Oaxaca City is home to many excellent restaurants serving elevated Mexican cuisine. Some of the most popular include Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes, Restaurante Catedral, and Las Quince Letras. Those are just off the top of my head, but there are many more.
We’re partial to street food and market fondas but we wanted to include one or two fine dining establishments in our Oaxaca restaurant guide. However, we didn’t want to go to just any restaurant. We wanted to find places that were more unique and told an interesting story.
Crudo, a tiny 6-seater restaurant that offers Japanese-Oaxacan omakase, was an obvious choice. Restaurante Alfonsina was another.
Located in San Juan Bautista la Raya, Alfonsina is a destination restaurant that serves haute Mexican cuisine in a setting quite unlike any other in Oaxaca.
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WHAT IS RESTAURANTE ALFONSINA?
Restaurante Alfonsina is a Mexican restaurant located in the small town of San Juan Bautista la Raya, about half an hour south of Oaxaca City. It’s helmed by Chef Jorge León, a young Oaxacan chef who’s trained in the kitchens of celebrated restaurants like Casa Oaxaca and Pujol in Mexico City.
When you get off the taxi, you’ll find yourself in a quiet, residential neighborhood – hardly the type of setting you’d expect to find a fine dining restaurant. I was beginning to doubt we were in the right place when I finally spotted Alfonsina’s sign.
Aside from its location, what sets Alfonsina apart is its setting. It doesn’t look or feel like your traditional haute cuisine restaurant.
We were here for lunch so we were seated outside in a shaded area of their garden. Nothing fancy. No tablecloths or wait staff in uniforms. Just us, a wooden table, and the shade provided by an old tree. We could see a woman making fresh tortillas by hand so it felt like we were guests in someone’s house. We felt right at home.
We found out about Restaurante Alfonsina from the Oaxaca episode of Somebody Feed Phil. From the show, we learned of Chef León’s desire to honor the Oaxaca region’s culinary traditions. He wanted to offer a tasting menu of elevated traditional food made with the freshest seasonal produce, but served in an inviting and unintimidating setting.
We had a few moments before lunch service started so I explored the restaurant’s grounds and snapped some photos. In this interview, Chef Jorge talked about how this property used to be a small corn field.
Take a quick look around and it becomes clear that the restaurant is set in a family home. Chef Jorge emphasized that Restaurante Alfonsina is a family affair. It started when he and his mother wanted to serve breakfast and tortillas to the community in a relaxed and more comfortable space.
Though the restaurant now feeds travelers from all over the world, it seems that the concept and humble feel of the restaurant haven’t changed much. From the looks of it, they’ve even turned a portion of the property into a small bed and breakfast.
Restaurante Alfonsina offers four daily seatings – at 1PM, 2PM, 6PM, and 7PM – from Wednesday till Monday. Reservations are required which you can make through the link on their Instagram page.
In October 2022, our lunch for two with beer went for a total of MXN 1,040. At the time of this writing, the lunch tasting menu at Alfonsina goes for MXN 400-600 depending on the time of year, while dinner is priced at MXN 600-800. Not bad at all.
Address: C. García Vigil 183, 71232 San Juan Bautista la Raya, Oaxaca, Mexico
Operating Hours: 1PM, 2PM, 6PM, 7PM, Wed-Mon (closed Tuesdays)
What We Paid: MXN 1,040 for two with drinks (October 2022)
WHO IS CHEF JORGE LEÓN?
A proud native of Oaxaca, Chef Jorge León got his start working as a dishwasher at one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca City – Casa Oaxaca. He worked his way up before earning a position at Pujol, one of the most celebrated restaurants in Mexico. At Pujol, he’d continue to develop his craft under the tutelage of famed chef Enrique Olvera.
Chef Jorge is credited for providing the recipe for Pujol’s legendary mole madre. Made with chilhuacle chiles, this mole earned him the nickname “Moles” from his contemporaries at Pujol.
Chef Jorge explained that Chef Enrique Olvera was looking for a traditional dish from Oaxaca to add to the restaurant’s menu. He shared his family’s recipe for mole negro because in his words:
“You can’t get more traditional than mole because it’s a staple dish for every special occasion. Whether it is served at a wedding, a funeral, or the birth of your child, you will celebrate these events with mole.”
Impressed with the dish, Chef Olvera would develop a vegan version of the mole and make it a permanent fixture on Pujol’s menu.
