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If you’re looking to try some authentic Oaxacan food along with your beach vacation, there’s no better place to begin your culinary adventure than Puerto Escondido.
While Mexico’s southern Pacific Coast is famous for its surfing, it also happens to be in the state of Oaxaca. And that means it’s got great food!
Over the course of 10 years of writing about restaurants for Fodor’s Guide to Oaxaca, testing recipes for Lonely Planet’s Mexico from the Source and living in Oaxaca, I’ve enjoyed a wide range of delicious food in Puerto Escondido.
Crunchy, toasted and spiced grasshoppers are delicious in tacos or on their own as a quick snack. Take a Puerto Escondido food tour with Gina’s Walking Tours for an introduction to these crispy critters.
Or head to the Zicatela Market for a fabulous breakfast and request some chapulines on top of an order of huevos revueltos or huevos divorciados.
Another option is to buy a bag of chapulines in Benito Juarez Market and enjoy them as a topping for your favourite dish or tucked inside a taco. They’re also delicious ground to a fine powder, mixed with sea salt and used to rim a margarita or mezcalito cocktail glass.
2. Tamales de Tichinda
While tamales are a popular food everywhere in Mexico, in Oaxaca these tasty bundles are a work of art. They come in a variety of fillings from rajas (strips of pepper) to chicken in mole. But the ones to look for are the tamales de tichinda.
These warm tamales are stuffed (and accompanied) by fresh black clam-like mollusks. Look for them near the Colotepec River or try them in the towns surrounding Chacahua Lagoons National Park.
If you’re lucky, you might also see them for sale on Saturdays at the Benito Juarez Market, Puerto Escondido’s main market. Read the Puerto Escondido Travel Essentials Guide for more details.
3. Salsa de Chicatanas – Ant Salsa
At the beginning (and end) of the rainy season in June and July, the insects escape from their flooded nests. Locals then gather baskets full of the flying ants. The black ants are then toasted on a clay grill called a comal.
Then, they’re either eaten plain or ground in a molcajete to make salsa de chicatanas, a treasured spring delicacy in Guatemala and Mexico.
These tasty ants are so prized you won’t often find them in the market. So your best bet is to take a cooking class with The Mexykan where you’ll prepare and sample a variety of salsas.
Or, check what’s on the culinary radar of Chef Quetzalcoatl Zurita, a local chef who specializes in Oaxacan cuisine at his restaurant Almoraduz on the Rinconada in Puerto Escondido.
Another place to find chicatanas on the menu is at Hotel Escondido, Grupo Habita’s chic collection of beach bungalows just outside Puerto Escondido. They add crunch and flavour to a uniquely Oaxacan risotto.
Check rates and availability at Hotel Escondido on Booking.com.
Huauzontle pronounced “wah-zont-lay” is a wild plant that grows high in the Sierra Madre Sur mountains above Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Packed with vitamins and minerals, this super food is a member of the amaranth family.
It’s delivered to Puerto by farmers only on Mondays and Fridays, so it has to be ordered a day or more in advance for preparation. One of the best Puerto Escondido restaurants to try it is El Jardin de Rafaela on Zicatela Beach.
Read more about Where to Chow Down on Huauzontle in Puerto Escondido
5. Cuitlacoche – Black Corn Fungus
This unique black corn fungus is so revered for its earthy flavour that it’s known as the Mexican truffle. Appearance-wise, the delicacy may be as appetizing as a lump of coal, but the black gold fetches top dollar in local markets.
The catch is you may have to head out of town to try it. One of the top things to do in Puerto Escondido is to take a day trip to La Escobilla beach to witness a sea turtle nesting.
It’s worth extending your trip to overnight in Huatulco just to sample cuitlacoche at Terra-Cotta Restaurant at Mision de Los Arcos in La Crucecita, Huatulco.
6. Tinchuiche (river anchovies) – A Hands-on Cooking Class
It may look like a worm but tinchuiche is actually a tiny fish that tastes like an anchovy. Sample this seasonal fish gathered from the Zimatan river near Huatulco, in a 4-hour, small-group cooking class at Chiles & Chocolate Cooking School.
