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Last updated on September 23rd, 2020.

Breakfast in Oaxaca is something oh-so-special

When I first landed in Mexico, I’d come from New Zealand – a country so far away that we barely had any understanding of what Mexican food meant beyond hard shell tacos and burritos. The the concept of breakfast in Oaxaca had never crossed my mind, and I was delighted to discover an entire new world awaited me.

Unlike in New Zealand, breakfast in Oaxaca is rarely toast or cereal – instead, it’s an entire cuisine of its own full of flavours, traditions and specialities.

It’s been my absolute pleasure to introduce the people I care about to the food of Oaxaca, and in all the times I’ve spent living in the city of Oaxaca I’ve managed to host a number of guests and introduce them to the magical world of breakfast that I believe exists uniquely in this incredible food capital.


Chilaquiles Rojo o Verde: how do you choose?

My favourite breakfast food? Chilaquiles – hands down. Chilaquiles are not uniquely Oaxacan, and despite Mexico’s heavy lean toward regional cuisine, this is one dish that can be found ubiquitously across most of Mexico’s incredibly diverse range of foods.

Chilaquiles are where nachos meet enchiladas. Triangles of crispy tortilla doused in salsa, topped with crumbly fresh cheese and herbs. Rojos (red sauce) or verdes (green sauce) are the most popular varieties that you will find in all good chilaquiles stops, but there are also other varieties to be had.

As with all Mexican culinary tradition, everyone covets their special salsa recipes. This means that your chilaquiles verdes at one restaurant, may taste completely different at another.

However, generally speaking, the salsa verde will be more sour – made with green chiles and tomatillos. The salsa rojo may be more spicy, and is usually more rich and tomato flavoured.

After deciding on the salsa, you can order your chilaquiles sencillos (with just cheese and herbs), con huevo (with an egg) , or usually with a choice of meats – pollo (chicken) and tasajo (thin beef) are the most popular.

Other Varieties of Chilaquiles

It was my Spanish language tutor who introduced me to the idea of Torta de Chilaquiles (or as Thrillist put it, a delightfully decadent carb bomb) – a torta (sandwich made on bolillo roll) filled with chilaquiles, crumbed chicken, cheese and other toppings.

Where to find the best Chilaquiles in Oaxaca?

My favourite spot for chilaquiles is Ancestral Cocina Tradicional, who boast not just the delicious rojo + verdes varieties available with a selection of meats or egg, but also I can highly recommend just about everything on their menu for a traditional breakfast, Oaxaca style.

The other excellent choice is Pan-am Cafe, who do a stunning job of mouth watering chilaquiles with excellent fresh toppings. You can check out the Oaxaca Breakfast Spots map for more inspiration.


Antojitos: Memelas, Quesadillas, and Tetelas

Oaxaca has a deep and significant history intertwined with maize and corn, and this is reflected in the wide variety of masa-based antojitos available everywhere in Oaxaca. The different names reflect the shape and size of your antojito, as well as the way it’s folded or presented. From there, you can choose your desired filling or topping.

Memelas

I was delighted to see Oaxaca, and memelas, get some special attention on one of my favourite Netflix shows : Street Food Latin America where they introduced us to the delightful Doña Vale of The Memelas Doña Vale in the Mercado Central de Abasto (the largest market in the City of Oaxaca)

Memelas look simple – a round of flat masa, warmed on the comal and smeared with some pork fat, beans and a crumble of queso fresco but their simplicity lends to one of the most memorable, comforting, and popular breakfast foods to be found in Oaxaca.

Quesadillas

Quesadillas in Oaxaca will look different from what many tourists might be expecting. Instead of being two large tortillas stacked on one another and sliced into wedges, a quesadilla here is more often a single, large tortilla flipped over on itself with delicious fillings sandwiched inside.

Because it’s Oaxaca, a quesadilla filled with queso Oaxaca (Oaxacan string cheese) is a must. You’ll find it in just about all quesadillas in Oaxaca, as the cheese is an important speciality for the region.

Then, try some Flor de Calabaza (squash blossoms), hongos (mushrooms) or tinga de pollo (shredded chipotle chicken) inside, and finally splash it with some good salsa. Delicious!

