ABOUT RICK BAYLESS/

Rick’s Travel Guides

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If you follow Rick on Twitter, you know that he’s always moving. He’s in Mexico several times a year, of course, but he’s also everywhere else: Tokyo, Paris, Istanbul, New York. He returns from these trips full of stories (and Instagram pics); find them below, and use them for inspiration for your next trip.

Lima, Peru

After I arrived home from Mistura, the huge food festival in Lima, Peru, I kept asking myself the same question: Why isn’t Peru at the top of every foodie’s must-visit destination list? I mean, just think about all it has to offer: Peru has one of the most complex, varied and ancient cuisines on the planet; Peruvian ingredients—from the tropical Amazonian, to the cloud-brushing Andean to the seafood-abundant coastal—are as good as you’ll find anywhere; and the restaurants—from traditional to cutting-edge modern—are the equal of those in any of the world’s great food cities. After eating at CentralMalabarAstrid y GastónÁmazEl Mercado,Huaca Pucllana and Maido, I imagined them being plunked down in the middle of New York City or Chicago or San Francisco. They’d be the talk of those towns.

Great markets and restaurants notwithstanding, the most memorable part of the trip was Mistura, purportedly the largest food festival in the world with hundreds of food stalls stretching along a mile-and-a-half of beach. And in spite of headliners like Rene Redzepi from Noma, Andoni Aduriz from Mugaritz, Alex Atala from D.O.M. and Albert Adria from a host of great restaurants in Barcelona, what kept drawing my attention was the food. Especially the chancho en palo, boned-out pigs roasting on huge wood fires (pictured), the ceviches with their leche de tigre, the quinoa tamales in the huge quinoa pavilion, and the pork sandwiches (sandguches there) from El Chinito and La Lucha. I have only one piece of advice: Go.

Istanbul, Turkey

Until I stepped foot on Turkish soil, Istanbul had always represented one thing for me:  the pivotal spot across which all spices flowed from Asia to Europe during the Middle Ages, the same spot that was closed in 1463 by the newly conquering Turks, cutting off Europe’s access to the spices they’d grown very accustomed to. The spot that sparked Columbus to ply uncharted waters in search of another route to spice and wealth.

Now, having spent a week exploring the lokantas (small, family-style restaurants), markets, baklava bakeries, cafes and candy stores, I have a different perspective: It’s a remarkably vibrant, cosmopolitan spot spilled over the meeting place of Europe and Asia, exuding over 2000 years of still-palpable history—Christian, Muslim, Jewish, high art, everyday crafty craftsmanship, spices (though fewer than I’d expected) and the most perfect exchange between old world and new. The street vendors press bucketsful of pomegranate juice, bulgur gets cooked as we would rice, flat breads wrap delicious lamb seared over open flames.  All of that could have easily been eaten before Columbus’s voyage.  The rest could not:  the tomatoes and chiles that weave their way through so many of the beautiful mezes (appetizers) that start practically every meal, the beans that are simmered to delicious tenderness, the pumpkin that is everywhere, often cooked with that beautiful honey Turkey is so famous for.

This is the year to visit Istanbul.  The people are so generous and helpful, the place is so historic, the food is so easy to fall in love with, especially everything cooked over live fire. Like me, you’ll ask yourself while it took you so long to get there.

Mexico City

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Quintonil highlight: perfectly ripe mamey, mamey pudding, mamey pit ice cream
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Quintonil: chilacayota squash with homemade mole & calabacitas.
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Quintonil: A tamal of Swiss chard with vegetable ribbons, herbs and crunch.
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Breakfast at QueBo! with José Ramón Castillo. Some of the best chocolate in the world:
Mexican beans, cool flavors.
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Nico's: Classic bean soup with nixtamalized runner beans & Chiapas cheese

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Yuban: Chocolate cake w Oaxacan chocolate ganache, butter cake with caramelized pineapple,
fresh corn cake with chocolate-prickly pear
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Contramar: Pacific-style fish a la talla
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Went with Pedro Abascal & chefs from Kaah Siis to their organic chinampa, an eco-part of Xochimilco, to harvest & be inspired
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Breakfast at El Hidalguense for succulent lamb barbacoa.
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Cárdenas market Del Valle: Passmar (yes, in the vegetable market!) is one of best coffee bars I've ever been to.

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The black bean tamal at Amaranta in Toluca.
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Los Insurgentes, one of Mexico City's popular pulquerías.

