If you are on vacation in Oaxaca City, the market is where your day should begin. If you’re on the city’s eastern side, there’s La Merced, and inside, Fonda Rosita. Order the chilaquiles verdes. They come sizzling in a clay pot, with two fried eggs, onions, and crema — that Oaxacan version of sour cream that is more cream than sour — on top. Order Rojos, made with chile guajillo, but you really have to experience the Verdes, since the tanginess of the tomatillo salsa is the ideal complement to the salty, crunchy fried tortillas. The egg yolk runs over the whole bubbling extravaganza and… yeah. Ideal for post-mezcal haze.
If you’re on the city’s western side, there’s Sánchez Pascuas. The first stop should be Super Jugos Angelita, run by the eponymous Angelita and her family. You can order just about any juice conceivable, from bare-bones fresh-squeezed orange to guava-carrot-grapefruit-watermelon-kiwi-beet. There are also milk-based drinks, like a Mangoneada: milk blended with fresh mango and banana. If you come here around Christmas, pick up a bottle of homemade eggnog — Rompope — tied with a ribbon. (Alternatively, get your eggnog, and your homemade pickled jalapeños, from the nuns who sell it on Sundays in front of Santo Domingo.)
Directly in front of Jugos Angelita are a memela stand and a tamales stand, each one of the best in the city. A memela is one of Oaxaca’s most basic and essential elements: a hand-rolled and pressed tortilla, grilled on the comal and topped with bean paste, queso fresco, and your choice of savory topping. If you’re a purist, go for the simplest memela — sencillo — with just the asiento (lard), beans, queso fresco, and a dabbling of salsas. If you’re like me and need more layered heat and flavor, try papas con chorizo, or tinga (chicken in spicy tomato sauce), or mushroom.
When you’re done with memelas, inhale, reset, and turn to the tamales. Mole is the boldest choice here: It comes folded in wet banana leaves and is succulent and sweet and savory and steaming.
Subtler choices include frijol, a thick black bean paste; verde, chicken in green salsa; and rajas, pickled chiles in red salsa. The latter is a lovely blend of dense, grainy, sweet masa with a spicy kick — and not quite as heavy as the others.