Tetelas

You can tell a tetela by its triangular shape, stuffed with beans and cheese and cooked on the comal alongside memelas and quesadillas.

Named after a small village in the Oaxaca region, these really are a regional speciality. They are a little harder to find than the other antojitos mentioned here, but worth looking for.

The best spot to guarantee finding a tetela is at Itanoní Antojeria y Tortilleria

Where to eat antojitos in Oaxaca

Antojitos can be found at nearly every place you spy a comal. There are wonderful memelas, quesadillas, tetelas and more to be had on just about any street corner.

Itanoní Antojeria y Tortilleria is the most famed choice in Oaxaca, serving up a mind blowing selection of corn based bites made from local heirloom corn varieties. If you’re in doubt, everyone from Her Magazine, AFAR magazine and even Atlas Obscura rave about them.

For a lesser known (but no less special) experience, head to La Abuela on the edge of Jardín Conzatti. The menu is fairly simple, but the topping choices are all home made with so much love. This is one of my favourite little spots to pop into for breakfast.


Enchiladas, Enfrijoladas & Enmoladas

It can seem a little intimidating the first time to see so many breakfast items beginning in en- and ending in -adas! But not to fear.. they are all very similar dishes, the difference being in the sauce used over top.

Enchiladas are tortillas wrapped around something (commonly chicken and/or queso fresco), covered in a chile based sauce made of Ajo or other red chilis.

Enmoladas are just like an Enchilada, but instead of a chili salsa it is covered in a mole sauce. A great choice when in Oaxaca, a land famed for mole!

Enfrijoladas are also an Enchiladas, but instead of a chili salsa or a mole it is bathed in a black bean sauce.

As with most Oaxacan breakfasts, you can usually opt to have a Huevo (egg) on top, or some kind of meat like tasajo or cecina, or they are delicious as they are and you can have them sencillos (without any additions)

Where to eat enchiladas in Oaxaca

My personal favourite spot for enchiladas is in the (sometimes hard to find as it moves around) Pochote Xochimilco Market at Calle Marcos Pérez #217, Colonia Centro (between Crespo y Joaquin Amaro) I get them from the small vendor in the far, left corner when you’re walking in from the entrance.


Tamales in all their many flavours

Tamales are glorious, and ubiquitously connected with Mexican food and culture. Oaxaca brings their own twist to this in a few different ways. In my experience, the best place to find tamales is at the markets in the morning. In the evenings, you can still find Tamales Oaxaqueños at some night markets and on restaurant menus, but the other varieties tend to be found predominantly in the mornings, and on special holidays.

Tamales Oaxaqueños

Oaxacan style tamales are somewhat flat, square parcels of Masa, some kind of meat, and a mole (commonly mole negro) wrapped in banana leaves instead of the more common corn husk.

Tamales de Mole

Tamales de mole are more typical of what people think of when they think of a tamale – plump, round, and wrapped in a corn husk – Oaxaca is an excellent place for this due to being famed as the land of mole! You can get all different varieties of mole in your tamale, my personal favourite is mole verde (a tangy green mole sauce)

Tamales de Dulce

You can tell a tamale de dulce apart from the tamales de mole by its pinked-dyed skin. Inside is sweet masa mixed with cinnamon, spices, raisons and sometimes sweet fruits like pineapple.

Where to eat Tamales in Oaxaca

The best place to find tamales de mole and tamales de dulce are in the markets in the morning. My favourite tamales can be found at Mercado Sánchez Pascuas by the lady who sells on the edge of the foodcourt (rather than the other tamale stall fixed inside the market building, who is also good and worth a try)

For tamales Oaxaqueños, a great place to try these is in one of the small restaurants inside the Mercado 20 de Noviembre


Molettes – a classic student breakfast

The very first time I tried a mollette, it was my first every trip to Mexico and introduced to me by my tour guide as the breakfast for students. Quick, tasty, found across Mexico – this is a crusty bolillo roll toasted, smeared with beans and served with Quesillo Oaxaca, your choice of meat (or no meat) and a hearty serving of pico de gallo over top.

Mexican grilled cheese, breakfast torta – whatever you want to call it, this is a winning combination and a breakfast option you’re going to be able to find just about anywhere.


