Oaxaca is a small city, hemmed in by mountains. The center is compact and walkable, but always changing and unpredictable. You can walk the same block four times and get four different impressions: a protest, a parade, a beggar, a busker. You walk by an unmarked closed door three days in a row and on the fourth day the door is open to a smoke-filled tlayuda cafe or a bougie art gallery.
Like the wardrobe to Narnia, a plain stone wall hides an impossibly large and tranquil succulent garden. Circle a city block over and over again looking for the entrance to a mythical smoke-filled alley famous for grilled meats and just before you give up, it appears. Of course, it must have been there all along. A deceptively simple place contains multitudes.
The memory of Oaxacan food is still very strong. But it’s a smell more than a taste. It’s corn tortillas, but not the ones I knew before. There’s an older lady doing the hard work of pressing each tortilla by hand. And I appreciate her.
You could be daring and try the larvae and cricket tostada at Casa Oaxaca. You could leave it to fate and try the seven-course tasting plates at no-menu Criollo. You could be five years old, and refuse to eat anything but popsicles in the shape of the Nesquick bunny.
These are some options, but there are many more. I couldn’t possible know them all. Because who knows what is behind that door if you’re lucky enough to be walking by when it opens.