Important: Processing times recently changed for both routine and expedited passport applications.

From Tacos to Tlayudas: Navigating Oaxaca’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine

A plate of authentic Oaxacan cuisine served at a restaurant

If you’re traveling to Mexico, you’ll want to include visiting the Mexican state of Oaxaca on your travel itinerary.

Celebrated for its rich, traditional culinary delights, Oaxaca is one of the most popular destinations for authentic Mexican cuisine. The flavorful dishes are strongly influenced by a blend of culturally traditional foods—an amalgamation of indigenous groups’ unique gastronomy. Oaxaca’s customary cuisine is drawn from ancient recipes of local indigenous groups like the Zapotec, Mixtec, Triqui, and Chatino. Oaxacan cuisine also reflects Spanish, African, and Mestizo influences in its use of pungent ingredients and distinctive cooking techniques.

The geography of Oaxaca, which includes the fertile slopes and valleys of the Sierra Madre Sur Mountains and Mexico’s Pacific Coast, has also shaped its cuisine. The abundance of savory flavors is attributed to Oaxaca’s varying microclimates across its 8 regions. The climactic diversity fosters the growth of a wide variety of key ingredients that make Oaxacan cuisine so flavorful and unique. 

Oaxaca offers a wide range of traditional dishes such as tlayudas (often likened to Oaxaca-style pizza), mole (a complex sauce with numerous variations), chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers), caldo de piedra (stone soup), and tamales Oaxaqueños (Oaxaca-style tamales).

Besides these dishes, Oaxaca is also known for its quesillo (a rich and creamy Oaxacan cheese), chapulines (grasshoppers, a favored local delicacy), and a variety of fresh, aromatic herbs like cilantro and epazote, and locally grown chili peppers.

With so many options to choose from, you’ll want to extend your trip just to have a chance to try it all! 

Must-Try Oaxacan Dishes

Oaxacan cuisine is representative of some of the most delicious traditional Mexican dishes and is renowned as one of the best food destinations in the world. 

We’ve compiled some of the most favored and flavored authentic, must-try traditional Oaxacan dishes that you’ll want to try:

Mole

There are 7 traditional types of mole, each type with its unique flavor profile and ingredients that make it special. 

  • Mole Negro is sweet and spicy, a dark, thick sauce made from a combination of dark chocolate, 6 types of chiles, onions, garlic, tomatillos, peanuts, almonds, raisins, plantains, sesame seeds, spices, and thickened with tortillas. 
  • Mole Coloradita is a little more savory and less sweet than Mole Negro. It is a reddish-brown sauce made from ancho chili peppers, sweet plantains, tomatoes, garlic, almonds, sesame seeds, and spices
A bowl of mole from Oaxaca, Mexico surrounded by limes, chiles, and an avacado
  • Mole Roja, also called Mole Poblano, is sweet and savory, a bright red sauce made from a blend of chocolate, guajillo and pasilla chiles, tomatoes, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, and spices.
  • Mole Verde has a light, herbal flavor and a thin, green-yellow appearance made from a mix of pumpkin seeds, green chili peppers, tomatillos, and fresh herbs.
  • Mole Manchamanteles is a bright red sauce with a fruity flavor made from pineapple, tomatoes, onions, garlic, almonds, plantains, and chorizo.
  • Mole Chichilo is a dark, thin, savory sauce made with beef, beef bones, pasilla and mulato chili peppers, tomatoes, avocado leaves, and spices.
  • Mole Amarillo is a spicy, yellow sauce that is made with green tomatoes, ancho and guajillo chili peppers, herbs, spices, and thickened with corn flour.

Tlayuda

Tlayuda on a plate next to a cup of guacamole and tortilla chips in Oaxaca, Mexico

A popular street food, tlayudas are large, fried or toasted tortillas smothered in flavorful ingredients such as asiento (fat leftover from fried pork), refried beans, and creamy quesillo (Oaxacan cheese); it’s like eating a Mexican pizza.

Tacos 

A table with tacos, limes, and a glass of white wine on a table in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxacan tacos are made from fried tortillas filled with an assortment of savory, delicious meats to choose from: beef or lamb barbacoa, lechon, pierna, or chicharron served with a side of fresh mole and salsa.

Garnachas Istmeñas

These savory bite-sized fried corn tortillas are the perfect snack or appetizer, covered with shredded meat, salsa, pickled veggies, and queso fresco.

Memela

A place setting featuring a plate with a memela on it in Oaxaca Mexico

Memelas are a fan-favorite street food; these small, fried or toasted masa are covered in a savory combination of salsa, black beans, refried beans, tinga (shredded chicken and stewed tomatoes and chiles), guacamole, and queso fresco.

Empanada de Amarillo

A street food favorite, empanada de amarillo is a large, fried or toasted corn tortilla filled with smoky, spicy tinga, zesty salsa, and slathered in mole amarilla sauce.

Piedrazo 

A popular street food, piedrazo has a strong piquant taste, it’s highly acidic and spicy. Piedrazo is a dehydrated bread that is soaked in fruit vinegar and served with a combination of spicy salsa; chopped onions, carrots, and potatoes; sprinkled with chili powder, and topped with rich and creamy quesillo

Molotes

Someone dipping a bite from a plate of molotes in a red sauce in a Oaxaca, Mexico restaurant

Another famed street food, molotes are made with either corn masa or mashed plantains and filled with meat, like tinga, mushrooms, black beans, and huitlacoche—corn fungus, a delicacy in Mexico.  

