What to Eat in Oaxaca City, Mexico

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Oaxaca City is a vibrant cultural center in Southern Mexico. It’s also an incredible culinary destination to explore thanks to its rich history and diverse cuisine.

As you wander through its colorful streets, you’ll find incredibly delicious and unique flavors that are authentically Oaxacan.

To help you decide what to eat in Oaxaca City, I’ve compiled a few must-try dishes that showcase the region’s culinary heritage.

From rich moles to Oaxacan tamales, tasting these local specialties will allow you to truly appreciate and immerse yourself in the culinary landscape of Oaxaca City.

1. Mole

Savory sauce served with a piece of meat and a side of rice.
Mole and rice

Mole is undoubtedly one of Oaxaca’s most popular dishes. The famous seven moles of Oaxaca include sweet and savory mole negro, spicy mole coloradito, and herbaceous mole verde.

But how do you know which type of mole you prefer? The best way to decide is to have a mole tasting, which is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Oaxaca City.

Once you know what type of mole you like, you can order a full plate of this savory sauce which is typically served with a piece of chicken or turkey and a side of rice.

2. Tlayuda

crispy tortilla cooked with meat and salad on the side.
Tlayuda

In Oaxaca, one of the most popular things to eat is a tlayuda. Often referred to as Mexican pizza, this local favorite is made with a giant, slightly crispy tortilla cooked with asiento, or pork fat, and spread with a light layer of black beans and quesillo (stringy cheese).

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You’ll find tlayudas topped with various ingredients like shredded lettuce, tomato, and avocado. You can also choose to add meat such as chorizo, tasajo (thinly sliced aged beef), and cecina (seasoned pork).

Tlayudas are often folded in half and are most often thought of as street food, although you can also find them at many of the best restaurants in Oaxaca.

3. Memelas

Corn tortilla with thin layer of bean sauce, meat and cheese.
Memelas

Traditionally a breakfast food, this quick snack is made with a thick corn base that is heated on the comal. It’s then topped with a thin layer of bean sauce and cheese. You can opt to order your memelas with other toppings such as chorizo, a fried egg, or various stews.

One of the best places to try memelas is at Memelas Doña Vale in the sprawling Central de Abastos Market. Keep in mind, this market is quite large. You should avoid wearing jewelry, refrain from using your phone, and keep an eye on your belongings.

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4. Tamale Oaxaqueño

While you’ve likely tried tamales before, traditional Oaxacan tamales are different. Most notably, they are wrapped in a banana leaf instead of a corn husk which gives them a unique flavor.

To make a Tamale Oaxaqueño, a masa dough made of ground corn soaked in water and lime is filled with chicken and mole negro. It’s then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed until cooked.

You’ll find tamales throughout the city, although most commonly from a street vendor or inside one of Oaxaca’s many markets.

5. Empanada Amarillo

When visiting Oaxaca City, you’ll definitely want to taste an empanada amarillo. 

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Empanadas in Oaxaca are made by filling an oval tortilla and folding it over before heating it on the comal. The amarillo variant contains shredded chicken bathed in a savory yellow mole with a pungent green herb called epazote.

You can find these delicious empanadas in markets, street stalls, and local restaurants throughout Oaxaca City.

6. Chapulines

Salty and crunchy roasted grasshoppers.
Chapaulines

While the thought of eating roasted grasshoppers may turn off non-adventurous eaters, the truth is chapaulines from Oaxaca are more of a salty, crunchy bite. And they are the perfect accompaniment to mezcal or a cold beer.

Chapaulines are traditionally seasoned with chile and lime which come across as the prominent flavors more than the grasshoppers themselves.

You can buy this Oaxacan specialty at the local markets throughout the year, although they are best at the end of the rainy season when they are freshest.

7. Nicuatole

Coarn based sweet pudding served on the plate.
Nicuatole

Looking to eat something that will satisfy your sweet tooth? Nicuatole is a traditional Oaxacan corn-based dessert.

It is made from a mixture of finely ground corn, water or milk, piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), and cinnamon. The ingredients are combined and cooked until they reach a thick, gelatinous consistency.

Often food coloring and other flavors such as fruit are added. You can buy nicuatole from vendors on the streets and inside the mercados.

Or you could join a local cooking class to learn how to make some of these traditional Oaxacan dishes.

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Biography: Julien Casanova of Oaxaca Travel Tips

Lady with a camera sitting next to a cactus.
Julien Casanova of Oaxaca Travel Tips

Julien Casanova has been traveling and living in Mexico for more than five years. And then Oaxaca City stole her heart. She now lives in Oaxaca and loves to experience all its culinary and cultural traditions while sharing them on her website, Oaxaca Travel Tips. You can follow Julien on Facebook here.

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Pinterest images of Memelas, Chapulines and Nicuatole.
Pinterest images of Mole and Tlayuda.

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