For Chef Branden Levine, summer vacations aren’t just for fun – they’re for culinary inspiration. After his most recent trip to Oaxaca with his wife and Sel restaurant co-owner, May, he was inspired to bring home flavors of the region, like a prune mole, which you’ll find on his menu. Levine shares some of his favorites in the Oaxaca area.
Oaxaca is known for its moles, and Los Pacos has all seven types of the rich, thick sauce. Levine says you get a “flight” to try and then you select your favorites to have over meat and vegetables for the main course. The recipes at the cozy, casual restaurant are all created by the abuela who still chats with patrons at the restaurant. lospacosoaxaca.com
Casa Oaxaca Café
This farm-to-table restaurant features a whole-roasted pig and a “killer tableside salsa,” Levine says. One of the most surprising protein sources on the menu at this spot, grasshoppers, are also surprisingly delicious. “They fry them up and flavor them with different types of chiles, which adds a lot of umami.” casaoaxacacafe.com
This hip restaurant that specializes in modern Oaxacan cuisine was another favorite from Levine’s travels. Los Danzantes serves Oaxacan cheeses and vegetables that are grown in the restaurant’s garden. And, of course, they have mole. losdanzantes.com
Felix Ángeles Arellanes mezcal
Most mezcal is made in Oaxaca, so Levine wanted to see how the agave spirit is made. Master mezcal producer Felix Ángeles Arellanes uses no automated machinery and hand-crushes smoked agave piñas after they are baked in a pit dug into the ground. “We brought back four bottles,” Levine says. magueymelate.com/felixarellanes