This Young Chef is Changing the Game in Oaxaca’s Fine Dining Food Scene

On the outskirts of Oaxaca Centro sits an unassuming, five-table restaurant effectively changing the game on fine dining cuisine in the magical capital of Mexico’s Oaxaca State. More impressive than the inventive, five-course tasting menu offered nightly for under $20.00 USD is the talent whipping up the world-class creations at Teocintle: Cocina Indígena: Chef Toño Garcia alongside kitchen colleagues Azael Jimenez and Edwin Goorneros, a trio of twenty-something locals all hailing from different districts of Oaxaca’s Mixteca region.

After cutting his teeth in the kitchens of some of Oaxaca’s leading restaurants, Garcia decided to leave the old guard and spearhead the new guard: fine dining done differently, accessibly and most importantly – passionately. Opened in October of 2019, Teocintle stems from the word “teosinte,” the wild ancestor of today’s corn and the lifeblood of Mexico. So it’s no surprise Garcia and his team passionately celebrate their roots with dishes that are distinctly Mixtec. Served in a warmly lit, intimate dining room, expect innovative and artful takes on heritage staples such as mole, barbacoa, tamales and tetelas, all served with plenty of handmade corn tortillas. Dishes are served alongside creative aguas del día (infused water), artisanal cerveza and sometimes – depending on what the team may have brewing in the kitchen – a taste of a house-brewed kombucha, tejuino or other fermentado (fermented beverage).

Related: Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Magical Oaxaca City, Mexico in 2021

No day is the same at Teocintle as far as the menu goes. The culinary experience here changes daily, masterfully inspired by what Garcia stumbles upon each morning in Oaxaca’s sprawling mercados. The day’s menu is equally mindful of the day’s guests (dietary restrictions and allergies included), so advance reservations are an absolute must. Easy to make through their Facebook page here.

Perhaps the best part about the dining experience at Teocintle is the endearing nature of Garcia, Jiminez and Goorneros. This humble and friendly trio exudes passion for what they do, and upon serving each dish will give you a detailed and enthusiastic explanation about what you’re about to taste. Don’t be surprised if your existing conversation is gently interrupted. They intentionally want to shift your focus back to the reason of your visit: the plate on the table.

Our tip? Ask questions! Garcia & his team love curious diners. The more you ask about what you’re eating, the more they’ll share and the better your experience will be at this creative haven of delicious Mixtec cuisine.

Remaining a relatively undiscovered gem for now, it certainly won’t be for much longer. We say run, don’t walk, to Teocintle to experience what we felt to be among our top three dining experiences during our recent one-month stay in Oaxaca.

Don’t just take our word for it! Here, we chat with Chef Toño Garcia for even more insight into Teocintle and his culinary process – including how he came to be in the kitchen, the most challenging Mixtec dish to cook, what he’s eating to cure the (mezcal) hangover and what famous chef would he love to cook with?

Follow @teocintlecocina, and visit at Primera Privada de Independencia 12 (between Prolongación de Av. Independencia & Miguel Hidalgo), Oaxaca Centro, 69600. Please note that as of January 2021, only indoor dining is offered with Covid safety measures in place. 

Related: The Best Boutique Hotels in Oaxaca City to Stay in NOW


Game Changers: Interview with Chef Toño Garcia of Oaxaca's Teocintle/ TravelingLamas.com / Photo by Alberto Lama @travelinglamas
Teocintle Owner & Chef Toño Garcia

As answered in Spanish by Teocintle Owner & Chef Toño Garcia, with translations in English. 

1. ¿Por qué cocinar? ¿Cuándo (y cómo) decidiste que querías ser chef?

Nunca fue mi intención ser cocinero, tube la oportunidad de convivir con las buenas cocinas de diferentes pueblos. Fui a la siembra de maiz a la barbechada o limpia de la milpa tube la oportunidad de piscar la mazorca y seleccionar el sacate que sobra de esa cosecha para las animales, conviví con animales como borregos, toros, chivos, conejos, guajolotes y pollos. 

Tube el gusto de trabajar en una panaderia en la que se trabajaba o se sigue haciendo artesanalmente. Pero aun no pensaba en estar en una cocina, hasta que tuve la oportunidad de ir a la escuela de gastronomía y ahí fue en donde empeze a conocer gran parte de la gastronomía que existe en todos o la mayoría de Paises. Estube en algunas cocinas de restaurantes de mi estado ahí fue donde me agrado y empece a recordar sobre toda la cocina que se hacia en casa y en los pueblos a donde había andado con mi madre y fue así como decidí ser un buen cocinero o chef si se logra. 

1. Why cooking? When (& how) did you decide that you wanted to be a chef?

It was never my intention to be a cook. Growing up, I had the opportunity to be around great cuisines from different nearby towns. I also experienced the entire process of planting, growing and harvesting corn; always around animals like sheep, bulls, goats, rabbits, turkeys and chickens.

I also had the pleasure of working in an artisanal bakery where everything was made by hand. But I still did not think about being in a kitchen, until I had the opportunity to go to gastronomy school. This is where I began to learn about different international cuisines. While working in the kitchen at various restaurants back in my home state, I began to remember about all of the cooking I experienced at home with my mother. This all inspired me to become a chef. 

2. ¿Cómo decidiste abrir tu propio restaurante?

Esto se decide de un día para otro renuncie de un trabajo muy bueno que tenía y al otro dia llega un conocido que me propuso abrir una cocina para vender y pues sin pensar al otro dia estabamos rentando un local, se hizo el trato, se adecuo de acuerdo o lo necesitado, loza, cubiertos, vasos, jarras, sartenes, ollas, estufa, el apoyo de mi madre con algunos productos, carne de animales como iguana, conejo, guajolote, y empezamos a preparar para vender y empezamos sin ventas sin tener la idea de como funcionaba o como hacer para que nos consumieran.

