mexican oaxacan food

Mexican Oaxacan Cuisine: 15 Authentic Oaxaca Foods & Drinks

Curious about Oaxaca food from Mexico?

Mexican Oaxacan food is unique and incredibly regional, and Oaxaca City is often called the Foodie Capital of Mexico. Some of the country’s best chefs, like Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo of Casa Oaxaca and Enrique Olvera of Criollo Oaxaca, have restaurants there.

Oaxaca also has an exciting street food culture, as seen on Netflix’s Street Food: Latin America (Season 1, Episode 3, titled “Oaxaca, Mexico”). In fact, the humble Oaxacan Mexican tlayuda was voted as the fan favorite in Netflix’s online poll to determine the best Latin American street food!

🗣 Oaxaca pronunciation: In case you were wondering, its wa-ha-ka!

While Mexico has been snubbed for culinary respect in year’s past, things have been changing. In fact, UNESCO declared traditional Mexican food an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind” back in 2010 — meaning Mexican food is a cultural treasure worth preserving.

Though many think all Mexican food is just just tacos and burritos, neither of those foods play a major role in Oaxaca Mexican food. In fact, many haven’t even heard of the top traditional Oaxaca, Mexico food favorites — like tlayudas, memelas and quesillo (Oaxaca cheese).

However, there’s more than just those! Ready to discover all the amazing Oaxacan delicacies? Let’s get to it, starting with the king of Mexican Oaxacan cuisine, mole!


1. Mole (7 Moles of Oaxaca)

Wondering, What is Oaxaca known for? It’s the seven moles you’ll find below — and you really can’t even discuss Oaxacan Mexican cuisine without mentioning mole (pronounced moe-lay). Mole is Mexico’s national dish, so it’s also made in other states like Chiapas and Puebla, which both border Oaxaca State.

What is mole?

Oaxaca mole is unique because it’s a marinade, a sauce and a full meal. Mole is commonly served with rice and chicken or turkey, or used as a sauce, as with enmoladas. This is a Oaxacan take on enchiladas, which are usually topped with salsa, but mole is used in Oaxaca.

Mole recipes vary, but in general, they consist of these flavors and ingredients: spicy chiles, acidic red or green tomatoes, sweet fruits and chocolate, local spices, and thickeners like nuts, seeds and even tortillas.

The ingredients are crushed and worked into a paste, then mixed with water or stock, and slow-simmered for hours, or even days, until thick. You will find it in restaurants all over Oaxaca de Juarez, the capital of Oaxaca state (though most just call it Oaxaca City).

oaxaca food: red, black and green mole enchiladas
Three of the seven Oaxaca moles: Mole rojo (red), mole negro (black) and mole verde (green).

Seven Types of Oaxacan Mole

There are seven moles in Oaxaca, with varying combinations of spices, nuts, fruits, chiles and more. Some moles have up to 30 ingredients, though 12-15 is more common. In fact, the word mole comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word molli, meaning a concoction or a sauce.

Mole Negro

The most popular Oaxacan mole sauce is mole negro (black mole), which gets a lot of its black color from Oaxaca chocolate. There are many other dark-colored ingredients in mole negro as well, like the black chilhuacle chiles, which helps give the dish a beautiful spicy-sweet balance.

You can find it in all the best restaurants in Oaxaca City, including the well known Casa Oaxaca Restaurant. Mexican chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo owns and runs this Oaxaca foodie favorite, which is connected to the beautiful Casa Oaxaca Hotel, located in Centro Historico.

🍽🍷 Oaxaca Travel Tip: If you can’t get a reservation at Casa Oaxaca, head to its sister restaurant, Casa Oaxaca Cafe. Located about 15-minutes away by car, Casa Oaxaca Cafe has a near-identical menu.

oaxaca food: mole negro, or black mole
Mole negro, or black mole, gets much of its dark color from Oaxacan chocolate and chilhuacle chiles.

Mole Poblano (Mole Rojo)

Mole poblano — AKA mole rojo, or red mole — is more associated with Puebla, Mexico, than with Oaxaca, though you’ll certainly find it in Oaxaca. The word poblano in the dish’s name is a reference to the state of Puabla, and if you ever see Poblano cuisine referenced anywhere, that is also traditional Puebla food.

