Sunday, March 24, 2024

Our Favorite Oaxaca Restaurant: Levadura de Olla

Our favorite restaurant in Oaxaca is Levadura de Olla, a simple colonial courtyard in the middle of Centro. It was our sixth attempt to score a fabulous meal at a high end restaurant. How’d we luck out? We took an afternoon to study menus online to find some that we’re really different. This restaurant wasn’t here the last time I came to Oaxaca. Levandura de Olla opened in 2019 and Cocina de Humo, Chef Thalia Barrios Garcia’s other restaurant, launched in 2021. We find it pretty incredible that the chef created this culinary windfall during Covid; a testament to her self-discipline and determination to succeed. What do we love about Chef Thalía Barrios Garcia cooking? Well for one thing, her food is out of the ordinary; many of her dishes are what she calls the lost ancestral dishes of Oaxaca. These are NOT the same moles, tlayudas, tamales and memelas we ate 8 years ago when we were here. Her knowledge of both agriculture and ingredients continues to foster her. Her restaurants are an artistic expression that offers a most genuine narrative on Oaxacan food you can get. She speaks her own language when it comes to many of the dishes that make up her menu. This tomato salad, one of her signature dishes, was so fresh, the native heirlooms nearly jumped off the plate, much like Chef Arturo Sandoval’s tomato dish at Atrio only hers were defined by a base of beetroot puree and the cinnamon vinaigrette that dressed the wild herb Quelites on top.
After seriously over dosing on the most delicious heirlooms on the planet, I ordered something I thought that would be lighter: the Chicken giblet masita (tamale) with jalapeño chile peppers, avocado and a very salty chicken broth. The Chicken was a gallina criolla; a wild chicken and the kind that is grown in the countryside, consuming only natural foods. They’re often called creole chickens and as soup, the extra salty broth adds to the flavor of the dish.I loved the dish and would order it again. I really laughed at the fact that a week ago, no one could ever convince me to even eat a tamale, much less one that was made with the giblets of a chicken. The dish was divinely different and unique to the chef’s home town of San Mateo Yucutindoo, a small village in Oaxaca's southern mountains which is one of the more off-the-beaten path destinations, culinarily speaking. In fact, everything on the menu was, in some way, a tribute to San Mateo.
I played it safe and washed it all down with a delicious Pineapple and mango water; two of my favorite Mexican flavors. The restaurant’s offering of traditional ancestral beverages was astonishing; among them Agua de Maiz, Tapacha, Pozontle and Pulque and drinks such as ticunchi, made with papalometl agave and a plant called trebol, also native to the southern mountains of Oaxaca. The dessert, a Buñuelo, was thin and super light, covered in creams and dressed with fruits that were sweet but not too sweet.
Meet our waiter, Jared, who was not only smart and charming but knew the answers to every question I asked; and, as always, I asked a million of them and after I left, I thought of a dozen more. Having a waiter of this caliber was certainly a golden moment in my dining experience. The chef, Thalía Barrios Garcia, has been serving food for two decades: selling chocolates at age 6, her grandmother’s tamales from 7 to 11, and then started a birthday cake business, Naranja Dulce, at age 12 that is still going strong. While attending culinary school, she opened a taco and tlayuda stand in San Pablo Huixtepec, sold homemade ice cream, and continued to operate Naranja Dulce. She interned at Corazón de Tierra, Ensenada, before opening Levadura de Olla in 2019 and Cocina de Humo in 2021. Food and Wine Mexico named her a Best New Chef in 2021. After this meal, we’re searching for another experience like this one and we’re pretty sure we’ll have to go to Chef Thalía Barrios Garcia’s other restaurant, Cocina de Humo, to get it. In the heart of the Oaxacan food scene, Chef Thalía Barrios Garcia is a scene stealer. She’s the mastermind behind the one-of-a-kind menu that totally stole the show today. Levadura de Olla C. De Manuel Garcia Virgil 304, Ruta Independencia Centro, Oaxaca Tuesday - Thursday 1:00 PM - 9:00 PM Friday and Saturday open until 10:00 PM Sunday and Monday closed Phone: 951 269 9068