Oaxaca and Mexico City

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Feb 27th, 2018, 09:37 AM
  #1
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Oaxaca and Mexico City

Hello all,

We just came back from an 8-day trip to Oaxaca and Mexico City, a wonderful trip. We have visited Mexico many times years ago but for some reason had not been back for a dozen years (lots of Italy intervened). This brief trip was just enough for us; we had sensory overload by the time we returned home. This is a very concise report, not a daily journal kind of description.

Logistics: easy, uneventful flight via American from Key West to Miami to Mexico City, then Aeromexico to Oaxaca. Four nights in Oaxaca, four in Mexico City, then home.

Hotels:

Oaxaca - Parador San Miguel Oaxaca, Independencia 503. Even though it was only two blocks from the cathedral and the zocalo, our room (in the back) was very quiet. Colonial style building, friendly staff, very good breakfasts in the hotel restaurant. $150 per night for a double, including taxes, breakfast not included.

Mexico City – The Red Tree House, Culiacan 6 (just a block south of Parque Mexico in Condesa). Wow. Just about our best lodging experience ever. Beautiful, colorful rooms and common spaces, several little courtyards, original art everywhere, friendly and super helpful staff. The breakfasts, another wow – each morning there is one Mexican dish offered (entomatadas, huevos revueltos con salsa roja, etc.) as well as breads, croissants, yogurt, fruit, and cereal. Free happy hour from 6 to 8 pm with wine or beer; a great time to chat with other guests about their day. $125, taxes and breakfast included if paying by cash. If you want to stay here, book very far in advance, it is understandably very popular.

Food:

Mexican cooking is best, IMHO, when it does not stray too far from its down home earthy origins. In addition to street food, we did eat in several outstanding restaurants and they succeeded in either presenting the traditional dishes in the best possible way or modifying them carefully and not fancifying them excessively.

Oaxaca – food:

Mercado 20 noviembre – lunch. What a hoot. You choose which meat you want grilled (chorizo, skirt steak, whatever), then get a numbered card and sit down. Servers come to your table and you ask for whatever vegetables you want (green onions, nopales, chiles, onions), plus your drink. A few minutes later plates start arriving. We were a group of five, one of whom speaks good Spanish and has lived in Oaxaca for a while. Soon our table was overflowing with veggies, grilled meats, tortillas, bottles of beer, napkins, and messy spills. Then come the singers, accordion players, and then BAM! the trumpet player. If you are looking for a quiet, intimate, relaxing lunch, perhaps go elsewhere. For fun and delicious food, come here!

Sabina Sabe – delightful place, a gastropub vibe with a long narrow space, open windows to the street. Focus is on food of the isthmus of Tehuantepec. Many many kinds of mezcal on offer. Excellent mezcal margaritas (this sentence is going to recur several times in this report). Did not take notes but we had many good dishes to share. The pork tacos were terrific.

Casa Oaxaca – No. I had scratched this from our list in preparing for the trip, but our resident friend in Oaxaca urged us to go, reserving a table on the rooftop terrace with a beautiful view of Santo Domingo. We obliged because we had friends with us on this part of the trip, they had never been to Oaxaca, and they wanted to go to the place. Prices – high. Food – pedestrian. Service – dear manager, please train your staff. View – as stated above, very beautiful. Conclusion: folks, go elsewhere for a cocktail on one of the several rooftop bars in the Santo Domingo area, then go to a good place for dinner.

La Olla - superb lunch, colorful airy space; sopa de tortillas, enchiladas with two moles, negro and coloradito. The flavors were deep and rich. Reasonable prices. The chef is Pilar Cabrera; she also has cooking classes. Reserve; we waited half an hour but it was worth it.

Coming up, a peak dining experience at El Destilado…but time for a break.
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Feb 27th, 2018, 10:56 AM
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Thanks for the report. We are seriously thinking of taking a trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca next year.
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Feb 27th, 2018, 01:25 PM
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Two great cities, quite different - Mexico City of course is so mammoth although you can find districts that are islands of relative calm (Condesa, where we stayed, is one). Oaxaca is much smaller and more manageable, with a strong indigenous presence, the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples.
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Feb 28th, 2018, 04:31 AM
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Mas! Mas! Por Favor!
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Feb 28th, 2018, 06:49 AM
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Now for the peak dining experience of our trip, El Destilado……