This red-colored mole has ingredients including mulato, ancho, and pasilla chiles, raisins, almonds and peanuts. Mole poblano has a bold flavor, and is generally more sweet and more spicy than other traditional Mexican moles because it calls for a lot of chiles, dried fruits and nuts.

Mole almendrado

One of the best variations on mole poblano is mole almendrado, which uses only almonds instead of a mixture of nuts. This also happens to be my favorite mole in Mexico! ▶︎ Buy some here on Amazon and see for yourself how it stacks up for you.

Mole Verde

Mole verde is a green mole that showcases all things local and green, including veggies, herbs and spices.

Depending on who makes the mole, it can have tomatillos (green tomatoes), nopal (cactus), rajas (roasted poblano peppers), pepitas (pumpkin seeds), cilantro, jalapeños, parsley, epazote and hoja santa, two local Oaxacan herbs used in many dishes.

oaxaca food: mole amarillo (yellow mole) on a tortilla
Mole amarillo taco at Casa Oaxaca restaurant in Oaxaca City, Mexico. (Photo: Adam Goldberg)

Mole Amarillo

While you’ll often only find mole negro in restaurants, mole amarillo (yellow mole) is the one Oaxacan mole you eat as a street food. While visiting Oaxaca, Mexico, keep your eyes peeled for food carts and street vendors selling empanadas de mole amarillo, or empanadas with yellow mole sauce.

🥟 What is an empanada? A type of handheld pie or turnover, often stuffed with meats, veggies and cheeses. They are a common Oaxaca food, but eaten in many other countries, like Argentina and Colombia.

Oaxacan empanadas de mole amarillo are stuffed with shredded chicken in yellow mole sauce. This bright yellow sauce gets its color from chilhuacle amarillo, a local yellow chile pepper.

Mole Manchamantel

Mole manchamantel isn’t one you’ll often see on restaurant menus, so if you do see it anywhere, make sure to try it!

Manchamantel means “tablecloth staining” because of the bright red chorizo sausage grease and ancho chile peppers, famous for permanently staining everything! Besides the heavier pork and spicy chilies, mole manchamantel also has fresh pineapple and plantain (banana), making a sweet, spicy sauce.

oaxaca food: three clay pots with mole paste in it
Red and black mole pastes, which you can buy at local Oaxaca markets, in traditional Mexican cazuela pots (casserole dishes).

Mole Chichilo

Chichilo mole is the thickest of the moles, thickened with masa harina (corn flour) or even crushed corn tortillas, making it more or a stew than a sauce. It is unique in flavor because it is made with beef stock, anise, hojas de aguacate (avocado leaves), and chilhuacle, a black chili pepper.

Mole Colorado

Mole colorado is a dark red colored mole. As with all moles, ingredients can vary based on who’s making it, but some common mole colorado (red mole) ingredients include pasilla, ancho and chili de arbol peppers, nuts, cinnamon and chocolate — for a nice balance of savory, sweet and spicy flavor notes.

Mole Coloradito

Similar to mole colorado, it is also a red mole, though lighter in color. Mole coloradito, which means “little red mole,” and this Oaxacan recipe has more green-colored ingredients than mole colorado, which produces a softer red color.

Besides mole negro, mole coloradito is among the most popular moles in Oaxaca. You’ll have no trouble finding it on many Oaxaca restaurant menus.

oaxaca food: red mole cooking in a large pot
The mole paste is added to a liquid, usually water or meat stock, then slow-simmered for hours, sometimes even days, until thick.

2. Tlayuda

Tlayudas (pronounced tuh-lie-you-das) are the most beloved of all Oaxaca street food. If you’re wondering, What is a tlayuda? Well, they are often referred to as a Mexican pizza, because they do look like a pizza — though there’s no similarities in flavor to Italian pizza.

To make a tlayuda, you start out with a gigantic tortilla; larger than what you’d use for a burrito. The tortilla is smeared with asiento (pork lard), and placed to toast over charcoal or a traditional cooking comal. This large, flat cooking surface is used for many Oaxaca street food dishes.

