Mezcal Bar Boozing in Oaxaca With Chef TJ Steele
In the city of Oaxaca in souther Mexico, one just doesn’t know where to begin with the region’s endless mezcal and mole lists—we narrow it down with the help of a chef. TJ Steele is the Executive Chef Claro, a Oaxacan-influenced restaurant in Gowanus that specializes in corn, barbacoa, consommé and an endless list of mezcals. Steele was the youngest executive Sous Chef at Union Square Cafe before a stint at Tia Pol. A chance trip years ago to Oaxaca inspired Steele’s affair with the city and ultimately led to him launching El Buho Mezcal. Steele continues to live in Oaxaca part-time, has taco-isnpired tattoos, and knows the city inside-out as a local. In 2017, Steele opened the doors to his own restaurant focused on food from his favorite Mexican region.
Photo: Courtesy of Gabi Porter
“Oaxacan food scene – you really can’t go wrong eating in Oaxaca,” says TJ Steel. There’s everything from street food to middle-of-the-road and high end dining options all with local cuisine, and of course mezcal. For EH, Steele chooses his go-to mezcal bars in Oaxaca City — see for yourself below.
Salón de la Fama – Calle del General Profirio Diaz 115, Centro, 68101 Oaxaca
“I liken this spot to a local watering hole; casual and friendly and they serve botanas with their drinks. They have good quality house mezcal and I love their micheladas. One of the servers is also a luchador so that always makes for a fun night.”
Ilegales – Oaxaca – Tuxtepec 5, San Agustin Yatareni, 68290 San Agustín Yatareni, Oaxaca
“This place is a little outside of the city center, which I think makes it even more appealing. They have a good selection of house mezcals that are interesting and affordable along with fun bar snacks and great cocktails. It’s also got indoor/outdoor seating – away from the buzz of the city, it’s a great place to plant yourself for the night.”
Mezcalaría In Situ – José María Morelos (Av. Morelos) 511, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
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Impressive selection of hundreds of artisanal mezcal expressions curated by @ulisestorrentera. Where do you even start? I created my own flight of agave americana from Sola de Vega. While they're all the same species of agave and made in the same town, the different varietals and different mezcaleros give each mezcal a completely different flavor profile. I'd never even seen Blanco before and this one was amazing with some very strong notes of baked quince. We also drank all of their pechugas 😂 which turned out to be two bottles. The Espadin pechuga was very complex and nuanced. The papalometl was very bright and juicy.
“For a serious mezcal library, In Situ is the place to go. Their massive selection will make your head spin and their staff is really knowledgeable. Go upstairs and let the staff guide you – they really do have everything from small artisanal producers to the more well known brands.”