Most people don’t know that LA’s collection of Oaxacan restaurants is the second largest on the planet — second only to Oaxaca itself. Famous chefs from around the world have been running to Oaxaca for years to unlock the secrets of its moles, ancient pre-Hispanic techniques, and ingredients. Little do they know, they could get many of Oaxaca’s famous dishes right here in Los Angeles.
This city even has its own mole festival, called La Feria de los Moles; its own Guelaguetza Festival (festival with pre-Hispanic roots held every July in Oaxaca where each region presents its songs, dances, and offers gifts), which has been going strong for 30 years; and a full-on public celebration of the pre-Hispanic beverage that’s been featured on every single travel show about Oaxaca: tejate.
Essential Oaxacan Dishes and History
- A Brief History of Oaxacan Restaurants in Los Angeles
- Mole: The Most Iconic Dish of Oaxaca
- Master in the Kitchen: Maria Ramos of Gish Bac
- Tejate: The Most Magical Drink in Oaxaca
- Tlayudas: A Crispy Tortilla Canvas for Oaxaca’s Palate
- A Glossary of Oaxacan Food and Ingredients
- The Best Oaxacan Restaurants in Los Angeles — Mapped
Popular Oaxacan restaurants in LA and what to order at them
Antequera de Oaxaca
A few years ago, this Melrose Avenue storefront was painted an impossible-to-ignore color combination, a maximalist design signaling that the Oaxacan cuisine here was as lively as ever. The restaurant’s menu is similar to most of those at other Oaxacan spots in LA, but special attention is given to flavorful guisados, stews like salsa de chicharron (pork rinds in salsa), salsa de huevo (eggs in salsa), and salsa de queso (cheese in salsa), all punctuated by notes of epazote, a bold and savory Mexican herb. The antojitos — memelas, tlayudas, and empanadas — are tasty, and its dishes bring in a mainstream crowd that doesn't mind having traditional mole or even a burrito covered in mole.
5200 Melrose Ave, Larchmont, 323-466-1101
Chef Rogelio Martinez holds a unique place in LA’s Oaxacan food scene. He opened the Culver City branch of his successful Orange County restaurant over four years ago, serving up traditional Oaxacan food with a touch of ’90s Mexican haute cuisine. Martinez is from the Valles Centrales in San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, the region creating Oaxaca’s most famous dishes, including complex moles. Bring friends and order La Tentación (The Temptation) or the Plato Mistico (mystic plate), both with tantalizing spreads of Oaxacan snacks and antojitos (small plates, literally translated as “little whims”). The hibiscus flower fried tacos and the fish cooked in banana leaves offer a rare Mexican fine dining experience in LA. For dessert, be sure to get the tableside bananas flambe with orange peel and mezcal.
9609 Venice Blvd, Culver City, Palms, 310-838-3000
El Sazon Oaxaqueño
Open since 1998, El Sazon Oaxaqueño also hails from Santiago Matatlán, a city of fine cooks. The restaurant serves a mix of traditional Oaxacan fare, popular Mexican dishes, and Cal-Oaxacan cuisine. The mole amarillo (yellow mole) with beef is full of fragrant spice, and the chiles rellenos with sweet and savory picadillo (ground meat and fruit) show a mastery of Oaxaca’s fiery green pepper. Breakfast burritos made with Oaxacan chorizo are powerfully spiced, and a testament to Oaxaca’s influence on LA food culture.
12131 Washington Pl, Mar Vista, 310-391-4721
The most successful Oaxacan restaurateurs in the U.S., Zeferino Lopez, represents San Francisco Yatee in the Sierra Norte. Lopez runs six restaurants and markets including Oaxaca Town Café, La Mayordomia, and his flagship restaurant, which features a St. Bernard-sized metal grasshopper out in front. Its original taco de la abuela is a Oaxacalifornia classic consisting of tasajo, cecina or chorizo, and other fixings rolled into a tortilla blanda, cut in half. Here, regional bites like enmoladas, rolled tortillas covered in mole, ring true with their exclusively Oaxacan customers, as do fajitas made with tasajo, a sizzling Friday night celebration of Oaxacans in LA on a plate.
