Where Can I Get Oaxacan Food in NYC?
Lauren S. asks: Where can I get Oaxacan food in New York City?
Dear Lauren: This question always makes me sad. In brief, there is no Oaxacan food in Gotham. I'm not really sure why, since it would be easy enough for someone to mount a restaurant serving Oaxacan food, even if they weren't Oaxacan.
For those uninitiated to its delights, we're talking about food that originated in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, in the far southwest of the country, bordering the Pacific Ocean. It's a mountainous state with a huge indigenous population, mainly Mixtecs and Zapotecs, and the cooking is highly unique. Most famous are the seven moles: manchamanteles, chichilo, amarillo, rojo, verde, coloradito, and negro, in a profusion of rich earthy colors. These moles are notoriously time-consuming and difficult to make, and sometimes use hard-to-find ingredients. Grasshoppers, herbs like hoja santa and epazote, and banana leaves for wrapping tamales are also important components.
Los Angeles is filled with Oaxacan eateries, most prominently the excellent Gueleguetza chain. Sniff, sniff! Why can't we have at least one here? Moreover, restaurateurs are quick to appropriate the name, without delivering the goods. Hey, Oaxaca Taqueria -- I've got a bone to pick with you! How can you so audaciously appropriate the name, and then not serve a single dish from Oaxaca? Ditto Oaxaca in Midtown, which is basically just a gussied-up burrito joint. Shame on you! Do you think New Yorkers are estúpido?
Sorry for that aside, Lauren, but when it comes to the incredibly delicious and fascinating food of Oaxaca -- probably the best food in Mexico -- our city comes up short. That said, you can sometimes get tantalizing glimpses of the cuisine. Any Pueblan bodega-café will offer a mole poblano -- that's the chocolate mole -- over enchiladas or boiled chicken, usually made by a Pueblan immigrant in her kitchen and distributed to the eating establishments in her neighborhood. Tulcingo del Valle (665 Tenth Avenue, 212-262-5510) is one such place. This mole is similar to Oaxacan mole negro ("black mole"), though the Oaxcan model tastes toastier and less chocolaty and fruity to me.