After toasting the tortilla for a few minutes, refried beans, tomatoes, onions, shredded lettuce or green cabbage and avocado are placed on top, along with quesillo. This is the famous Oaxacan string cheese, beloved throughout Mexico and beyond.

After cooking for another few minutes, the tlayuda is folded into fourths, and the Oaxaca cheese continues to melt. For those who want to add meat, it is usually just placed on top of the folded tlayuda. Most tlayuda shops offer tasajo, a dried jerky-style steak, and chorizo (sausage).

oaxaca food: tlayuda, also called mexican pizza, cooking over a small grill
Cooking a tlayuda over a small grill in Oaxaca, Mexico.

When & Where to Eat Tlayudas in Oaxaca

Oaxacan tlayudas are traditionally a nighttime food. While nowadays, as Oaxaca City’s tourism continues to grow, you can find shops selling them day and night, like Tlayudas El Negro and Tlayudas Libres. If you can hold out, wait to join the locals for tlayudas after the sun goes down.

If you watch the “Oaxaca, Mexico” episode of Netflix’s Street Food: Latin America (Season 1, Episode 3), you’ll see one of the most beloved places to eat tlayudas in Oaxaca City — Tlayudas La Chinita, located in Centro Historico (Historic Downtown).

After dark, you’ll begin to see vendors start setting up small charcoal grills or comals outdoors. There are numerous places to eat tlayudas street-side all over Centro Historico Oaxaca City, as tlayudas are to Oaxaca what pizza is to New York City!

oaxaca food: Mexican pizza, or tlayuda
A Oaxacan tlayuda being folded over after cooking it, so that all the Oaxaca cheese melts.

3. Tamales Oaxaqueños

Tamales are eaten almost everywhere in Mexico, though tamales oaxaqueños (Oaxacan tamales) are made a bit different. In Mexico, a tamal consists of a masa (corn) mixture, which is often covered in a salsa or sauce, and steamed to cook. This part is the same in Oaxaca.

After preparing the masa, Oaxacan chefs place the mixture in a plantain (banana) leaf, unlike the more commonly-used corn husk. Throughout Oaxaca, you’ll often see tamales called tamales hojas (leaf tamales), as “hoja” is the Spanish word for leaf.

oaxaca food: someone's hands wrapping up a tamale in a banana leaf
Wrapping up a tamales hojas (leaf tamales) in a banana leaf.

There are a few kinds of savory Oaxacan tamales you’ll commonly find:

  • Mole con pollo (chicken in mole negro/black mole sauce)
  • Frijoles (beans)
  • Rajas (roasted poblano peppers)
  • Chipil (a local Oaxacan herb)

There’s also a dessert version called tamales dulces (sweet tamales). These are often pink in color and made with sweet ingredients like fruit marmalades, whole fruit pieces of raisins, pineapple and frutos rojos (red fruits/berries) and shredded coconut.

Tamales are everywhere in Oaxaca City, but head to Mercado 20 de Noviembre (November 20th Market) to sample all the varieties in one place. This traditional Oaxaca market has a food hall section, where you can go to different stalls and try a variety of tamales under one roof.

oaxaca food: tamale in a banana leaf
A fully cooked tamale oaxaqueña, or Oaxacan tamale, made in banana leaves instead of a corn husk.

4. Memelas

Memelas (pronounced mem-ell-uhs) are the most beloved Oaxaca antojitos (little snacks). Commonly eaten earlier in the day for breakfast and lunch, memelas are basically open face tacos, though they use a thicker tortilla, similar to that of a sope.

They are made on a cooking comal, and topped with all ingredients including Oaxaca cheese, refried beans, meat and salsa. Memelas are the perfect grab and go snack, but locals also head to the Oaxaca mercados (markets) to eat them.

You can try memelas in markets all over the city, but there’s one place more popular than the rest. Memelas Doña Vale in Mercado Central de Abastos is a must-try on any Oaxaca City foodie tour; it was featured on the Netflix’s Street Food: Latin America show. 