Taking a cooking class is one of the top things to do in Huatulco. You’ll get a hands-on opportunity to use the tiny salted tinchuiche fish in salsas where it adds a boost of flavour.
Other regional ingredients you’ll learn to work with include nopal, chapulines (toasted grasshoppers) and Pacific Coast shrimp. Cost for the course includes transportation pick-up/drop-off at Huatulco area hotels as well as lunch, recipe manual, gift bag and more.
Read more about Ultimate Guide To Huatulco Beach Hotels
7. Sample Mezcal de Pechuga at a Mezcaleria
There’s a reason that artisanal mescal, tequila’s quirky cousin, is steadily earning its place on bar shelves worldwide.
While tequila production is restricted to only one type of agave, skilled Oaxacan mescaleros craft mezcal blends using up to 20 different types. This results in subtle nuances of flavour ranging from citrusy to smoky.
For an adventure in Puerto Escondido, try a shot of Don Franco (a potent local liqueur) or enjoy a mezcal tasting on the Adoquin, the pedestrian-only night market.
To learn more about the differences between Mezcal vs Tequila stop by the Los Cantaros Mezcaleria shop on Highway 200 just outside Puerto Escondido. If you’re a guest at Vivo Resort or Gecko Rock Resort, they often include a stop at this artisanal producer on their way to the airport or other shuttle trip.
At Los Cantaros, you can sample a selection of artisanal mezcals distilled in clay pots as well as mezcal distilled in copper bowls. They also offer cremas infused with sweet flavours such as coconut, passion fruit, strawberry and coffee.
Another option is to sample authentic artisanal mezcal at mezcalerias in Pluma Hidalgo in the mountains above Puerto Escondido and Huatulco.
Mezcal fans should seek out mezcal de pechuga, crafted by suspending a raw chicken breast over a vat of mezcal.
I sampled this delicately floral mezcal in the valleys near Oaxaca City during the Spirit of Oaxaca Mezcal and Beer Lover’s Cultural Tour.
But certified mezcal expert Alvin Starkman offers in-depth Mezcal Educational Tours about the culture of mezcal (and pre-Hispanic beverages such as pulque and tejate) on single day or multi-day excursions for both novices and professionals.
8. Nopal Cactus
Visitors are likely to raise an eyebrow when first spotting the prickly plant on the menu, but nopal cactus is one of Mexico’s most iconic ingredients.
Try it for yourself at the market, where you can watch Zapotec vendors remove the spiky spines, peel the rind and then stack the shiny paddle-shaped leaves to go. With its delicate, tangy flavour, cactus is versatile.
9. Chocolate Mole
This traditional sauce takes hours to make and is a must at any Mexican celebration. It’s definitely worth seeking out in Puerto Escondido restaurants and food stalls. You’ll find it as a topping on Tlayudas Oaxaqueñas, the giant-sized crispy corn tortilla that’s an iconic street food throughout Oaxaca. For tlayudas in Puerto Escondido head to La Juquileña restaurant located a block north of Benito Juarez market.
Though Oaxaca is known as the Land of Seven Moles, my favourite is mole negro. This rich, spicy and smoky-sweet sauce is made from tomatoes, almonds, raisins, chocolate, plantain and chilis. It features the rare chilhuacle variety grown only in southern Mexico.
It might seem unusual to eat chocolate as part of a main course but try mole negro once and you’ll soon be a convert.
Icy paletas offer a quick and delicious way to cool off in the heat. Unlike ice cream, they’re made by freezing purified water with sugar and fruit. In Puerto Escondido, look for flavours like watermelon, guava and mango or exotic creations like gooseberry or jicama with chili and gardenia petals.
It’s even possible to find adult-only, boozy versions of paletas spiked with tequila or mezcal.
11. Fish Tacos
Given its location on the Pacific coast, it’s not surprising that a top Puerto Escondido food happens to be fish tacos. While they’re often served grilled, at Dan’s Cafe Deluxe they come served Baja-style in a delicate batter.