El Destilado - avenida 5 de mayo 409. Our resident Oaxacan friend demanded that we go to this restaurant and we are so glad we in fact did. It was created a few years ago by two investors and the chef (U.S. latino, born in Los Angeles, trained in San Francisco, great guy). CC, our friend, goes here regularly and knows the staff and the chef, but they are very friendly folks to everyone who enters. They began with a small space, then kept adding, so now it is a kind of deluxe gastropub, very cosy feeling.
We reserved two weeks in advance and selected the 9 course tasting menu (they have tasting menus of 6, 9, and 12 courses). The courses are paired with small servings of different mezcals and wines. CC chose the drink pairing option but we chose to have a couple of mezcal margaritas for the meal.
A 9 course meal sounds gargantuan but each course was very small, so you ended the evening with a satisfying feeling, not overfed. Different treatments of fish and meat, very imaginative use of chiles, moles, and salsas. One example of their expertise: a couple of evenings before, I had ordered grilled octopus at Casa Oaxaca. It arrived with nothing, just grilled octopus, not even salt, which I had to request. The texture was strange, sort of rubbery. Contrast this with the pulpo of El Destilado: the chef came by as I was eating it (=devouring it) and he told me how they prepared it. It was cooked and then grilled on very high heat so that the inside was tender and the outside crusted and crunchy. Please a delicious bit of salsa and chiles on top.
Dear readers: if you go to Oaxaca, do yourselves a favor and dine here! The bill for all of the above (including a small bottle of Cinco Sentido mezcal and a tiny jar of salsa made from morita chiles) = US$65. That’s not a typo.

La Teca – This is not a restaurant per se; you dine in the back garden of the chef’s house. La Teca focuses on the cuisine of the isthmus and the food is superbly prepared. Instead of selecting dishes from the extensive menu, we just asked the chef to decide on the dishes, so we had a de facto menu degustacion of elotes, more superb mole negro, estofada (beef stew cooked 24 hours), other dishes which I can’t remember. And excellent mezcal margaritas, of course. Very reasonable prices.
La Teca is located in a suburb, best to take a taxi there.

Oaxaca – sights

We used the Rough Guide and the Moon handbook for Oaxaca. We visited the basilica of Santo Domingo, the church of La Soledad, the beautiful textile museum in a converted monastery, the architecturally impressive museum of philately, the Museo de las Culturas, took a tour of the Jardin Etnobotanico, wandered up and down the pedestrian Alcala, enjoyed the Zocalo on a jumpin’ Sunday evening when it was thronged with families, kids, balloon sellers, and food stalls.

One day we arranged for a taxi to take us to Monte Alban. We had a very good guide to take us around the site, giving us lots of background on the topography--lots of rivers and lakes during the centuries of settlement, with a higher water table. And the city was much more extensive than appears today, stretching over the neighboring valleys and hills. A nearby peak, Atzompa, was actually part of Monte Alban. It has been excavated and is now open as a separate archeological site.

Oaxaca – weather, temps, clothes

February seemed an ideal time for us. Cool temps, long sleeve weather, until about 10 a.m., then short-sleeves until 6 p.m. In mid-day the sun was fierce, so floppy hats, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen were in order.

Next up: Mexico City
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Feb 28th, 2018, 01:47 PM
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Earthquake Addendum

I forgot to mention the earthquakes (yes, plural). In September 2017 a major earthquake struck the southern part of the state of Oaxaca and it was felt in Oaxaca city and also in Mexico City. And in the early evening of February 17 another quake struck. This was the night before our departure. So at 9:00 p.m. that night we started receiving texts and calls from friends telling us about the quake (we weren't watching tv or surfing the web so we were clueless) to ask what we were going to do. We spent the next two hours reading the web and wondering if we should cancel the trip. Maybe we could change our plane tickets to Costa Rica? Paris? (In February? I don’t think so.) We emailed the hotel in Mexico City to ask about their safety and all was well. In the end, we decided to go.

We saw no earthquake damage in Oaxaca, but there were two smaller earthquakes late at night the first and second evenings of our stay in Oaxaca. “Did you feel the earthquake last night?” asked our traveling companions at breakfast. “Er, what earthquake?” We slept right through both of them. There was no damage to the city.

However, in Mexico City the district of Condesa was badly hit in September 2017. We saw several buildings badly damaged around the Parque Mexico area, including the much loved Edificio Basurto, one of Francisco Serrano’s art deco buildings of the 1940s. Our hotel was not damaged. There was, surprisingly, considerable damage to the Mexico City airport, we were told. It wasn’t visible to us when we passed through this month.

Earthquakes are part of life in these two cities. Every public building has a sign "What to do in case of earthquake / What to do in case of fire". Oaxacan colonial architecture reflects this reality. Colonial baroque buildings are fat and squat. Few colonial buildings are taller than two stories. As for Mexico City, it is built on the lakebed of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital destroyed by the Spanish. Apparently the geology is such that major quakes to the south in places like Oaxaca state travel quickly north to the capital. Oh well, back to that mezcal margarita.

Mexico City

MC – logistics

It was an easy one-hour flight on Aeromexico from the modern Oaxaca airport to Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City, then a “taxi autorizado” to our hotel, The Red Tree House, described at the beginning of this TR. Cost of the taxi, about US$12.

