With only 4 days in Oaxaca on my past trip, it was my intention to have slow and easy days hanging out in places that make me happy. So when Omar (aka @oaxacking) mentioned that he was taking his friends from LA on tour for the day, and that of course I’d be joining them, I was overcome with mixed emotions. While I didn’t want to be at the whim of others, I knew if I let myself go with the flow that we’d be visiting some of my favourites. In the end it was the promise of breakfast at Alfonsia that swayed me into the day. And of course I was rewarded with amazing, because that’s always what I receive when I allow myself to be at the whim of a day Oaxacking around.
A day with Omar starts with an early pick-up, which is fine with me because I’m an early riser. To start my day off right, I needed to make one stop first.
Coffee in hand, I hopped into Omar’s car, and we picked up his friends from LA. We were a carload of passengers filled with great energy, but I, above all couldn’t contain my enthusiasm about our first stop.
Alfonsia has been making a world-wide buzz lately, which is a great feat for a restaurant without a website/Instagram, in an area of Oaxaca most wouldn’t venture to. I first started hearing a buzz about Alfonsia just after I left Oaxaca last December, and in the past 8 months this restaurant run our of Jorge León’s family home has quickly been discovered and even named Restaurant of the Year by New Worlder and one of the World’s Best by Food & Wine.
Jorge León began as a dishwasher at Casa Oaxaca, worked his way into the kitchen and ended up being the “mole guy” at Pujol for many years. But he had the inevitable pull back to Oaxaca to create something for himself.
What you realize, upon entering León’s family home (aka Alfonsia) is that while Jorge may have the resume to pique the international attention Alfonsia is receiving, this is definitely a family affair.
Being with Omar has it’s privileges as we were able to wander in and out of the kitchen to catch Jorge’s parents, busily tending to simmering pots of deliciousness. I was told the consome de barbacoa bubbling over the stove were the remnants from what they prepared for Criollo’s 2nd anniversary party the day before.
I was entranced by the experience. While the food seemed so simple, it carried with it generations of thoughtfulness.
With our stomachs full from our soul-soothing breakfast, we made our way to our next destination, the Taller Jacobo y Maria Ángeles (workshop) in San Martin Tilcajete to check out the incredible woodcarved alebrijes. I’ve done the tour many times, so I sat in their courtyard enjoying the sun on my face while gazing out at some fabulous pieces surrounding me.
Omar mentioned that when he’s touring with kids, painting alebrijes is one of the things he now does at the stop. I was skeptical, but happy that he pushed at me to participate as I found my mind relaxing as I got lost in the simple detail work.
Our next stop was to the Ocotlán market for lunch.
La Cocina de Frida in the Ocotlan is one of my favourite places for traditional Oaxacan food. It’s always my goal not to overeat the delicious fresh cheese that hits the table first to save room for the rich flavourful estofado that is served simply with rice and sopped up nicely with a tightly rolled tortilla.
Even though I knew it was coming, I was giddy when Omar mentioned our next stop was Lalocura palenque. What I didn’t expect, but was delighted to experience was this extended visit.
It was a lovely afternoon and so we went for a walk in Lalo’s fields to pick corn that we’d place into the ovens that were fuelling the distilling mezcal.
Just as we were finishing our snack of freshly picked corn, one of the trucks came back from the fields filled with freshly harvested espadín. As we made our way over to investigate, Lalo also appeared to direct the unloading of the piñas.
After the truck was unloaded, we were invited up to have dinner with the staff. The food was simple but honestly delicious and made to sustain a hungry working crew. What I love about eating at Lalocura is knowing that much of what’s being served is sourced from Lalo’s fields and farm.
A meal shared around the table gives us a sense of community as those who we eat together are connected together. Sitting beside Lalo, in the company of old friends and new, sharing food, mezcal and stories I was overcome with happiness and thankful that I was invited and made the decision to join in on the day.
Of course no visit to Lalocura is complete without a tasting, so we made our way over to Lalo’s home to discover new treasures from his massive selection.
I’ve done numerous mezcal tastings led by Lalo and each time I have understand I’m experiencing something very special. I love that tasting with Lalo is a full sensory experience. You start by visually witnessing the perlas (bubbles) from mezcal being poured from a funnel into a large gourd. Next mezcal is poured into your hands where you feel its texture and then place your hands to your nose to take in the characteristics of each mezcal. Its only after all these steps that you sip to taste the mezcal.
We made our way through tasting 8 mezcals and I was happy to leave with a few new additions to my collection at home.
It was late when we arrived back in the city but we were peckish and when Omar mentioned a stop at Lechoncito de Oro for a snack, of course I jumped at the opportunity to have one of my favourite bites in Oaxaca.
As I munched away at my chicharron tostada I felt grateful to have experienced such a marvelous day. Stop after stop, I was reminded of the importance of family, community and the connection to the land that surrounds you. Oaxaca is not only rich in culture, but also the goodness of the people who are willing to share and pass on knowledge. Above all, I was thankful to have a friend like Omar who’s so generous in sharing his Oaxaca with me.