The chef and owner, Doña Vale (Ms. Vale), is known for her memelas and also her unique salsa morita. This delicious, hand-made salsa uses chile morita, a smoked jalapeño pepper that’s similar in taste to a smoky chipotle

oaxaca food: memelas, or open face tacos on a circular cooking surface
Memelas being cooked on a comal, a round, flattened, cooking surface used throughout Mexico.

5. Tetelas

Tetelas (pronounced tet-tell-uhs) are triangular-shaped hand pies. For Oaxaca vegetarian foods, these will be a go to. They are traditionally just stuffed with a black bean paste, a common Oaxacan black beans preparation, and quesillo string cheese.

Many tetelas also contain hoja de santa (holy leaf, or Mexican pepperleaf), a leaf from the pepper plant. The hoja de santa leaf is used in many Oaxacan dishes, but gives tetelas a unique flavor among Oaxacan street food options.

Cooked over a traditional Mexican comal, tetelas are served hot so the quesillo (Oaxaca cheese) thoroughly melts within the triangular pocket. Tetelas are easy to eat on the go as a Oaxacan street food, but head to Itanoni, a locals’ favorite, to try their amazing tetelas.

oaxaca food: tetelas, or triangular shaped pockets made with blue corn tortillas
Tetelas as triangular hand-pies eaten all over Oaxaca. (Photo: Addison Berry)

6. Enmoladas & Enfrijoladas

Enchiladas are one of the most popular Mexican foods, found throughout the entire country. They are essentially tortillas stuffed with everything from beans and veggies to meat and cheese, plated and covered in salsa.

In Oaxaca, you can also find enmoladas, which are essentially enchiladas covered in a black bean sauce instead of salsa. These are also found in other parts of Mexico, though enmoladas are more specific to just Oaxaca. 

Enmoladas are enchiladas covered in a mole negro (black mole) instead of salsa. As mole is the quintessential Oaxaca Mexico food, you’ll definitely want to try the enmoladas in Oaxaca, which make for a delicious breakfast or lunch food. 

oaxaca food: enmoladas on a plate which are enchiladas with black mole sauce on top as well as cheese and crema
Enmoladas are enchiladas with Oaxacan mole on top, instead of salsa which is used in enchiladas.

7. Carne Asada

No visit to Oaxaca is complete without checking out the Pasillo de Carnes Asadas (Grilled Meats Hall AKA Oaxaca Meat Market) in Mercado 20 de Noviembre. This lively section of the popular Oaxaca food market is filled with locals enjoying delicious grilled-to-order meats and veggies.

Some of the common Oaxaca meats you can sample at the mercado include:

  • Tasajo: Thin beef steak, often salted and air-dried to cure, with a taste and texture somewhere between a steak and beef jerky
  • Cecina: The same as tasajo, but with pork instead of beef
  • Cecina enchilada: Cecina with chili powder
  • Chorizo: Red sausage

Even non-meat eaters will enjoy the Oaxaca Pasillo de Carnes Asadas, as you can buy roasted vegetables in a variety of Oaxacan sauce options as well. Anything you get will have a yummy charcoal flavor, and will be grilled to order.


8. Queso Oaxaca

In Mexico, queso oaxaca (Oaxaca cheese) is very well known, and it’s even gaining popularity in the U.S. It is a string cheese that looks like a ball of fresh mozzarella, but has a saltier or more briny taste, similar to Monterey jack cheese.

When in Oaxaca, this cheese is referred to as quesillo; not queso Oaxaca. It is in many Oaxacan dishes, but to try some on its own head to any mercado (market) where you’ll find it sold by the kilo (1 kilo = 2.2 lbs). As a string cheese, you’ll want to pull it apart for the best flavor.

🧀 Order Queso Oaxaca Cheese here!

oaxaca food: quesillo or oaxaca cheese, a string cheese
Oaxaca cheese, called quesillo (pronounced kay-see-yo), which some say is the best Mexican cheese.

9. Chapulines

Eating chapulines (grasshoppers) dates back to prehispanic times. These small insects are high in protein, fat-free and available for much of the year, so they were an integral part of the ancestral diet throughout Central Mexico.

🦗 Order chapulines here!

