Dining with Dave… La Capilla, Zaachila, Oaxaca

Oaxaca is known for it’s great food and with good reason. Molé, tlayudas, tasajo, cecina, quesillo and of course the famous chili de agua are all Oaxacan delights that you will come across if you ever find yourself traveling in this region.

One of the best places to experience the breadth of the Oaxacan gastronomic world first hand is at La Capilla, or in English, The Chapel, a rustic restaurant near the entrance of Zaachila, about 30 minutes from the center of Oaxaca City. I had the pleasure of sharing a meal there a while back with some good friends.

Don’t let the simple non-descript sign fool you.  As soon as you enter you’ll realize this is not your typical Mexican restaurant.

Entering under a bougainvillea archway, you are quickly transported away from the hustle and bustle of the city and into a world of private palapas, banquet tables and the biggest open outdoor kitchen you will ever see.

The emphasis here is on outdoor.  You are not entering into a building so much as a series of interconnected patio covers, surrounded by greenery.  Quickly you understand that a meal here, as it is across Mexico, is about community.

The gigantic wood menus

The service at La Capilla is impeccable and truth be told, they got some of the coolest menus in all of Oaxaca.  The food however, is the real star.

We were greeted quickly and started with the quesadillas, in this case fried tortillas stuffed with quesillo and epazote, a local Oaxacan herb. They came with a delicious black bean puree and a choice of salsa verde from tomatillos, or salsa roja, made from chile de arbol.

Alongside our appetizer, we shared a large pitcher of ice cold jamaica, a light sweet fruit punch made from a hibiscus like flower, la flor de jamaica. About as icy as it gets, on this warm day, it was perfect.

Next up was our consume.  I had the chicken while my friends had the lamb. Both were light and wonderful, but just a little bit of salsa and lime added a nice kick.

That was followed by a plate of tender beef or tasajo, chorizo, more quesillo, and one of the best chile rellenos I have ever had. Unlike the typically heavy greasy variety you find in so many Mexican restaurants in the US, this delight, made from a dried pasilla chile, was light, fluffy and not greasy at all.

Tasajo, chorizo, quesillo and a great quesadilla

Of course, every part of our meal was accompanied by all the fresh handmade Oaxacan tortillas we could eat, making for a wonderful afternoon.  Unfortunately, many people will never find this wonderful jewel of a restaurant because it is off the beaten path. Don’t be one of them!

The combo platter from La Capilla

A short bus or taxi ride from Oaxaca City, or one of those little moto-taxis from the center of Zaachila will get you right to the door of one of the best restaurants you’ll ever visit. Just like a visit to Oaxaca is not complete without a trip to the ruins of Monte Alban, the same should be true with La Capilla, it’s that good.

Ask anyone from Oaxaca and they will tell you food is a huge part of their culture. When you are there, don’t just stay in the big city.  Venture out into the smaller cities and pueblos and get to know the area.  Who knows, maybe one day you too will discover a real gem like La Capilla, one of the true temples of Oaxacan food.

La Capilla, Zaachila, Oaxaca – For the total experience, go on Thursday, it’s market day!

Paul Martinez… dishing up the best nieve in Zaachila!

Lunch for 2, about $30.00… Finally, before you leave Zaachila, make sure to stop by Paul’s puesto de nieves [Siboney’s] and get some great Oaxacan Ice Cream, it’s a perfect end to a wonderful meal.

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