It could be the reverberation of a night of mezcal, but breakfast tastes better to me in Oaxaca. It might also be that it satisfies my need for variety. Breakfast here can be decadent like mole, fresh like green juice, comforting like hot chocolate. It can be enjoyed in the corner of a restaurant playing Joni Mitchell, it can be in the halls of a busy market. I am into all of the possibilities. Here are a few places I visited this last trip.
The juice bar at this neighborhood market is bumping club music at 7 am every day, and it gets me so pumped! They have pitchers ready to go, they have multiple blenders going, they’re chopping papaya and strawberries for your fruit salads, they have flashing lights, and they will get you your order before the track ends. There are many things I love about how straight up Mexican juice bars are, and one of them is the drink names. In the U.S. juices are often aspirational: the cleanup, cosmic cocoa, golden cure, you know what I’m sayin. But in Mexico they’re prescriptive, so in a juice bar no wider than five feet, the walls are plastered with juice combos labeled for heath problems: gastritis, diabetes, exhaustion… Shout over the music, “I’ll have indigestion please” and you’ll be set with an excellent start to your morning.
Immediately across the hall (the stand second from the left) is a woman making memelas and her guisados are a cut above the rest. Memelas are masa vessels covered with beans and cheese and a topping of your choice. You can also get the same topping in a quesadilla. The costilla de res is where it’s at here for meat, and the mushrooms, ever so humble and overlooked next to the flor de calabaza, are great here too.
For a solid breakfast I often relied on this market with organic goods and products from small farmers, as well as a bunch of stands serving hot food. In the center are shaded picnic tables, so you can order at multiple stands and they’ll find you and bring you your food. I also came here sometimes when I just wanted a caldo de gallina or felt like picking up some dried mangos for a road trip.
One of the drink highlights for me was a stand serving pozontle. Oaxaca has the greatest diversity of cacao drinks in Mexico, and this one includes cacao, panela, a root called cocomecatl and granillo de maiz. It’s frothy and lightly grainy and chocolately, and served in a giant jicara. If your hangover brain is struggling between choosing sweet chocolatey comfort and caffeine, no fear get a choco-café from the guy who sells coffee and he’ll stir it up in a clay pitcher over the fire. There is also a juice stand, which takes so long they might be hand-plucking the parsley from a secret garden but you’re enjoying your giant chocolate beverage anyway.
My favorite stand was introduced to me by T.J. Steele, who buys his corn for his Brooklyn restaurant, Claro, from this cheesemaker and corn farmer couple. The cheesemaker and cook has big eyes and a huge smile, and her all natural guayaba yogurt which you can take home is the thing I want to eat every morning. Anything with cheese here is a winner, try the empanadas to start. She also has ricotta and quesillo to take home.
Beatles paraphernalia, black and white photos of old Oaxaca, and plastic 1980s style office chairs braid the decades weirdly together at this family restaurant north of the centro.
There is also a little fetish for the time that never existed: the walls carry artwork by Jesus Helguera, you’ve probably seen his work from the 1940s mostly on calendars, romantic scenes of Mexican life with characters that might be dressed in traditional indigenous textiles but look European. The Aztec warrior carrying the Barbie-bodied white lady with long hair over a smoking volcano, for instance. The important point is that the food is not quirky, it’s tasty and affordable.
I love the decadence of a Mexican breakfast, and this is a place for that. We ordered fresh juice, hot chocolate, coffee, atole, and they brought over a basket of pan de yema, an airy bread made with egg yolks. My housemate was anxious to try the estofada, a mole you might not see as often at restaurants. This one was certainly on the sweet side, with flavors of almonds and raisins, and served in enchilada form. They offer lunch too and if I were to come back I would try their caldos, of which they had a bunch, and their moles. Open from 7 am to 7 pm.
Being in Oaxaca for six weeks, I appreciated this deli and all-day restaurant with a bunch of different offerings. If you want to get good bread, artisanal Mexican cheese, and cured meats (the lengua especially) to compliment your market produce at home, this is the place. If you want a well-made cappuccino and a bagel with perfectly cooked eggs and cheese that makes you feel like a kid again this is the place. If you want to be a responsible grown up and have a salad, this is also the place. You can also get a meal here at anytime of the day (if you miss the comida window in Oaxaca the variety of casual food for dinner can get slim). They have a sweet artisanal beer selection too.
Chepiche Café is like the neighborhood it lives in: so peaceful it feels far from Niños Heroes, the busy PanAmerican highway that cuts through Oaxaca city even though it is a few blocks away. Xochimilco is lined with stone streets and walls, bougenvia that hangs over colorful garage doors, and on the right corner the sounds of weaving looms. Chepiche Café fits in. There’s a big patio with enough leafy big plants and space to make you feel like you are dining alone. Joni Mitchel played in the background. There’s just enough cement, Easter-egg pastel colors on the walls and chairs, and pockets of shade under lime tree blossoms for it to feel cool on an ominously warm morning.
I was tempted by the breakfast torta ahogada but I ended up trying a dish of plantains, quesillo melted with beans and wrapped in hoja santa, floating in a mild chile-tomato sauce with two poached eggs. It had all those textures and flavors you want together: creamy, salty, spicy, sweet with the singular earthiness of hoja santa and black beans.