3301 W Pico Blvd, Arlington Heights, 323-766-0575, oaxacausa.com
Maria Ramos, a third-generation barbacoa master with strong roots in the world-famous Tlacolula market, is one of the most important traditional Mexican cooks in Los Angeles. On weekends, Ramos prepares barbacoa enchilada, or Oaxacan goat barbecue, chock full of spices and oils from the roasted goat, to eat with hand-pressed tortillas blandas. The house-made tasajo, cecina, and chorizo are best here, so this is your spot for tlayudas and spicy plates of chilaquiles with a side of one of its tender meats. The atoles, enfrijoladas, and moles are on par with Ramos’s best dishes.
4163 W Washington Blvd, Arlington Heights, 323-737-5050, gishbac.com
The standard bearer of Oaxacan cuisine in America, owned by siblings Bricia, Fernando Jr., Paulina, and Elizabeth Lopez, Guelaguetza is a James Beard American Classic award-winning destination for mezcal, mole, and grasshoppers. The key to its success and longevity has been its uncompromising presentation of traditional Oaxacan cuisine augmented by an active marketing game. It’s the only authentic Oaxacan restaurant in the U.S. modeled after the greats in Oaxaca City like La Teca, La Biznaga, and Los Danzantes. At these spots, customers wash down tasty moles with world-class mezcales. There’s also especially fragrant estofado, a mole accented with green olives and hints of fresh herbs — tlayudas, and memelas topped with a smear of asiento (unrefined lard) and silky, refried black beans.
3014 W Olympic Blvd, Harvard Heights, 213-427-0608, ilovemole.com
Norma Garcia and Florentino Hernández opened their West LA restaurant on a sleepy stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard that remains unchanged by the restaurant trends of the last decade. It’s rich in Oaxacan eateries and food trucks. As at many Oaxacan restaurants, there’s Oaxacalifornia fare — burritos, numerous dishes served with beans and rice, and parrilladas that have seafood and chicken — and the moles are impressive, too. Cooks from Santiago Matatlán are known for their cooking skills and those complex moles with dozens of ingredients that have chefs from around the world hopping on planes to learn their pre-Hispanic techniques.
11619 Santa Monica Blvd, Sawtelle, 310-312-1079, juquilarestaurantlosangeles.com
This is the best of Zeferino Garcia’s markets, located in Downtown LA, where you can shop for tlayudas, Oaxacan herbs and chiles, grasshoppers, Oaxacan cheese, cured meats, and tortillas blandas, and have your toasted mole ingredients or chocolate recipe machine ground on the premises.
5892 S Broadway Ave, Florence, 323-232-1541, lamayordomia.com
El Valle Oaxaqueño
There are many small Oaxacan minimarkets in LA, but only four midsize markets: There’s La Mayordomia (above) and three outposts of the El Valle Oaxaqueño chainlet: a supermarket, restaurant, and bakery overflowing with Oaxacan pan dulce. During the holidays there are stacks of boxes of rosca de reyes (king’s bread). Toward the end of October, Day of the Dead bread is the hot-ticket item, while some customers just come here for the Oaxacan food.
1601 S Vermont Ave #106, Los Angeles, 323-734-0042
La Morenita Oaxaqueña
In the sub-enclave of Koreatown’s Little Bangladesh lies the historic center of Oaxacan cuisine, where this spot from Mexico’s Valles Centrales opened within a Third Street strip mall, joining a second wave of traditional Oaxacan restaurants. The mole coloradito shines, with Old World spice and mildly sweet New World chiles (whether as a plate or as enchiladas), as does the estofado.
3550 W 3rd St, Wilshire Center, Koreatown, 213-365-9201
La Oaxaqueña Market
With locations in Pico-Union, Westlake, and Hollywood, our largest Oaxacan carnicería (butcher shop) and market chain is a one-stop shop for your Oaxacan cooking needs. Grab tasajo, cecina, and chorizo. The essential herbs, produce like chilacayota and chile de agua, imported tlayudas, pickled vegetables, Oaxacan cheese, and some prepared foods give the Oaxacan community the means to carry on their traditions in Oaxacalifornia.
