Traditional Oaxacan dishes are among the finest and most elaborate in all Mexico. Oaxaca is known as "the land of seven moles" (pronounced mow-lay) because of its seven distinct kinds of the multispiced sauce. One of the most popular, mole negro (black mole), has dozens of ingredients including chocolate, sesame seeds, nuts, chilies, and tortillas. Tamales, either sweet or stuffed with chicken or pork, are another treat. The home- and factory-made mezcal, an alcoholic drink derived from the maguey cactus, differs in flavor with each maker and can be as high as 80 proof. The cream variety, thick and sweet, is flavored with nuts, herbs, or citrus fruits.

The open-air cafés surrounding Oaxaca City's zócalo (main square) are good for drinks, snacks, and people-watching, with the scene changing from serene early mornings to crowded parades with brass bands, floats, and monos (giant papier-mâché dolls) on holiday evenings. Most serve the economical comida corrida (midday set menu) after 1:30 pm. Eateries range from on-street stalls offering tacos and tlayudas (like a large tostada) to elaborate, internationally renowned bistros and restaurants.

The dishes that make dining in the capital memorable are less evident along the coast, where seafood reigns. Restaurants in the resort of Huatulco struggle for a consistent client base, and some of the best eateries there are found in the hotels. Puerto Escondido has quite a few interesting restaurants. Cuisine is varied, and competition keeps prices low. In Puerto Angel and surrounding beach towns, expect the simplest of grilled fish dishes served with white rice and few frills. Dress is casual and reservations are generally unnecessary.

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