Tacos are not only a late night street food

One lesson quickly learned from my times spent in Oaxaca is a taco is really what you make of it. Forget rigid ideas of how you think a taco should work, and reframe it as a tortilla wrapped around something.

Because that’s what taco is, it’s a way of wrapping whatever you would like to eat inside a fresh, warm, corn tortilla. And what better way to start the day with a breakfast taco?

You can find tacos in most breakfast restaurants serving antojitos but my hands-down favourite breakfast taco is the Tacos Rellenos con Pollo Coloradito from Ancestral Cocina Traditional.

Two large tortillas rolled and stuffed with shredded chicken, douses in the mole coloradito sauce and covered in a heaping of shredded lettuce and queso fresco – It’s usually too much food for me to eat alone, but it’s well worth the attempt!


Huevos all the way – Divorcados, estrellados & rancheros

Huevos is Spanish for eggs, and something you will see an awful lot of around Oaxacan Breakfasts (and Mexican breakfast in general) there are numerous ways to eat your eggs:

Huevos Divorcados: two eggs served on tortillas, with both red and green salsa split by a row of refried beans across the middle. It sounds complicated – but really, it’s just delicious.

Huevos Rancheros: these are the most well known of the eggs, and are ranch-style because they are named after what one might eat on a rural Mexican farm.

Huevos Estrellados: these are fried eggs, sometimes served on tortillas, sometimes with bacon or chorizo. It depends upon the restaurant and the menu.

Huevos Oaxaqueños: Eggs prepared in a traditional Oaxacan way – scrambled with cheese and served in a rich red salsa, and topped with avocado.


Hot Drinks: Chocolate, Champurrado, and Atole

Chocolate in Oaxaca

Oaxaca has been apart of a major cocoa trade route since very ancient times, so despite not producing any cacao trees for themselves, the city of Oaxaca plays an instrumental part of chocolate production, and is considered the chocolate capital of Mexico.

However, it surprises many visitors to learn that eating chocolate is a rarity here. Instead, the rich whisps of roasting cacao that will lodge in your fragrance memory for the rest of time are being used mostly in mole sauces, and for drinking chocolate.

Hot chocolate is a very typical breakfast drink here, enjoyed with bread in the morning. Whilst you can get it with milk (chocolate con leche) the more usual way to drink chocolate is with water (chocolate de agua) and sometimes a little azúcar (sugar)

In Nahuatl (a spoken by the Aztecs and their neighbours, still spoken in many parts of Mexico today) Xocoatl, a word believed to be the origins of our current day word Chocolate, translates directly to mean bitter water (xoco = bitter and atl = water)

And that’s how chocolate de agua tastes – not sickly sweet as many have come to know chocolate, but a rich, slightly bitter drink with much more in common with coffee than with a candy bar.

Where to drink chocolate in Oaxaca

Chocolate Mayordomo is the most famous place to sample chocolate, and see it being produced in all of Oaxaca. It’s for good reason that it’s so famous, and it’s well worth a visit to one of their numerous Oaxaca restaurants for a try.

If you want to veer off the beaten Mayordomo path a touch, for another amazing chocolate experience I highly recommend paying a visit to Texier Chocolatería for an incredible selection of flavours, they also (a rarity!) sell eating chocolate here if you’re in need.

Champurrado and Atole

Aside from chocolate and coffee, there are a number of other important hot breakfast beverages to be found in Oaxaca. Two of the most prominent are Champurrado and Atole, two hot drinks both made from a maize base.

Atole is a hot, corn based drink that is made up of toasted masapiloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), cinnamon, vanilla and water.

Champurrado is similar to an Atole, but is made also with chocolate.

Both are common breakfast drinks, enjoyed frequently with bread, churros, or tamales and is especially prevalent around the Dia de Muertos (day of the dead) festivities.


Map: Where to eat breakfast in Oaxaca


Frequently Asked Questions

What are Oaxacan tamales wrapped in?

Instead of the usual corn husks, Oaxacan tamales are instead traditionally wrapped in banana leaves.

What foods are Oaxaca most famous for?