5505 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, 213-422-2150, laoaxaquenamarket.com
Las 7 Regiones
Hailing from San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, this family-owned restaurant opened in 1996 and is named for the seven regions of Oaxaca. It’s ironic, considering an eighth region was named in 2010. As part of the first wave of Oaxacan restaurant in LA, this Pico-Union institution is one of the best overall Oaxacan restaurants for its well-executed moles, sweet and savory chile relleno, emapandas filled with mole amarillo, and its parrillada oaxaqueña, an assorted grill of meats and sides served on a tabletop brazier that’s a less smoky Oaxacalifornia tribute to the carnes asadas vendors in the historic Tlacolula market.
2648 W Pico Blvd, Pico-Union, 213-410-5720, las7regionesdeoaxaca.net
On the corner of Venice and La Brea, a legend was born in 2010, at a time when the taquero was becoming a respected artisan in Los Angeles and real al pastor entered our consciousness. The difference has been the steady flow of Mexico City-trained taqueros, many of whom have worked the vertical spits in CDMX’s most respected taquerías, but all of them — including the owners of this quartet of black and orange trucks — are Oaxacans. Start with four tacos de al pastor, deftly carved from the well-manicured spinning top of fire-roasted and marinated pork, or go big and get the alambre hawaiana, a hash of al pastor, pineapple, Oaxaca cheese, ham, peppers, onions, and bacon served with a stack of corn tortillas for making your own tacos.
1515 S La Brea Ave, Mid-City, 323-346-2001, leostacostruck.com
Tucked into a West LA strip mall, no other Oaxacan restaurant, after Guelaguetza, can claim to have made such an impression on the hearts, minds, and bellies of Angelenos. That might mean mole coloradito poured onto a square dinner plate with a side of white rice set in a Zapotec pyramid mold, a party platter of assorted Oaxacan antojitos, or bubbling molcajetes chock full of Oaxacan meats, quesillo, and vegetables paired with Salmon Creek Cellars, an “on-sale” wine from the people who brought us 2 Buck Chuck. To those who’d be so foolish as to question the Mexican food scene west of the 405, the response is always a sarcastic shrug and just two words: Monte Alban.
11929 Santa Monica Blvd, Sawtelle, 310-444-7736, montealbanrestaurante.com
Oaxacalifornia Juice Bar
Opened in 2003 in Mercado La Paloma, this juice, torta (Mexican sandwich), ice cream, and antojito stand is connected to a family-run stand in Mercado de Tlacolula that specializes in piedrazos (“little stones” or hard bread covered in pickled fruits or vegetables). When the proprietors can get their hands on the special bread, you can order piedrazos just a stone’s throw away from DTLA, as well as Oaxacan ice cream. Green juice was a thing here years before it was a trend in the U.S.
3655 S Grand Ave, Historic South Central, 213-747-8622, oaxacali.com
Oaxacan Quesadilla Cart
Long before people were complaining about hipsters, hipsters were making the rounds to Ricky’s Fish Tacos, Mexicali Taco & Co., Taco Zone, and the Quesadilla Lady behind this cart. A street vendor in Echo Park, she makes blue corn quesadillas filled with traditional guisados. Go with the mushrooms, huitlacoche (corn truffle), or squash blossoms, and dress them up in the appetizing selection of colorful salsas and condiments for a pre-Hispanic snack at one of our OG street vendors.
1246 Echo Park Ave, Echo Park
Oaxaca on Wheels
Restaurateurs like Joel Cruz are the future of Oaxacalifornia, where traditional dishes like memelas, tlayudas, and tortas oaxaqueñas feel right at home next to Oaxacan chorizo fries and fajitas. You’ll see this truck at Rams games, food events, and out catering private parties, introducing Oaxacan cuisine to a broader audience. Cruz and his family come from San Pablo Huixtepec in the Valles Centrales region — they started doing some more provincial dishes when they were regularly parked on Santa Monica Boulevard in West LA, serving an ostensibly Oaxacan clientele, but have since changed things up to become one of the hottest and most visible Oaxacan food trucks in town. (323) 805-3028
Panaderia Santo Domingo
Latino bakeries in LA tend to cater to a general Mexican consumer, along with Central Americans, but several bakeries are Oaxacan owned and bake regional pan dulce and other breads to meet the needs of LA’s Oaxacan community. You can get Oaxacan food here as well, but start with a pan de yema with hot chocolate and then look around for other regional pan dulce, like mamones, conitos, polvorones, empanadas de piña y coco, borrachitos, panqués, and casquitos.