Nowadays, you can try chapulines (pronounced chap-pull-lean-es) from vendors in Oaxaca mercados and street vendors. They are sold by weight, placed into a bag for the customer, and eaten just like popcorn — with a similar crunchy and somewhat flavorless taste.

The chapulines are heated for a minute over a traditional cooking comal, then cooled prior to eating. Some people have them plain, while others add toppings like lime juice, salt and spicy salsa. You can also find chapulines served in guacamole, adding a crunchy texture.

oaxaca food: chapulines, mexican grasshoppers on large red platters
Chapulines Oaxaca: A local delicacy you can purchase on the street or in the local mercados (markets).

10. Tejate

Tejate (pronounced tay-ha-tay) is a centuries-old chocolate and corn drink. While that flavor combo may not sound appetizing, this ancient drink has stood the taste test of time! In fact, Oaxacans love their tejate so much, they often call it the bebida de los dioses (drink of the gods).

Tejate is made by hand in large clay bowls, by liquifying a mixture of fermented cacao (chocolate) beans, toasted maize (corn), toasted pits of mamey (tropical fruit), and flor de cacao (cacao flower). It is served cold, and very refreshing on a hot Oaxaca day.

Since it has been around since perhispanic times, each region, city and family will have their own unique tejate recipe. However, even with variations, tejate generally tastes like a more complex chocolate almond milk.

oaxaca food: woman scooping out a beverage called tejate
Tejate is an ancient chocolate and corn drink, lovingly called “the drink of the gods.”

11. Mezcal

Mezcal is a distilled spirit that can be made from more than 30 varieties of the maguey (agave) plant. If mezcal sounds like tequila to you — it kind of is.

Much like how champagne is essentially a sparkling wine from the city of Champagne, France, tequila is a kind of mezcal from the city of Tequila, Mexico. If Tequila, Mexico, is the home of tequila, Oaxaca is the home of mezcal.

To show how much Oaxacana love their mezcal, there’s this common saying: Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, también. This means, “For everything good, mezcal. For everything bad, mezcal.”

oaxaca food: Man pouring mezcal into short glass
Mezcal being poured into a copita, the traditional mezcal cup.

In Oaxaca, mezcal comes served in a copita (mezcal cup), often with a plate of orange slices and sal de maguey (maguey worm salt). This is the same worm that’s in a tequila bottle; though never a mezcal bottle. Note: This beloved drink is meant to be sipped not taken as a shot!

In terms of flavor, mezcal tends to be a bit smokier than tequila, as it’s smoked underground in the fermentation process. The best mezcals come from Oaxaca, Mexico — like Illegal Mezcal, Montelobos and 400 Conejos, Mexico’s best selling mezcal.

Oaxaca Mezcal Tours

One of the best things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico is take a mezcal tour at a Oaxaca distillery and see the entire mezcal process. It starts with harvesting the agave, then smoking it underground, then distilling it, and finally tasting the final product before buying your favorite one.


12. Chocolate Oaxaquño (Oaxacan Chocolate)

Chocolate has been a staple food throughout Mexico since prehispanic times. In Oaxaca, one of the top regions for cacao beans in Mexico, you’ll find it used more for hot chocolate than eaten straight up. It’s also one of the main ingredients in mole, especially mole negro (black mole).

While in the U.S. it’s often prepared with milk, chocolate oaxaqueño (Oaxacan chocolate) is made with just chocolate and water. It is still frothy like in the U.S. because this chocolate beverage is hand-spun using a wooden whisk called a molinillo, which creates a foam.

oaxaca food: dunking a piece of bread into a cup of hot chocolate
Dipping a pan dulce (sweet bread) into chocolate oaxaqueño (Oaxacan hot chocolate).

13. Cafe de Olla

Cafe de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee preparation, common in Mexico’s more indigenous states, like Oaxaca and Chiapas. It is made in an olla (large clay pot) with cinnamon and piloncillo (raw cane sugar). If you like your coffee sweet, you must try cafe de olla.

14. Aguas Frescas (Aguas Casildas)

Aguas frescas are fresh fruit waters, and you can find them in almost all regions of Mexico. For a uniquely Oaxacan culinary experience, head to the Casilda Aguas Regionales stand in Oaxaca City’s Mercado de Benito Juarez (Benito Juarez Market).

