"Don't drink the water and don't eat where the locals do" was the advice a relative gave to me. I might as well just stay home was what went through my mind. I do not drink the water even though I do brush my teeth with it. But, "don't eat where the locals eat" is one I cannot abide by.
A number of mornings we ate very local. It was an easy 2 block walk up the street to the Sanchez Pascuas Market. Very few tourists venture into this market since it is kind of hidden away. Here, very few people speak English, and there are no t-shirt shops or sunglass guys. The locals come to this market to get their daily staples. This lady (she was very gracious and proud of her stand and was happy to allow me to take photos as long as her image was not taken) was our go-to stand. All these items were sold at $5 pesos per scoop. That is about $.40 US.
This was our typical breakfast for items obtained at the market. Five of us ate for about $4. For those curious, starting at the bottom right: tomatoes and avocados. To the left, chicken and chiles, next, guacamole. In the oval dish, nopal (cactus) salad. To the right of that, potatoes and chorizo. To the right of that, beans. Berries. Cheese. Two types of salsa. Blue corn tortillas.
At any, local, indoor market you find Comidors and Fondas. I do not know the difference. These are the restaurants the locals go to. Most of my American friends would be totally freaked out, but these are the places where I love to eat. The owners are always happy to have your business and make sure you have a great meal. The most difficult part is choosing at which fonda you are going to eat. They all have the same food listed on the board and they generally all look exactly the same. My trick of choosing is a two pronged attack. I look for the oldest lady cooking and the youngest girl serving.
Beth and I were without child for this lunch, so it was a short, hour long date lunch. We each ordered, then switch plates halfway through. On this day we had chicken in mole coloradito with rice and (of course) totillas.
We also has Caldo de Placitas (stewed tripe). I did not realize I was ordering tripe. I am not drawn to organ meats, but it came and I ate it. It was actually very good.
Two meals, two beers each, $8(with 20% tip). How can you not love that?
We also ate at the Comidors and Fondas in the vast 20 de Noviembre Market just South of the Zocalo. In this market, there are numerous options. Here, they look even more identical and their menus are even more similar. The difference here is that they work hard to lure you in by waving a menu in your face while reciting their offerings. Once seated, they show very little interest in whether you are enjoying it or not. My technique here is to look for the largest crowd. Good food attracts a crowd, right? Not always. Though bright, cheery, and spotless, the operators paid us very little attention.
Halle had a chicken in coloradito mole with rice. It was too spicy for her. It was probably the best dish served at this lunch. Beth had the chili relleno with black beans. No awards offered for that dish.
I had enchiladas divorciadas with carne de res.
The entire meal for three, with one beer each and a soda for Halle was about $20. I wish we had gone to the local market instead of the one downtown.
Oaxaca's most famous place for tacos is at Tacos Alvaro. Oaxaca is not really a taco town, but Tacos Alvaro fills a need. They fill it well.
Any place with a comidor de pastor has usually got it going on. If you are not familiar, I will explain. This is a lot like a gyro cooker. Marinated pork is stacked on the spit with onions and pineapple. The meat is rotated around the flame. Thin shavings of meat and goodness are sliced off and served on tortillas in taco form. If on the menu, I always order one to try. I think I ate two during our first visit and three the second time. Many tacos de pastor have been tried over the years. Here, they are the best.
The tacos come with toppings guacamole, pickled carrots, chipolte salsa, limes, and pico de gallo. Only the limes were not fiery hot.
We had lengua (tongue, every one's favorite, especially Halle's), al pastor, de cabeza de puerco (pork head meat), de cabeza de res (cow head), and arranchera (marinated beef). When you eat six tacos and you are still smiling, you know they were great!
We also had the pozole. This is the real deal cure for a hangover. It is also said to be an edible form of Viagra. The soup is made of beef stock with pork, chicken, and hominy. You toss in all kinds of other things like radishes, onion, and cilantro. Beth's version is better, but it was really good. A typical meal here for three of us: $25 with two beers each and a soda for Halle.
You probably wonder if we ate only at small, hole-in-the-wall joints. We did go to some fancy places. We blew $150 dollars one night on dinner at a place with white tablecloths and waiters in ties. The food came plated with squiggles of cream and sauce, the plate sprinkled with green crap. The food did not come close to the $8 lunch at the local market. Maybe my tastes are off, but the closer to the common people we went, the better it tasted to me. For some, they need to feel special having fancy food and fancy drinks paying a big check for the privilege. For me It is the simple things that make me feel special.