MC – food

We were guided in our restaurant choices by CC, our friend in Oaxaca, and also by Victor, the very skilled concierge at the Red Tree House. Most of our places were in Condesa.

Azul Condesa – specializes in 7 kinds of Oaxacan mole. This was given a strong recommendation by Victor, our concierge, and a so-so recommendation by CC. We went, we loved it. Beautiful garden courtyard, flawless service. I joked with our waiter that we had just come from Oaxaca and that the bar was set high for their moles. When all was said and done, they performed well. The enchiladas filled with soft cheese and covered in mole negro matched the very best we had tasted in Oaxaca. Excellent mezcal margaritas.

More Mexico City food still to come……

Last edited by EYWandBTV; Feb 28th, 2018 at 01:48 PM. Reason: grammatical error
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Feb 28th, 2018, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by EYWandBTV View Post
MC – food

We were guided in our restaurant choices by CC, our friend in Oaxaca, and also by Victor, the very skilled concierge at the Red Tree House. Most of our places were in Condesa.

Azul Condesa – specializes in 7 kinds of Oaxacan mole. This was given a strong recommendation by Victor, our concierge, and a so-so recommendation by CC. We went, we loved it. Beautiful garden courtyard, flawless service. I joked with our waiter that we had just come from Oaxaca and that the bar was set high for their moles. When all was said and done, they performed well. The enchiladas filled with soft cheese and covered in mole negro matched the very best we had tasted in Oaxaca. Excellent mezcal margaritas.

More Mexico City food still to come……
I had a wonderful lunch at Casa Oaxaca a couple of years ago; sorry to read food was just mediocre and service poor for your visit. I hope it was just an off day.

I agree with you about Azul Condesa. We stayed nearby, so ended up dinging there twice because of the easy walk. But what a relaxed, pleasant place, and, at least during my two visits, food was excellent.

Food in Mexico is really fantastic and diverse, isn't it? Wow, I'm hungry now,.

looking forward to reading more.
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Feb 28th, 2018, 06:39 PM
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Nice report(s). I've always thought that Oaxaca's 20 De Noviembre market is one of the cleanest in Mexico as well.
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Mar 1st, 2018, 01:52 PM
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MC - food, continued….

Taqueria at Metro Chapultepec – we had to duck in here as we were walking from our hotel to the Museo de Antropologia. Can’t remember the actual name of the place, a little hole in the wall with the cook preparing all kinds of things on the grill. We had some scrumptious gorditas de chicharron as a midmorning snack. Rico!

Capital – very good, nice space, buzzy happy crowd and excellent service. Excellent sopa de tortilla; grilled squid only average; my Pescado Tikin Xic (Yucatan style, marinated) excellent and excellent mezcal margaritas.

El Huequito - a tiny place on calle Ayuntamiento half block west of calle Lopez – oh my, the best tacos al pastor ever.

Casa Lamm - for lunch with K from Queretaro; we celebrated her new book with tostadas de atun fresco with sesame mayo and guanabana (= soursop) cheesecake. Rico rico. A beautiful dining space attached to the Casa Lamm cultural center and bookstore.
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Mar 3rd, 2018, 04:26 AM
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MC – food, continued ……

Museo de Antropologia restaurant – I love to eat lunch in museums. Usually it is simple food but there’s something about seeing great art or sculpture or whatever and then taking a break, having a sandwich and coffee or whatever and relaxing in the middle of it all. The anthropology museum is vast and stunning; several hours are required to touch base on all the collections (several pavillions covering not only the ancient Olmec, Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, Aztec and other civilizations but also exhibits of today’s indigenous peoples and their way of life). So here it was especially relaxing to break up the day. The restaurant has a large indoor section and also a pleasant outdoor terrace area, where we ate. Partner had tostadas and I needed a palate cleanser from all the good Mexican food I had been eating, so I ordered tagliatelle alla bolognese, and it was really good. The wait staff was hammered at lunchtime but nevertheless they did a good job. Love this museum.

Merotoro – superb – We had heared a lot about Merotoro and we decided to ask the waiter to select for us for a de facto menu degustacion and this worked out very well; I took no notes, but we had tuna ceviche and tuna tartar to start, two kinds of fish for entrees, really fine.

Maximo Bistro - lunch at 2:30 – This place is often ranked at the top of Mexico City’s restaurants and I guess for that reason I was reluctant to go. I had read disappointing reviews of another allegedly top place, Pujol, and Maximo Bistro also has had some zingers. I feared an over-hyped over-priced elite hipster restaurant. Dear reader: I was extremely wrong! We had our Sunday afternoon comida here, before our departure Monday. It was a very friendly, surprisingly small and informal looking place on a corner with open sides to the sidewalks. We had heritage bean soup, squash blossoms stuffed with burrata, tuna sashimi with wilted swiss chard, salmon and sea urchin, and tagliatelle with ragout of duck and wild mushrooms. Smooth, low-key professional service. A real treat. Be sure to reserve days ahead.