3418 W 8th St, Koreatown, 213-427-9793
Tlayudas are the most difficult corn tortillas to make: so difficult to master that they are only produced by battle-scarred tortilla makers in Oaxaca. The tortillas are pressed to the size and thickness of a mini-bass drum head with a coarse, wrinkly texture and a stiffness that eases enough for the tlayuda to double over when cooked on a comal or grill. All of our tlayudas in LA are imported from Oaxaca, and are less pliant than the fresh-made versions, but Alfonso “Poncho” Martínez de Santo Domingo Albarradas’s “viernes de tlayuda,” or tlayuda Friday, is ushering in new era of Oaxacan street food with artisanal blue corn and yellow corn tlayudas as good as you’ll find in Oaxaca City.
His smoky tortillas are smeared with asiento and black beans, Oaxacan cheese, and your choice of tasajo, chorizo, and an unconventional but delicious artisanal blood sausage. Then, dress with salsa, shredded lettuce, and other vegetables. It’s as if Pitao Cozobi (the Zapotec god of maize) has deemed Oaxacalifornia worthy of this blessing, of real tlayudas grilled over mesquite, just like in Poncho’s hometown of Tlacolula. You’ll find it impossible to imagine getting tlayudas anywhere else in LA once you’ve had a taste of Poncho’s.
4318 S Main St, Historic South Central, Los Angeles
With two locations in Hollywood, Gabriel Cruz, who opened his first restaurant on Western Avenue in 2003, has established himself as one of the major players in Oaxacalifornia, participating in and organizing events in the Oaxacan community. Cruz is the only one in LA doing caldo de piedra, or stone soup. The dish comes from the Chinantec people of San Felipe Usia in the Papaloapan region, a culture that resisted the Spanish conquest, preserving their language, traditions, and this delicacy. The soup consists of shrimp, fish, onions, chiles, tomatoes, cilantro, epazote, and water loaded into a jícara (gourd) and rapidly boiled by a hot river stone that’s dropped into the soup.
1544 N Western Ave, East Hollywood, 323-957-2293
Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen
La Diosa de Los Moles, or goddess of moles, chef Rocio Camacho is an institution in LA, known for her Oaxacan, national Mexican, and other creative takes on Mexico’s popular pre-Hispanic celebration dish that’s ubiquitous at Oaxaca weddings, birthday parties and holidays. Her first owner-operated restaurant is her best yet. There are treats from her hometown of Huajuapan de León in the Mixteca region, such as chileajo, a guisado made with a blend of toasted chiles, garlic, and spices, and her mom’s flawless mole negro, sublime in its texture and its many distinguishable ingredients — a feat to accomplish. From her chiles rellenos served in a traditional tomato soup to chilate, a chicken soup flush with chile amarillo and hoja santa, to enfrijoladas, a bean puree poured over day-old corn tortillas, the dishes are cooked with love and a veteran chef’s touch.
7891 Garfield Ave, Bell Gardens, 562-659-7800, ladiosadelosmoles.com
As sad as it was to see the original Guelaguetza close (it was briefly Pal Cabron), brothers Valentin and German Granja are keeping this space in the community with excellent Oaxacan tamales and sweet aguas frescas. There are three menu items featuring grasshoppers, delicious molotes, and an array of molcajetes and braziers filled with various overflowing meats, seafood, melted cheese, grilled vegetables, guacamole with cactus, and salsa. The spirit of 1994 is alive and well on 8th Street near Irolo St, at the epicenter and genesis of Oaxacalifornia.