Oaxaca is well known across Mexico as being the land of the seven moles – although in truth there are many more than seven varieties to be found here! But to get started, make sure you try the 7 typical moles of Oaxaca: negro, rojo, amarillo, coloradito, verde, chichilo, and manchamantel.

Are there vegetarian breakfast options in Oaxaca?

Yes, there are many vegetarian options to be found. But please be vigilant if you are vegetarian – as many memelas, quesadillas, tllayudas, tamales and other masa-based foods have asiento (pork fat) added to them.

Where can I find Pancakes in Oaxaca?

There are plenty of less typical Mexican options in Oaxaca, and if you’re looking for pancakes, waffles or a matcha latte you’re in lucky – check out A.M. Siempre Café, Boulenc, Pan : am, and Gourmand Delicatessen


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15 Comments

  1. This is awesome! I really love trying new things for brecky (I’m originally from the UK…so we are pretty rubbish at knowing good mexican food too) the 7 moles of Oaxaca blows my mind a bit, but I want to try it all! 😀

    Are any of these foods only eaten at breakfast? Or could you eat them all later in the day too?

    1. We aren’t so good at Mexican food here in New Zealand, either – so you’re not alone there!

      That’s a good question – most of these foods are only found at breakfast time, but it really depends. For example, the Oaxacan style Tamales can be found in the day and evenings too, but regular tamales are much more difficult to find outside of breakfast.

      Quesadillas & Memelas are easier to get any time of day, but not so much true with chilaquiles or enchiladas.

  2. This is so comprehensive – I had no idea breakfast in Oaxaca was such a thing! Anywhere you can start your day with hot chocolate is OK by me 🙂

  3. Love this! I have been to Oaxaca but didn’t have time to eat everything I wanted. And, believe me, I even made a list of everything I wanted to try. Well, it is the perfect excuse to go back.

    1. Definitely a good excuse! And I’ve spent so much time both visiting and living (~6 months at a time) in Oaxaca and I still never feel like I had time to eat and try everything I wanted haha! So so much good food everywhere, I always look forward to returning to eat everything all over again 🙂

  4. I love Mexican food, we don’t get much good quality or proper Mexican places where I live. Then when you find a place it’s not quite the same as when your there.
    Would love to try tamales, sounds delicious.

    1. It’s the same here in New Zealand – Mexican food is a bit of a rarity, and it’s often quite different from the foods found in Mexico. Definitely not the same as being there, but it’s nice to dream about how good the food is 🙂 Tamales are fantastic, well worth a try!

  5. Ooooh I loveeee this!!! I’ve been wanting to go to Oaxaca since I had some Oaxaca cheese years ago. Chilaquiles are amazing – I just can’t have it with onion, but I could eat it every morning. This is an amazing guide. I love Mexican food and we normally go every year, so now I’m sad and hungry hahaha.

    1. Thank you! I know how you feel, the whole time I was writing it I was partly excited to remember, but also feeling hungry and desperate to return ASAP. I normally spend some of every year there too – this is the first in a long while that I haven’t been able to so can totally relate. Hopefully we will all be able to visit again soon and eat all the foods 🙂

  6. Tacos for breakfast – you are speaking my language! I appreciate that you shared some of more common foods, but also dishes I hadn’t heard of before. I recently watched the episode of Street Food Latin America you mention, and those memelas look awesome. I lived in Guatemala City and ate plenty of tamales, but I have never tried sweet ones. I would love to learn more about the regional differences in flavor and preparation. This post is so beautiful I could cry. My wife & I want to go to Mexico sooo badly, and your photos and explanations of breakfast in Oaxaca are a reminder of exactly why! And, this is just breakfast! Also, thanks for the map. Super useful.

    1. Thank you so much 🙂 I would love to visit Guatemala someday, it looks like such a special and beautiful country. It’s true Mexico has so many regional differences in the food, which make it such an interesting and delicious country to visit!

  7. YUM! Everything looks so good. In Texas, we certainly have some south of the border inspiration in our breakfasts sometimes. I love migas, but some of the dishes you ate look even better.

    1. I’ve visited Texas once and was so impressed by how much excellent Mexican food there was around, you’re so lucky to have that cultural and food influence there! I haven’t tried migas but after some Googling that sounds super delicious & I will need to give it a try 🙂

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