After working for 6 years at Pujol and helping Chef Olvera open other restaurant concepts like Cosme in New York, Manta in Los Cabos, and El Molino in Mexico City, Chef Jorge decided it was time to branch out on his own. Developing his concept for years with earnings he had saved from Pujol, Chef Jorge finally opened Restaurante Alfonsina to the public in 2018.
Later that year, New Worlder recognized Alfonsina as 2018’s restaurant of the year, a distinction that the young chef credits for his restaurant’s fast rise to success.
We visited Restaurante Alfonsina for lunch and we were treated to a fantastic 5-course tasting menu. Drinks aren’t included and you can opt for extras on top of the five included dishes (more on that later).
Pictured below is a locally brewed craft beer. They serve Victoria too but I recommend getting this one.
As far as I can tell, Alfonsina doesn’t have an ala carte menu nor do they have a printed tasting menu. What your tasting menu includes depends on what’s available at the market on that day.
Calling his cooking style cocina de mercado (“market kitchen”), Chef Jorge explained that he goes to Central de Abastos market every morning to source his ingredients. What he offers on his menu is highly dependent on what’s available at the market that morning.
Today, he started us off with this pumpkin squash blossom soup but tomorrow, it could be something made with pulque, corn, or cauliflower. The restaurant’s location, setting, and daily tasting menu are all part of what makes a meal at Alfonsina so memorable.
This pumpkin blossoms soup was delicious. Made with huitlacoche (corn smut), it had a simple and earthy flavor that set the tone for today’s meal.
These toasted tortilla chips and salsa were some of the best we had anywhere in Mexico. They served them to us at the start but they were long gone before we even got through the first course. Absolutely delicious.
I had read about Chef Jorge’s wild mushroom taco so I was hoping to get that, but what we got instead may have been even better.
I wish I had taken notes to better describe each dish, but if I remember correctly, what you’re looking at below is a fish tostada topped with green salsa and hoja santa (Mexican pepperleaf).
For our main course, we enjoyed this mole manchamanteles with rice. Everything we had today was enjoyable but this was a standout dish.
Mole is an important dish in Oaxacan cuisine so expect to be served some type of mole at Alfonsina. Based on his history at Pujol and this dish, mole seems to be a León family specialty.
For our fourth course, we were served these tamales oaxaqueños. Tamales are enjoyed throughout Mexico but what makes the tamales in Oaxaca different is that they’re typically enriched with mole and wrapped in banana leaves, instead of the more common corn husks.
Unwrapping the tamal, it looks to be made with mole amarillo and hoja santa.
Your lunch tasting menu at Restaurante Alfonsina comes with five courses but you can opt for an extra dish. On the day of our visit, that extra dish was this barbacoa taco.
A weekend tradition in Mexico, barbacoa is a general term used to describe meats cooked over an open fire, traditionally in a pit covered with maguey leaves. The meats are slow-roasted until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender before being served with corn tortillas.
For the final course, we were given the option between two desserts. I went with this homemade guava popsicle.
Being a fan of bananas, my better half went with this roasted plantain. If I remember correctly, both desserts were dusted with a powder made from toasted almonds and pecans.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ALFONSINA, OAXACA
We enjoyed our meal at Alfonsina but to be honest, I don’t know how much better it is than other haute cuisine Mexican restaurants like Casa Oaxaca or Criollo. We’re drawn to interesting dining experiences which is a big reason why we decided to have lunch at Alfonsina.
Alfonsna isn’t just a restaurant. It’s a destination restaurant and that made all the difference for us. We enjoyed the experience of dining there as much as the food.
Some people might not want to make the trip all the way to San Juan Bautista la Raya, especially considering there are many terrific restaurants within the downtown area of Oaxaca City. The taxi fare to and from the restaurant only adds to the cost.
But if you want honest food created with sincerity and passion – in a setting that you probably can’t find anywhere else in Oaxaca – then a meal at Alfonsina is a must.
We didn’t have the privilege of meeting Chef Jorge but I wish him a long and fruitful career. I hope Restaurante Alfonsina continues to thrive. Based on interviews and what I’ve read about him online, he seems to be a genuinely humble young man who wants to honor the Oaxaca region’s culinary traditions by making good food.
Not just any good food, but food that you will want to travel for.
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