3337 1/2 W 8th St, Koreatown, 213) 427-3508
Tacos La Tehuanita
Only a month and a half old, Guadalupe Martinez’s food truck sets itself apart in a city that’s become one giant all-star taquiza with flavors and inspiration from the Istmo de Tehuantepec region. Its jet-black mole negro taco has a slightly different profile than the ones from Valles Centrales, and the black beans served here have a light smokiness from toasted avocado leaves, but the rest of the menu is inspired. Its tacos de guisado, or stew tacos, include tongue in salsa verde, a chile relleno taco, a northern Mexican beef and potato, plus vegan tacos of butternut squash, eggplant, and seitan in mole negro. Another case in point for the variety of cooking styles in the culinary vernacular of Oaxacalifornia.
5104 York Blvd, Highland Park, 323-243-7715
One of Leo’s main competitors (along with the Chilango-owned Los Güichos) is another Oaxacan, Rolando Martinez, who also brings in veteran taqueros from Oaxaca to tend to his al pastor spit. Tacos de al pastor and alambres (a hash of al pastor, vegetables, cheese, and other ingredients) are the best items, and the gringas, or folded flour tortillas filled with al pastor and melted cheese, are one the best anti-hangover calorie bombs you can get anywhere near Mid-Wilshire.
2402 W Pico Blvd, Mid-City
Tacos y Mezcal
The newest restaurant by chef Rocio Camacho is part of the new Oaxacalifornia cuisine, a tacos de cazuela concept, which is the regional name for tacos de guisado. The menu has chileajo and an alambre, both traditional Oaxaca stews; a chile relleno taco influenced by Pueblan cuisine; and a delicious nopal with chapulín (grasshopper) served in a cazuela (here, it’s a cast-iron pan) among its extensive menu of tacos. There’s a nice selection of mezcal, good cocktails, and a street corn dish with a chipotle mayo dressing that’s the best restaurant version of the wildly popular Mexican snack.
6626 S Atlantic Blvd, Bell, 323-537-2789, tacosandmezcal.com
Tlacolula Panadería Y Carnicería
The red chilaquiles with tender house-made cecina or tasajo are especially delicious at this small butcher shop, bakery, and restaurant — it goes without saying that if Oaxacans open a mini-market, bakery, or butcher shop, they are going to serve food. You can pick up top-quality cecina, tasajo, chorizo and other meats, baked goods, and solid Oaxacan fare, including excellent tlayudas, at this Mid-City strip mall spot.
5167 Venice Blvd, Mid-City, 323-692-7494
Oaxacan cuisine is becoming an everyday cuisine in LA, reaching further into the mainstream with eateries like this tlayuda concept in Hollywood, where brewchata (iced coffee with horchata), chips with mole negro, breakfast burritos, and vegetarian tlayudas (lard-free) are shaping the future of Oaxacalifornia. Across the nation, white American chefs are running to Oaxaca to learn about the cuisine, then placing “Oaxaca-inspired” menu items on their menu or opening Oaxaca-style mezcal bars. Here in LA, owner Laura Guerrero found her Oaxacan cooks right around the corner — it’s local cuisine.
5450 Santa Monica Blvd, East Hollywood, 213-261-4667, tlayudala.com
There isn’t a restaurant in the U.S. worth a damn that doesn’t employ Latinos, and of these great cooks and chefs, Oaxacans are near the top choice for their highly developed cooking technique and strong work ethic, “When we got our Michelin Star [at Joe’s Restaurant] I had an all Oaxaca brigade — they are simply the best,” said chef Josh Gil, when recalling his time as chef de cuisine at the famed Venice restaurant.
Ignacio and Felipe Santiago, who both speak Spanish as a second language (they grew up speaking Zapotec in their hometown of San Felipe Guila in the Tlacolula district), made their way as cooks in the U.S. in a variety of styles of cooking, but it was Lebanese cuisine that intrigued them the most. Their first restaurant is a culinary mash-up, where cool mezze meets hot salsa, the tabbouleh has cactus and jalapenos, and chicken shawarma tacos — and Mexiterranean wraps — are given their due respect as burritos.
923 Forest Ave, Boyle Heights, 323-526-8844, xtiosu-kitchen.business.site
Editor: Matthew Kang
Copy Editor: Emma Alpern
Special Thanks to Carolyn Alburger, Adam Moussa, and Brittany Holloway-Brown