Nonna – Amsterdam and Michoacan – We wanted a light supper Sunday evening before our Monday departure. Our hosts and the Red Tree House recommended this place, just a few blocks away. A very relaxing neighborhood restaurant, with walls open to the sidewalk. We had simple good pizza and beer.
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Mar 4th, 2018, 04:51 PM
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I was in MC in February.
.another vote for La Condesa ( I stayed at lovely Maria Condesa hotel) and Azul !
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Mar 5th, 2018, 05:32 AM
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MC – sights

We’ve visited Mexico City several times before and seen a lot of the sights in the centro. I had drawn up a list of new ones for this trip: Museo Dolores Olmedo, Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacali, the house designed for Diego by Juan O’Gorman, maybe revisiting old favorites like the Museo Franz Meyer and the Museo de Arte Popular.

As it turned out, we did none of these things, being fairly lazy and disorganized instead, which was a pleasure. We did go into the centro one day for a long visit to the giant Ciudadela market, and another day we took a slow walk from our hotel north to the Bosque de Chapultepec and then the Museo Rufino Tamayo and the Museo de Antropologia.

On our last full day, a Sunday, we followed two walking tours outlined in Jim Johnson’s excellent guide to Mexico City, around Parque de Mexico and then all around Avenida Amsterdam which circles the park one block outward. The park was full of families, kids, young acrobats, lots of dogs, musicians playing Dixieland jazz. Johnson’s guidebook describes several art deco buildings on these two tours. Two were interesting from an architectural history viewpoint: a twin residence by Barragan, early works, looking like nothing on the outside but would have loved to go inside to explore (not possible) and the Edificio Basurto by Francisco Serrano. The latter was badly damaged by the September 2017 earthquake.

Now that I’ve mentioned Johnson’s guidebook I realize I did not list at the beginning of this TR another good guidebook to Mexico City, Nicholas Gilman’s Good Food in Mexico City.

The end of the trip: Late Monday we took a taxi for an easy drive to the airport and smooth flight connections to Miami back home to Key West.
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Mar 5th, 2018, 04:37 PM
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Thanks for the info....you sound like you are quite familiar with CDMX. We just came back from our first visit to Mexico City yesterday and have never been to Oaxaca, but that's near the top of our "to visit" list!
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Mar 5th, 2018, 04:40 PM
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Oh, forgot to add, that we were humbled by the earthquake damage still visible in Condesa and Roma Norte. I took a photo of the spot where a building went down and only minor ruins remained. As I got closer I saw a handwritten sign that said something to the effect of "No photos. Please respect the victims." I felt like a heel.

My thoughts are with everyone who lost a loved one or lost their home.
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Mar 12th, 2018, 06:45 AM
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Great report, thank you! I agree in full about Casa Oaxaca, although we stayed in their B&B, which was great.
And agree about La Teca, too. What a fabulous eating city!!
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Mar 13th, 2018, 05:02 AM
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Hi eks, it was your praise of El Huequito in your trip report that led us to this mecca of tacos al pastor in Mexico City. Scrumptious!
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Mar 18th, 2018, 11:40 AM
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Excellent and informative report. We are headed to Oaxaca City next week (was there 18 years ago). Had planned on dinner at Casa Oaxaca so your comments on that plus other recs most useful. Adding El Destilado to my list! We are taking a cooking class from Pilar. Also, one of my all time favorite places to stay is the Red Tree House in Mexico City.
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Mar 19th, 2018, 10:25 AM
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Hi terim,
Yes, I think you are well advised to go to one of the really good restaurants and skip Casa Oaxaca. Other than the rooftop terrace, it's a mediocre place. For a rooftop pre-dinner cocktail, you might do what we did one evening--we went to the rooftop bar of Gozobi restaurant, Garcia Vigil 504; it has a good view of Santo Domingo and the mountains in the distance. There are a couple other restaurants on that block with rooftop bars.
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Mar 27th, 2018, 12:53 PM
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Thank you for the trip report. I was just looked into going to DF, Puebla and adding Oaxaca in May, but it appears to be far too hot for me in Oaxaca that month. Plus I had to burn some Spirit Airlines miles and decided to go back to Medellin instead.

So, from your research and experience of others, when does it start to cool down again in Oaxaca?
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Mar 27th, 2018, 01:22 PM
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I've been in Oaxaca in November & February (all month both trips), both pretty warm. The months between, Dec-Jan are the best. Last March, the friend I stayed with reported it got very warm after I left (unpleasant). And he lives there year-round, not a weather wimp.

Last edited by MmePerdu; Mar 27th, 2018 at 01:25 PM.
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