Caldo de Piedra

An overhead view of a bowl of calado de piedra served ina restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico.

A rich and flavorful seafood soup, caldo de piedra is made with fresh fish, tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, and pungent herbs like cilantro and epazote

Tetela

Tetelas vary in size from bite-sized to plate-sized; they are lightly toasted triangular pockets of corn masa filled with a flavorful combination of black beans or refried beans, onions, crema, queso fresco or quesillo, mushrooms, and herbs.

Chilaquiles

A plate of chilaquiles served on a table in a Oaxaca, Mexico restaurant

Served as a main dish or a side, chilaquiles are fried tortilla pieces smothered in a spicy tomato sauce and served with a choice of meat, black beans, and quesillo with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro. 

Enmoladas

A bowl of enmoladas served on a table in a Oaxaca, Mexico restaurant

A traditional breakfast dish, enmoladas, like enchiladas (lightly fried tortillas filled with grilled beef, pork, or chicken), are filled with a variety of meats, covered in mole negro sauce, and topped with queso fresco.

Chiles Rellenos

A favored dish, these stuffed chile peppers, typically poblanos, are stuffed with cheese, meat, or both; dipped in egg batter; fried; and served smothered in in a rich tomato sauce.

Tamales Oaxaqueños

A board of tomales Oaxaqueños served on a table in a Oaxaca, Mexico restaurant

Eaten as a snack food or appetizer, tamales Oaxaqueños are made with masa, stewed, shredded chicken, mole negro, and wrapped up in banana leaves. They can be grilled, roasted, boiled, or fried.

Carne Asada

A bowl of carne asada served on a table in a Oaxaca, Mexico restaurant

There are 3 types of carnes asadas that are popular in Oaxacan cuisine: tasajo, cecina, and Oaxaqueño chorizo. Typically, carne asada is topped with salsa, guacamole, and creamy quesillo and is served as a side dish or used to fill quesadillas, memelas, tlayudas, and chilaquiles.

Nicuatole

A delectable dessert, nicuatole has a flan-like texture with a bright red outer layer and is made from ground corn, milk, piloncillo (red sugar), and cinnamon.

Pan de Yema 

A traditional sweet bread that has a light and airy texture made with egg yolks, it is comparable to French brioche. 

A plate of pan de yema served on a table in a Oaxaca, Mexico restaurant

Chocolate Oaxaqueño 

A sweet, rich, and frothy hot chocolate drink made from cacao beans, sugar, almonds, cinnamon, and milk or water and topped with a sprinkle of chili powder. A perfect drink to go with a roll of pan de yema!

8 Fan Favorite Eateries You’ll Want to Check Out

Oaxaca offers an array of restaurants, cafes, food stalls, and markets where you can find popular and traditional Oaxacan fare. Here are just a few of our favorite eateries that we highly recommend you add to your Oaxacan trip’s itinerary:

  1. Ocote Cocina
    • Dishes to try: la pizza de chapulines, tacos del abuelo, and arroz cremoso
    • Location: 5 de Mayo 107, Oaxaca 68080 Mexico
  1. Tlayudas “El Negro”
    • Dishes to try: tasajo, cecina, chorizo, and costilla tlayudas
    • Location: Vicente Guerrero 1029 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
  1. Memelas Doña Vale
    • Dishes to try: Doña Vale memelas and the famous morita salsa
    • Location: Cosijoeza, Central de Abasto, 68090 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
  1. Las Tlayudas Antojeria Oaxaqueña
    • Dishes to try: tlayudas, tacos, and tostadas
    • Location: Calle de Lic Primo Verdad 119D, Hacienda, 68080 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
  1. Fonda Florecita
    • Dishes to try: mole, enmoladas, entomatadas, and chilaquiles
    • Location: Calle Morelos Mercado La Merced Int 37 Zona del Pan, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
  1. El Embrujo
    • Dishes to try: chilaquiles, tacos de cabeza de res, and chicken enmoladas
    • Location: Mártires de Tacubaya 218, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
  1. El Posito
    • Dishes to try: piedrazos
    • Location: Calz. Cuauhtémoc 112-201, Trinidad de las Huertas, 68080 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
  1. Tamales Lety
    • Dishes to try: Tamales Oaxaqueños
    • Location: Calle Morelos esquina con Nicolás del Puerto. Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax. 50740 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico

Conclusion

Oaxaca, Mexico is truly a gastronomic treasure trove that offers a unique culinary experience. Its cuisine, deeply rooted in the traditions of local indigenous groups and influenced by Spanish, African, and Mestizo cultures, is a testament to Mexico’s rich cultural diversity.

The geographical diversity of Oaxaca, with its fertile slopes and valleys of the Sierra Madre Sur Mountains and Pacific Coast, contributes to the variety of fresh and piquant ingredients used in Oaxacan cuisine. From tlayudas and moles to tacos and chapulines, the range of dishes is vast and flavorful.

The culinary journey through Oaxaca is not just about the food but also about exploring the local eateries that serve these traditional, local dishes. So, whether you’re a food lover or a curious traveler, Oaxaca, Mexico promises an unforgettable culinary adventure that will leave you wanting more. Buen provecho!

Share this post:

About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

Get the Latest Updates

Fill out the form, tick all boxes, click subscribe for updates on passports and travel news.

Related Posts