Oaxaca, Oaxaca

October 2018

On our first trip to Oaxaca a bit over a year ago, we came to Criollo for a seven-course tasting menu. Considering Enrique Olvera of Pujol has a hand in it, we had high expectations; however, if it weren’t for coming across a few old photos and reading the review I had left on Open Table, I honestly wouldn’t remember a single dish. I guess that means nothing was terribly offensive, but obviously it wasn’t an exceptional experience either. (To be fair, I did leave in my initial review that the service included unlimited and complimentary water, which wins big point from me as it’s basically unheard of in Mexico.)

But I’m a believer in second chances, especially when they involve brunch al fresco. So fresh off an overnight bus from Mexico City, we dropped our bags at our hotel and got to Criollo within minutes of its doors opening. 

The stakes at breakfast are generally lower than a tasting menu dinner; if there’s hot coffee, fresh fruit and something bread-like, call me pleased. So, I went back to Criollo without much expectation except to enjoy a sunny morning in its courtyard, knowing that if we left dissatisfied or still hungry the world’s most delicious mole tamales could be found just blocks away in any of Oaxaca’s markets.

No need for the low standards, however, because the brunch turned out to be lovely. We ordered several items to share, including a piece of french toast with guava compote, chicken enmoladas (enchiladas but with mole) and a chocolate de agua (spiced, water-based hot chocolate); the best was the tamal del día, which on that Sunday was zucchini and quesillo cheese with a molcajete salsa and quintonil leaves. It was actually so good we ordered a second. The coffee was hot and the sun was pouring into the patio. If there had been mimosas, I might have called it the perfect brunch.

I have transitioned, for the most part, to thinking in pesos and assessing prices relative to the cost of living in Mexico. Sometimes I catch myself thinking something expensive until I convert the price into dollars and remember that it would cost twice or more at home. Even so, I was surprised at how affordable Criollo’s menu was; most entrée plates were around the one-hundred peso mark, french-press about forty and each tamal only thirty. (Oh, and the water... still free.) 

The space, which is what lured me back for a second visit, really is remarkable; it’s historical and elegant, but simply decorated in a way that feels welcoming and unpretentious. You step inside a high-ceilinged foyer whose beautifully chipped wall and clay pots immediately call attention, walk through the open kitchen, fresh loaves of bread on the counter, and then you’re back outside in a large open courtyard, seating lined all along the perimeter. There’s a large comal, toasting the day’s blue corn tortillas. A red hen pecks around the back garden among cacti and a hammock. The transparency of its operations is a reminder that humanity is a key ingredient in good meals.

In addition to its obvious visual appeal, Criollo stands out in its appreciation for Oaxaca’s deeply-rooted food culture and its mission to elevate local and disappearing ingredients and preparation methods. Maybe the kitchen’s execution has become more polished in the last year, or maybe it’s best meal is breakfast. Not sure, but I had to update my Open Table review because these days Criollo is doing something right.

Criollo has morning service only on Saturdays and Sundays, while lunch and dinner service is available throughout the week. ⁍

Criollo | Instagram


Barrio Chino, Ciudad de México

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