Finding out what’s new and “good” in Oaxaca is always a challenge. Throughout the year, I follow what I feel are the proper people and sites through social media and I know I have a good handle on the who’s doing what and what’s new to check out each year in advance of my visit. But even with my lists compiled from this information, I find that many of the places I pass along to the gang that spends more time in Oaxaca than I, turns out to be a bust. With limited time in Oaxaca each year, I try not to gamble on too many of my meals, so I’ve become good at using my trusted sources in the city to guide me.
This year, in my communications with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos of Origen, I asked what he thought was the 1 new place I should check out while I was in town. I’d secretly hoped, my request for 1 place would get me 3, but his answer came back very focused. “You should definitely check out El Destilado”.
Rodolfo explained that 3 American guys had recently opened a mezcal bar/restaurant and were offering a very nice tasting menu. Coming from such a trusted source, I put El Destilado on my list for this year’s eating itinerary.
When I arrived in Oaxaca, I wandered over to check out El Destilado to see how I’d sell it to the gang. But after walking the block many times and not being able to find it, I shrugged it off because I knew I had so many other places on my list.
But then when I went for comida at El Mangalito with Chef Rodolfo, he asked me if I’d checked out El Destilado yet. I told him no, and he reiterated that I really should. He explained that one of their chefs worked in Origen’s kitchen for a bit and that he knew they were doing wonderful things with Oaxacan ingredients. I respect Rodolfo enough that when he tells me not once, but twice to go somewhere, I know I should take heed.
In my conversations with another friend, Omar (of Oaxacking), I learned that the restaurant had no sign but I was to look for a stencil of a man pouring mezcal on the outside wall. So the next day I went back to see if I could find El Destilado, and with those instructions, it was easy enough to locate!
I went in to the restaurant to see if the gang could go for dinner that evening and I met Jason who works the front of the house. He told me that they usually needed a day’s notice for a reservation but could accommodate us if we were okay with a limited menu of only 7 dishes. I wanted to keep the momentum of the idea going, and 7 dishes sounded ample, so I confirmed that we were in.
Before dinner, the gang went to Mezcaloteca for a tasting, which turned into a 2 hour educational session on mezcal where I had an epiphany: the more I learn about mezcal, the less I know.
Feeling jovial after our amazing mezcal tasting, we went into El Destilado in good spirits. We were sat at a large table in what felt like a private room. I noticed that the whole restaurant seemed to be made up of smaller rooms, which made the place feel very “at home cozy”.
Jason was our gracious host for the evening and took us through their extensive mezcal and craft brew selection. I was happy to step away from mezcal towards a beer for dinner and was even happier when I realized I chose a winner.
The food started coming out quickly, with Chef Jose leading the way with service of the first few courses.
My dinner at El Destilado was amazing. In fact, I thought it was so amazing that I wondered if I’d been short-changed myself in saying okay to the abbreviated menu. It wasn’t that I hadn’t had enough to eat, it was more the fact that I knew there was great food coming from the kitchen of some talented chefs and that I’d only scratched the surface of it. So I did something completely unlike me and booked myself in to go back the next day for dinner. I requested the full blown affair and asked to “have my socks knocked off”. The boys accepted my challenge, and I anxiously awaited my return the next day to El Destilado.
El Destilado – Calle 5 de Mayo 409, Oaxaca Centro