Opened in 1926 by the late Casilda Flores Morales, this famous spot is where the locals go for their aguas frescas — or Aguas Casildas, as they are sometimes known. At this stand, make sure to try the chilacayote, a recipe that’s been passed down through Casilda’s family for generations.

oaxaca food: aguas frescas, or colorful fruit waters
Head to Casilda Aguas Regionales in Mercado de Benito Juarez to try the best agua fresca in Oaxaca City.

15. Oaxaca Spices, Fruits & Veggies

Now that you have a better idea of the overall foods and beverages you can enjoy in Oaxaca, below is a guide to some of the more unique ingredients in Oaxacan cooking.


This is one of the most commonly used aromatics in Oaxacan and Mexican food throughout the country. On its own, epazote isn’t very good, but when used in cooking it adds a big flavor punch giving off hints of oregano, mint, pepper and even citrus.

Hoja Santa

Besides epazote, you’ll find hoja santa in many traditional Oaxaca food dishes. The name means “saint’s leaf or sacred leaf, though you’ll often hear it called Mexican pepperleaf in English. As the name states, this is a peppery-tasting leaf, though it also has a minty flavor.


Huitlacoche (pronounced wheat-la-co-chay) is a corn fungus, sometimes called corn smut, corn mushroom or “Mexican truffle.” It has an earthy, mushroom taste, similar to a truffle, but less fragrant. Though an acquired taste, those who love huitlacoche just can’t get enough of it.

oaxaca food: huitlacoche tacos
Huitlacoche tacos are a lesser-known Mexico vegetarian food, which are very popular in Oaxaca.
best mexican Oaxacan food


Jicama (pronounced hick-uh-ma) is a white colored veggie, native to Mexico and South America. It has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor, similar to a Chinese water chestnut, but with a pear-like texture. Jicama is a common snack in Oaxaca, often served with some lime juice and Tajín spice powder.


Pronounced ha-my-kah, not Jamaica like the country, agua de jamaica is the most popular tea drink all over Mexico. It is made from the hibiscus flower, and served over ice, so it makes for a refreshing beverage in a hot country like Mexico. In taste, jamaica is tart, and similar to cranberry or pomegranate juice.


Tuna, pronounced like the fish, is also known as cactus fruit or prickly pear. As Oaxaca City is basically a desert in the Sierra Sur Mountains, you can find cacti and tuna all over. Try this colorful fruit in a nieves (half-ice cream, half-slushy), the perfect treat on a hot day.

oaxaca food: pink colored fruit called tuna (prickly pear cactus) that grows on a cactus
Tuna, or prickly pear cactus, which some say tastes like watermelon and classic bubble gum!

Mexican Oaxaca Cook Books

If you leave the United States to experience the food in Oaxaca in person, pick up one of these Oaxacan cook books — the next best thing! Among the best, check out The Food of Oaxaca Cookbook, Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico and Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy.

A Mexico cookbook makes for an amazing Mexico gift for the Mexico-obsessed foodie in your life who wants to make some Oaxaca recipes at home.

Oaxaca Food Tours

The most fun way to experience and enjoy Mexican Oaxacan food is with a local to guide you to all the best food in Oaxaca City, and all the hidden gems in this foodie town! If you’re traveling to Oaxaca soon, check out some of the amazing Oaxaca food tours below.

Final Thoughts: Mexican Oaxacan Foods

This list just scratches the surface of all the delicious food to try in Oaxaca, Mexico! However, it definitely highlights that there’s more to Mexico than just tacos — though Mexico tacos are undoubtedly the best on Earth!

Oaxaca cuisine is still very much connected to its deep, prehispanic roots. The state itself is charming, well known for the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebration, but also as an off the beaten path Mexico foodie destination, fast becoming one of the world’s culinary meccas.

Which Oaxaca food or drink will you try first?

Please join the conversation in the comments below and let me know which Oaxaca food caught your eye! If you have a favorite Oaxaca Mexican dish, or Oaxaca restaurant, I’d love to know what it is.

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