While in Oaxaca, some friends and I went to Criollo, another world-famous restaurant founded by Chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol and Cosme and Chef Luis Arellano. Amanda, Rustine, Brian, Morgan, and myself walked from our AirBnB to the outskirts of the city center, where you pass by an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and a Little Ceaser’s in order to get to Criollo. When you first enter the renovated colonial mansion, you’re immediately inside the kitchen and led to the dining area outside: a huge backyard with an open ceiling — you’re literally dining under the stars. While walking past more potted succulents and cacti than I can count, I wondered what happens if it starts raining. I also wondered what happens if it ever gets cold in Oaxaca.
Despite my concerns, the place was beautiful. There are fire pits scattered throughout the dining area, and an entire garden is tucked away even further back. The interior design and overall atmosphere Criollo had a nice, rustic feel — even the garbage cans inside the bathroom were lined with dried corn husks, the kind you’d make tamales out of. I couldn’t decide if this was merely for aesthetics, or somehow cornhusks have a utilitarian use for used toilet paper or paper towels. Still, if I ever lived in a small city like Oaxaca, I’d love to live in a house this size and immediately hire the interior decorator.
The menu was set and changes every night, but the amount of food was impressive. We were first given a glass of wine and some homemade tortilla chips with two different kinds of salsa.
Immediately after, we were then given a local microbrew, a very tasty IPA that even my friend Morgan — who never drinks beer — enjoyed.
After some small talk and halfway through the drinks, we were served a pair of appetizers: ceviche with a spicy mayo base and some tetelas, tortillas stuffed with beans and generously topped with guacamole.
Next, we were served two house cocktails — one mezcal-based with an orangey finish and one gin-based. I guess they apparently paired well with more appetizers: we were served some delicious mushroom soup and a salad lightly sprinkled with goat cheese. The soup — though I failed to take a photo of it — was perhaps my favorite dish.
The server then brought out an entire jug of mezcal and started pouring shooters of it to my friends and me. If Criollo’s goal for its patrons is to get them tipsy, then the five different alcoholic drinks throughout the dinner definitely accomplished that.
We had two main entrees: a braised short rib dish with warm tortillas and some sea bass (pictured above). I’m not a seafood eater by any means (in fact, I avoid seafood), but the sea bass was delicious. It was perhaps my second favorite dish of the night, and I happily scarfed it down. It was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and although the mere taste of seafood isn’t my cup of tea, it was not at all too fishy.
The last course was a tasty dessert: a sweet corn tamale atop a chocolate and dulce de leche sauce, accompanied by a shot of spiced coconut milk. I wasn’t too sure if there was any alcohol in the coconut milk, but since we were all drinking those cocktails throughout the entire service, who the hell could tell?
Overall, the dinner was good — although, personally, I felt that Pujol and Cosme circa 2016 were a little better. For the amount of food and drink that was served, it was a great deal for such refined dining (it helps with the monetary conversion rate between Mexico and the US). If you’re ever in Oaxaca, I’d recommend trying Criollo once — not just for the food, but the overall ambience the restaurant and the city of Oaxaca provides.