The majority of the people who travel to Mexico go for the beaches. Little wonder when the beaches are as pristine as Huatulco’s Playa Chahué—complete with the Playa Limpia certification for cleanliness. Still, a man’s gotta eat. Not content with a diet of all-inclusive resort dining, Chef Rick Bayless takes us off the beaten path to find great food and even better beaches. You’ll be well-advised to follow his lead and start the day at one the local’s favorite restaurants, Sabor de Oaxaca, in La Crucecita. There, Rick enjoys Salsa de Huevo (omelets in salsa) before a quick trip to Puerto Escondido for an amazing lunch of wood-fired grilled fish on the Playa Principal.
Rick paddle-boards on Playa Carrizalillo, another stunning beach in Puerto Escondido, to work up his appetite for Encamaronadas (crispy, cheesy shrimp tacos). Back in Huatulco Rick enjoys an uber-fresh seafood cocktail at Grillo Marinero before stopping for a nightcap at the Quinta Real Hotel to take in the beauty of it all.
So many moles, so little time. That’s how most visitors to Oaxaca feel when perusing the choices from mole pastes in the markets to fine examples served up at restaurants and street vendors all over the state.
Let’s start with two moles, advises Rick, who takes us to Seasons of My Heart Cooking School on the outskirts of Oaxaca City to explore Black Mole and Green Mole with school owner Susana Trilling and her students. We perfectly char the chilies, set the seeds aflame and roast the tomatoes for Susana’s black mole sweetened with roasted plantain and a little Oaxacan chocolate. On the simpler side, there’s green mole—redolent with fresh herbs, roasted tomatillos and jalapeno.
At home, Rick makes his Coloradito Mole before we indulge in yellow mole and grilled fish at Topolobampo.
Ever dream of renting a space with a kitchen in Mexico just so you can cook all the fresh fish you can eat?
Rick lives the dream at Hotel Villas Carrizalillo in Puerto Escondido.
First, he peruses the town market for inspiration and ingredients from heirloom tomatoes to the local tuxtla chiles. Then he joins a resident expert to take him spearfishing off Roca Blanca Playa, one of the prettiest beaches in Mexico, for the freshest possible catch for his feast. And what a feast it is!
Rick takes one robalo and turns it into an aguachile (a spicy ceviche appetizer), a brothy soup with chayote and beer, and pan-seared robalo with a tomatillo –pumpkinseed sauce. All from a small kitchen at the villas, a sharp knife, a couple of large pans and blender!
Oaxaca has long been known for its seven moles, unparalleled home-cooking and remarkable market fare. Lately, its restaurant reputation has skyrocketed, too. Deservedly so.
Rick visits four of the top chef contenders in Oaxaca City, tours their restaurants, cooks in their kitchens and discusses the lively burgeoning scene.
For starters, Chef Miguel Jimenez cooks up a batch of red chile beef and fruit stew from the Isthmus to serve inside his crispy plantain mogo mogos. Next, Chef Jose Manuel Banos creates a taco from jelled carrot filled with a chintestle and shrimp ceviche. Chef Alejandro Ruiz and his brother Jesus show Rick their dream come true: An organic farm supplying their restaurants and their employees. Their beautiful produce inspires many of their house specialties. Rick and Alejandro make a fresh salsa with the garden cilantro to go with a red chile-burnished octopus barbacoa. Last but not least, Chef Rudolfo Castellanan makes a simple mole de caderas to accompany suckling goat.
All this world class cooking inspires Rick to make a signature dessert at his award-winning Chicago restaurant Topolobampo.
In Mexico, it is just as common to start your day with a cup of steaming hot chocolate as it is with coffee.
Little wonder, when the chocolate is made from freshly roasted cacao beans and seasoned with cinnamon and a touch of sugar.
Rick takes us to world-renowned Mayordomo near the main market in Oaxaca and to Seasons of My Heart Cooking School to see the process from two perspectives. For the best cup of coffee ever, Rick takes a day trip to Finca Las Nieves Coffee Plantation where the owners are passionate in their pursuit.
Set in almost a thousand acres of the Oaxacan cloud forest, we see organic altura coffee from the bean to the cup. In Chicago, Rick creates a Oaxacan-style tres leches cake with coffee and chocolate. Now we’re wide awake.