Mercado de la Merced and the 20 de Noviembre market, both in downtown Oaxaca, contain the best market restaurants in the city.
Every permanent indoor market in the southern Mexico city of Oaxaca has at least one good sit-down restaurant, eatery or food stall. Each comedor has a local following of not only the market vendors who tend their stalls, but also regular patrons who either shop at the market and seize the opportunity to sit down for a meal during their outing or come by specifically for breakfast or lunch.
Two market restaurants in downtown Oaxaca stand out. Fonda Florecita in the Mercado de la Merced (also known as Mercado Democracia) draws middle class Oaxacans from all over the city. The market boasts other reliable food and drink stands as well. The second market restaurant is actually a series of independently owned stalls, the Carnes Asadas (grilled meats) section of the 20 de Noviembre market near Oaxaca’s zócalo. Its specialty, as the name suggests, is grilled Oaxacan meats, along with wholesome vegetables and fresh or marinated side dishes.
Mercado de la Merced (Calle Murguía & Calzada de la República), East End, Downtown Oaxaca
Mercado de la Merced is arguably the most popular daily marketplace patronized by the middle classes of Oaxaca. While its official market day is Sunday, it is active on a daily basis beginning around 7:30 a.m. when many shop owners open up their stalls. It is also when they, as well as the first shoppers of the day, start sitting down for breakfast at long tables at Fonda Florecita, the main market restaurant. The eatery is located toward one end of the market. A full range of typical Oaxacan foods is available (grilled meats, beans; typically Oaxacan egg and cheese dishes and more). Start with hot chocolate and a bun, and carry on from there.
Complete meals are served throughout the day at Fonda Florecita, as well as at a couple of other smaller eateries, until late afternoon / early evening when market closing time approaches.
In a different part of the market you’ ll find two stands which specialize in fresh fruit and vegetable juices, made to order on the spot. For example, you can ask for a jugo verde (green juice), and specify that it be sweetened with orange, pineapple or perhaps carrot juice. If you have a particular ailment or discomfort that day, ask an employee for a recommendation; perhaps extra alfalfa or nopal cactus. They’re the experts.
Tamale stands are close to the fresh juice stalls. If you’re too full, be sure to take a couple back to your hotel or bed and breakfast, and ask management to heat them up in the microwave later on for a snack. The tamales are plump, well filled, with several varieties available. La Merced and the market in the town of Etla are equally renowned for their broad selection of tamales, putting to shame even the ” tamale ladies” on downtown Oaxaca’s streets.
Carnes Asadas Inside the 20 de Noviembre Market, Southwest of Oaxaca’s Zócalo
The breakfast action at the Carnes Asadas section of the 20 de Noviembre market begins around 9 a.m. It gradually dissipates some time after 10 a.m., until Oaxacan-style comida hour once again picks up the business. Thereafter lighter service continues until close to dusk. Consider attending during peak hours, say around 10 a.m. any day. But Saturdays are particularly interesting for the level of activity.
Carnes Asadas is a dedicated area, indoors on the east side of the 20 de Noviembre market. Stalls line both sides of an extremely wide aisle. There is furious activity trying to get customers to buy from one meat stall versus the other. But when all is said and done, it’s well organized. You buy your meats from one vendor; an assistant takes it for grilling; side vegetables such as onions and peppers are then offered for grilling as well; and finally someone else comes by your table with suggestions for further accompaniments such as guacamole, marinated chiles, and of course tortillas.
The experience at Carnes Asadas is unmatched elsewhere in the city. It’s the only section of any Mexican market I’ve known which has closed-circuit televisions in an effort to prevent vendors from vying for your pesos a little too actively against the competition. But don’t let this deter you from sampling some of the best grilled meats in town.
Note the sign out in front of the Carnes Asadas market area prohibiting the taking of photographs. But if you ask your meat vendor once you’ve ordered, she should permit photos of her particular stall and the grilling.
Fonda Florecita in Mercado de la Merced, and Carnes Asadas in the 20 de Noviembre market are tried and true Oaxacan eateries, safe on the gastrointestinal system. They provide visitors to Oaxaca with an opportunity to eat typical, tasty Oaxacan fare in traditional market environments. Each is quite different from the other, so consider trying both. They’ve contributed to Oaxaca’s reputation as the gastronomic capital of Mexico.