Another top restaurant for fish tacos is La Olita, conveniently located at the entrance to Zicatela Beach. Their tacos camarones (shrimp) will also have you coming back for more.
At La Olita, pair your tacos with an order of artisanal mezcal, served with chapulines!
Best Puerto Escondido Restaurants for Traditional Oaxacan Food
At Almoraduz Restaurant, chef/owners Shalxali and Quetzalcoatl Zurita are the creative forces behind dishes and cocktails that are a spin on traditional Oaxacan cuisine.
Sample local ingredients such as Istmeño cheese, tepiche (a flavourful herb) and beef tongue in chapuline (toasted chile grasshopper) sauce.
This might be your only chance to sample a hibiscus margarita featuring local mezcal. So if it’s available, be sure to order it!
Cayuco Cocina y Mezcal
From the chocolate in mole negro to chapulines (toasted grasshoppers) to “string” cheese, Oaxaca’s classic cuisine is known for its complexity and diversity. At Cayuco, Chefs Roberto Cruz Vasquez and José Miguel Cruz Arana have created a unique, fine dining menu. It takes traditional ingredients and reworks them in fresh and exciting ways.
For a twist on Catch of the Day, dorado comes lightly cooked with its freshness highlighted by fragrant spices from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Sauces burst with flavour, punched with chile-fuelled power and locally-sourced herbs such as pungent epazote. This is also one of the best places for mezcal in Puerto Escondido.
Be sure to try one of the artisanal mezcals! Choose from arroqueño, tepextate, barril, mexicano, madre cuixe, bicuixe, sierrudo, and papalometl.
This beachfront restaurant is located almost directly across from the Santa Fe Hotel on the beach side of Calle del Morro on Zicatela Beach.
If you have time for just one restaurant, Espadin should be top of your list. Located within the picturesque boutique hotel Villas Carrizalillo on a cliff overlooking the beach of the same name, it offers a memorable dining experience.
Fish dishes are stand-outs — even the fish sandwich with its latticework of Baja style chipotle sauce is a winner! But Chef Patricio Sandoval, founder of the well-known Mercadito restaurants in Chicago, New York and Miami, has many other standout dishes.
Be sure to try the roasted beet salad, chicken in mole negro and shrimp tacos. The restaurant-bar also carries a wide selection of high-quality mezcal.
La Juquileña Restaurant
Although tlayudas are a popular street food after an evening of nightlife in Puerto Escondido, get them in the middle of the day at La Juquileña restaurant.
This local favourite is located a block north of Benito Juarez market on 8a Norte. It has communal tables, open grills, huge portion sizes and a lively atmosphere.
Feeling weary from a morning at the Benito Juárez market? This restaurant is truly an oasis from the bustling street scene along 8a Norte. Portions of brochettes of fish are so generous you can take some home for your next meal! Another top choice isgrilled beef arranchera.
Dishes come with creamy guacamole, green and red salsas, handmade tortillas, black beans and grilled nopal cactus.
The pleasant shaded courtyard, breezy fans, friendly service and immaculate washrooms make it a place you’ll want to return to again and again. Daily specials are exceptional value.
Look for Las Margaritas awning at the corner of Avenida Oaxaca and 8a Norte across from Benito Juárez Market.
Tucked on a side street near Marinero Beach, Los Caracoles features an open kitchen and inspired, affordable dishes. Many consider it one of Puerto’s top dining destinations.
The eclectic menu is posted on a blackboard daily. It might feature crema de elote (corn) soup, or albondigas (spiced meatballs), or moist fish with pineapple. Seasonal ingredients get up-to-date treatment. The complimentary dessert (delectable coconut mouse is a standout) always gets top marks.
Chef Francisco Garcia studied at the Culinary Institute in Puebla and is surely one of Oaxaca’s top young chefs. Low lighting and traditional Oaxaca table linens make this restaurant fine for a romantic evening out.
It’s located directly across the street from Flor de Maria Hotel and open for dinner (check for hours). Be sure to make a reservation.
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Originally published in 2014, this post was substantially updated with new photos and text in 2021.
Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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