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Great Eats: Oaxaca Mexico
By Matthew Schroeder

Just as compelling and cosmopolitan as Mexico City, but with a far more easygoing and artsy vibe, the city of Oaxaca (pronounced wah-haa-kah) has become the next “it” place for foodies searching for truly authentic and inspired Mexican cuisine. Actually, the truth is, Oaxaca has always been a magnet for travelers from across the globe.

Walk through Oaxaca’s romantic old streets lined with colorful, colonial buildings and you’ll soon discover some of Mexico’s most stunning architecture, along with countless art galleries and divine restaurants and eateries. This is where some of the country’s most exciting regional dishes can be found, as well as some of the world’s best mescal, tequila’s earthy and smoky cousin (Mezcal Benevá, in the nearby town of Mitla, offers free tastings and tours).

Whatever you do, do not leave Oaxaca without trying at least one — or all — of the region’s famous moles (moh-layz), the quintessential Mexican sauce that accompanies many dishes. In fact, the state of Oaxaca is known as “the land of the seven moles,”: mole negro, colorado, amarillo, verde, chichilo, coloradito and mancha manteles (which means “table cloth stainer” due to its inky, dark color). Just remember, in Oaxaca, people eat almuerzo (brunch/lunch) at around 11 a.m. and comida (main meal) around 3 p.m. (sometimes later), and cena (light evening meal) around 8 or 9 p.m.

La Casa de la Abuela, overlooking the zócalo (main square), is known for its moles and serves all seven. Opt for the rich mole negro, comprised of chocolate, as well as chili peppers, onions and garlic. It is the most complex and difficult to make. The restaurant also offers empanadas which are more like quesadillas and the traditional caldo de gato (beef soup with vegetables and local corn).

Fish and Seafood
Combining a relaxed atmosphere with superb food, Marco Polo is one of the most unique establishments in all of Oaxaca and it even bakes its seafood in an outdoor adobe oven. Here you’ll find locals dining right alongside visitors, so you know it has to be good! If you have trouble narrowing down your meal choices, start with the ceviche and then move on to the vitaminas al vapor (seafood soup cooked in a foil bag with an egg) or the pescado a la talla (fish cooked in the wood oven with red chile adobo).

Tacos and Steaks
Situated directly right off the west side of the zócalo, and perfect for a quick bite, El Meson dishes out some of the best tacos and steaks in Oaxaca. While you can find tacos of all kinds here, do try the pork taco with roasted poblano peppers and cream — you’ll be glad you did.

Take a Cooking Class
One of the best ways to experience the food of Oaxaca, besides eating your way through the plentiful restaurant circuit and simple markets stalls, is to take a cooking class. While a number of classes are offered around town, one of the most well respected is Casa Crespo restaurant and cooking school. Casa Crespo offers a four-hour course everyday (except on Sundays), and there is no minimum of students. As a student you’ll have the opportunity to choose the menu. A tour to the market is also included.

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