A group of tourists watches María Gutiérrez as she gingerly passes raw wool between two wood-handled carders, cleaning and stretching it between the large combs in a back-and-forth motion. The weaver smiles at her audience, flexes her left arm, pats her arched bicep, and laughs while her husband narrates her demonstration in English at their workshop, named after him: Taller Eduardo Gutiérrez Martínez. María, who prefers to speak in her native Zapotec, one of sixteen Indigenous languages of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, has been making colorful rugs and other woolen items for most of her life, in Teotitlán del Valle, about twenty miles east of Oaxaca’s eponymous capital. The village is one of many options for a day trip, via a guided tour, from the metropolis of about 260,000 residents, which bustles with trendy restaurants and must-see cultural institutions. Eat your way through the city, but plan at least one or two excursions while you’re here.
Dine + Drink
Start the day with coffee and conchas in downtown Oaxaca, known as the Centro, at Pan con Madre. Try lunch or dinner at Origen, where we were wowed by the wild-greens salad with seasoned agave worms and a pungent pesto made with hoja santa (Mexican pepperleaf). At Levadura de Olla (pictured above), dishes such as the guava mole with shrimp are inspired by chef Thalia Barrios García’s upbringing in a remote mountain village. Try to snag one of the six seats at Crudo, a Japanese-Oaxacan restaurant from chef Ricardo Arellano. In the Reforma neighborhood, tlayuda toppings include chapulines (grasshoppers) and squash blossoms at Tlayudas Doña Flavia. Or eat and drink like a local at Casa Embajador, a restaurant and mezcal distillery. Back in the Centro, grab a late-night taco filled with juicy suckling pig at El Lechoncito de Oro.
See + Do
The 2.3-acre Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (pictured above) offers a verdant overview of the natural history of the state, considered the most biodiverse in Mexico. The Museo Textil de Oaxaca shows off the area’s artisanal clothing as well as modern exhibits from international artists. At the Museo Belber Jiménez, gawk at the jewelry collection, which includes pre-Columbian pieces. For a guided tour outside the city, options include exploring the state’s culinary scene—especially its moles and mezcals—or visiting the archaeological ruins at Monte Albán and Mitla.
The work of Oaxacan artisans, from rugs to wall hangings, can be found in many villages. Our favorites include Cocijo Artesanía Textil, in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, and Natural Hecho a Mano, in Teotitlán del Valle. In the city you can find higher-end crafts from across the state at Tienda Q and La Casa de las Artesanías de Oaxaca, both in the Centro.
Located just a few minutes’ walk from the Zócalo, the city’s main plaza, the Hotel Oaxaca Real (pictured above) features a courtyard pool and attentive staff. For something a little quieter, La Casa Carlota is a five-room boutique bed-and-breakfast in the hilltop Xochimilco neighborhood.
This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Mezcal, Mole, and More.” Subscribe today.