muchissima gracias!

  25. Wow, these dishes look amazing. Mexico is on my to-visit list, can’t wait to try the food out. Recently came back from Tbilisi, Georgia and thought the food there was pretty special too. Going to do a writeup about it this weekend.

  26. Wojtek: Definitely easy to do!

    @Julie: Mexican food, especially in Oaxaca, is pretty incredible. Georgian food is also one of our favorite cuisines – such a shame that more people don’t know of it. Good luck with your writeup!

  27. Wow, awesome post. We’ve just arrived in Oaxaca and are dedicating most of our miserly budget to sampling as many foods as possible – this was the best starting point.

    Although we’re going to be doing mostly street food, we’re planning on treating ourselves with a higher-end restaurant too, something Oaxacan fusion – any recommendations?

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Andrew,
      Glad you’re getting your fill of yummy Oaxacan food and that this article is a good starting point. As for recommendations for a higher end restaurant, I’d give Los Danzantes at try. We used to go there for their special lunch menu (1 or 2 times per week) that showcased their fusion menu. If you go there for dinner you have an even wider selection. Another good place is Laz Biznega. It’s not all that fancy, but is definitely pricier than street food and has some interesting combinations. We’ve also heard good things about Casa Oaxaca, but we haven’t been there. Enjoy!

  28. For the record, its spelled Clayudas, not Tlayudas. Also, learn what clayudo/a means. Be careful of changing names that you don’t know. 🙂
    -from an amused reader and her upset Oaxacan grandmother

      • Hi! Daniel… I’m Mexican and you are right, Tlayuda is the correct spelling…. by the way, I dont like it very much… Just one more thing, the “empañadas picture” doesn’t seem to be the right one: Empanadas almost always -or always- are “closed-stuffed” pieces of god turned into food, hahaha! sorry I love it!

        • Thank you for confirming the spelling of tlayuda!

          As for the “empanadas” pictured (taken by me, during my eating experiences in Oaxaca), my understanding is these are specific to Oaxaca, and possibly the nearby region. So I have seen them consistently referred to as “empanadas Oaxaqueñas” — note without the first ‘ñ’. Empanadas Oaxaqueñas are made/cooked open-face first, then sometimes served as such, or closed at the midpoint into a half-moon. I have never seen them sealed or closed. So they are quite different than the empañadas you (and I) are accustomed to seeing and eating throughout other areas like South America and Central America. Unfortunately, I don’t know the background as to the difference. If anyone would like to explain, I’d be grateful.

          • I’ve lived in Oaxaca for more than ten years, and I’ve ever seen an empanada that looks like these. They look more like tostadas. Empanadas are typically large, flat tortillas folded over and stuffed with chicken and mole amarillo. The ones made with cheese are called quesadillas.

  29. Bless you guys for this post! I’m in Oaxaca now and it is hands down the BEST guide to eating here! I’m in Rey de Oros right now, favorite place in Oaxaca so far, porque me recuerda de Tailandia y se siente auténtica 🙂

  30. All those great food pictures revived hunger in me)) Oaxaca is amazing for food and travel in general, hopefully plannign to go there soon again!

  31. What did you think of the grasshoppers? I think I saw a Bourdain special on Oaxaca where they were ground up into a paste of some sorts? I’ve always been curious.

    • Grasshoppers are lovely. They and crickets are taking over the alternative source of nutrition scene — for meat, flour, etc. And they make great snacks and condiments too!


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