I have loved Mexico City since I was 14 years old.  Never been there that
my heart didn¹t beat a little faster (and not just because it’s at nearly
8,000 feet!).  I love the pace, the stew pot of culture from high to low,
from traditional to modern.  I love the serendipity that floats in and out
of every visitor’s experience, as though they’ve been thrust for an
unexpected moment into a different dimension of reality.  That’s all
Mexico in a nutshell, though.  It’s just packed more tightly in Mexico
City, under what seems like the lid of a pressure cooker.

Though I’ve spent most of my adult life delving deeply and relentlessly
into the traditional kitchens of Mexico City and beyond, right now I’m
intrigued by what Mexico (and its cuisine) looks like through the eyes of
the talented and young band of movers and shakers in the food world—chefs,
restaurateurs, cheese mongers, wine and beer makers, mixologists, bakers. Every time I look at DF through these young people’s eyes, I have such enthusiasm for the future. And as the photos above attest to, there are a lot of places to be enthusiastic about.

A shortlist of the restaurants mentioned (and some not mentioned) in the slideshow:

Amaranta - Fine dining in Toluca
Contramar - A DF classic, famous for its tuna tostada
El Califa Taqueria - One of Rick’s go-tos for tacos al pastor
El Hidalguense - Perhaps the best barbacoa in the city
Limantour - Classy, creative and cool cocktail spot
Los Insurgentes - Here, it’s all about the pulque
Mercado Roma
- A new kind of market, this one with all manner of artisanal food shops (and a rooftop beer garden).
Nico’s - A major player in Mexico City’s slow-food movement
Que Bo! - Exciting (and gorgeous) chocolates by chef José Ramón Castillo
Quintonil - The home of chef Jorge Vallejo, one of the most talented chefs on the planet
Rosetta - Beautiful Italian food in a beautiful space
Panadería Rosetta - The bakery/cafe across the street from Rosetta; a must-stop for breads and pastries
Pujol - The flagship restaurant of master chef Enrique Olvera
Yuban - Oaxacan food in a hip room

Rick's Top-Line Must-Taste Oaxaca

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In Oaxaca, my first choice is Casa Oaxaca (the restaurant, not the hotel) and its sister Casa Oaxaca that’s in Colonia Reforma away from downtown (though the more remote one isn’t quite as exciting as the downtown one).  The chef-owner is Alejandro Ruiz and he’s the father of the modern movement to make great Oaxacan food.  It’s a beautiful place with great food.

Rodolfo Castellanos is the chef-owner of Orígen.  He has worked all over the world, mostly with Traci DesJardin at Jardinere in San Francisco.  His food is a little more international, but made with great local product.  Very nice place.

The best cocktail program in my opinion is at Los Danzantes.  The food has been really good there for the last several years—modern Oaxacan but casual—but the chef recently left so I can’t vouch for it.  The place is very beautiful, designed by the broth of Hugo D’Acosta, Mexico’s most famous wine maker.  They have a wonderful mezcal list and wonderful wine list.  Their brand of mezcal—Alipus—can be found all over New York City.

Speaking of mezcal, the two bars most famous for the impossible to find regional stuff are In Situ and Mezcaloteca.  The first is easily accessible; the second needs a reservation and serious interest.

Out in the villages, the most notable restaurant is Tlamanalli in Teotitlán, the famous rug-making village.  Set menu of Zapotec village cooking.  Worth a trip, especially if you’re going to go out looking for rugs (Isaac Vazquez is my favorite rug maker there).

In town but in the near-by Colonia Reforma, La Teca serves food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  Really good, homey cooking and so different from the cooking in the central valleys. The woman who owns the place is a really good cook.  Sit in the patio in the back (the restaurant is in her home).

In the 20 de Noviembre market downtown, the famous fonda is Abuelita (great for a breakfast of chocolate, pan de yema, enfrijoladas and chorizo!) and the adjacent “taco corridor” is a must.  At the corridor, you buy your meat from one of the vendors (cecina, tasajo, chorizo) and have them grill it.  The other vendors sell you the go-withs and you make these rustic tacos that might be the best things you eat on your trip.

In the adjacent market (Benito Juarez), which is primarily a produce and meat market, you’ll find the hundred-year-old Casilda Nieves (fruit ices) and Casilda Aguas Frescas (fruit “waters”/soft drinks).  Both are amazing, memorable and historic.  You can trust the water in these places.

Lots of people love Biznaga for its good, contemporary, casual Oaxacan food.  I’ve enjoyed it many times, but the service can be gruff.

And, should you find yourself out late, one of the most famous street eats of Oaxaca is a tlayuda from the place on Libres.  A huge, leathery tortilla that’s toasted over the coals, drizzled with beans, saucy guacamole, salsa and grilled meat, and folded over.  Again, very memorable.

There are so many places I love in Oaxaca, but this list should get you started!