Algo importante e interesante fue un chico del extranjero quien provo por primera vez despues de unas semanas de no vender nada. Y nos hablo y nos dijo de su sorpresa y nosotros con la cara de enserio le agrado jajaja se le agradecio y todo y pues del otro día nada otra vez sin vender un plato, si no al tercer día llega nuevamente este chico con mas amigos igual encantados y pues dije pues ahora nos toca seguir cocinando y de la nada veía que mí interes fue dandose por la cocina y dije voy a hacerlo enpesare mi carrera como cocinero y pues hasta el día de hoy estoy muy agradecido y contento con lo que estamos haciendo.

2. How did you decide to open your own restaurant?

This was decided from one day to the next. I left a very good job I had and the next day an acquaintance arrived who proposed to open a kitchen. Without even thinking, a deal was made and the next day we had rented a place. We adapted the space to our needs, filling it with basic items such as cutlery, glasses, pans, pots and a stove. My mother helped with some items and we started with meats such as iguana, rabbit and turkey. Right away we started cooking, even though we had no idea how to start bringing in restaurant guests. 

Something important and interesting is that after weeks of having no business, a foreigner arrived at our restaurant. He tried our cuisine and we were surprised by how much he loved the food. A few days passed and no business, until the same foreigner came back with a group of friends who also all loved the food. Now I saw my interest in being in the kitchen grow, and told myself I have to keep cooking and pursue a career as a chef. To this day I am very happy and grateful with what we are doing.

3. ¿Qué hace que la cocina mixteca sea única, en comparación con otras cocinas oaxaqueñas?

Cuando se habla de cocina en la mixteca, se habla del mole de fiesta, la barbacoa, el pulque los curados, el aguardiente de caña, unas buenas tortillas de maíz echas a mano, pan tradicional, mayordomía, y como la familia dice el mero guateque. 

3. What makes Mixtec cuisine unique, compared to other Oaxacan cuisines? 

When talking about cuisine in the Mixteca, it’s about the culture: enjoying time with family and making dishes like barbacoa, party mole, good handmade corn tortillas, traditional bread, cured pulques and homemade sugarcane liquor. 

4. Tus platos cambian a diario. ¿Cuál es su proceso para crear el menú de cada día?

Tratamos de no repetir los platillos. Algo importante en la mixteca es su alimentación se dice que en la mixteca se acostumbra cocinar a diario debes de acabar con la comida de este día para al otro comer uno salsa pero recien echa con tortillas igual recien bajado del comal, para esto nosotros vamos a la central y primero hacemos un recorrido para observar que productos podemos encontrar, ya viendo todo empezamos a escojer y ir planeando que podemos hacer con tal producto. Llegamos al restaurante y concluimos la recetas así se trabajo nuestro menú del día. 

4. Your dishes change daily. What is your process in creating each day’s menu?

We try not to repeat the dishes. Something important in Mixteca culture is to cook daily, and finish everything you make that day before going onto the next. Every morning, we walk through the Central de Abastos market to draw inspiration, choose products and start planning dishes. Then we go back to the restaurant and finalize the day’s menu based on what we have found at the market.

5. ¿Qué sigue para ti y Teocintle?

No tengo un plan como tal aun siento que nos falta mucho que aprender y lo que ahora se tiene pensando es en seguir haciendo una buena cocina. Teocintle creo que aun tiene mucho que ofrecer y pues solo nos queda seguir sorprendiendo a nuestros amigos que nos visitan y al publico en general.

5. What’s next for you & Teocintle? 

I do not have an exact plan. I still feel we have a lot to learn and right now we are focused on continuing to make great cuisine. I think Teocintle still has a lot to offer and we can only continue to surprise friends and guests who visit us.

6. ¿Los 5 mejores ingredientes indígenas favoritos para cocinar?

Ajo, chiles secos, tomate, riñon, maíz, panela

6. Top 5 favorite indigenous ingredients to cook with? 

Garlic, dried chilies, tomato, kidney, corn, panela cheese

7. ¿El plato mixteco más desafiante de cocinar?

Todo el proceso de la barbacoa y la masita.

7. Most challenging Mixtec dish to cook? 

The whole process of making barbacoa and dough.

8. Si pudieras abrir un segundo Teocintle e introducir la cocina mixteca en cualquier otro lugar del mundo, ¿dónde estaría?

Japon y New York.

8. If you could open a second Teocintle and introduce Mixtec cuisine anywhere else in the world, where would it be? 

Japan and New York. 

9. ¿Si pudieras cocinar con cualquier chef del mundo, quién sería?

Gordon Ramsay 

9. If you could cook with any chef in the world, who would it be? 

Gordon Ramsay

10. ¿Los 3 platos principales que todos deben probar al visitar Oaxaca? / Top 3 dishes everyone must try when visiting Oaxaca?

Barbacoa, moles, tlayudas.

11. ¿Bar de mezcal favorito en Oaxaca? / Favorite mezcal bar in Oaxaca?

Archivo Maguey

12. ¿Después de una larga noche en el bar de mezcal, qué vas a comer al día siguiente para curar la resaca?

Caldo de borracho con camarón seco y huevo ahogado. Y té de hierba de borracho. 

12. After a long night out at the mezcal bar – what are you eating the next day to cure the hangover? 

“Drunken stew” made with dry shrimp and soaked egg. And herbal tea infused with pennyroyal. 


All images in this post courtesy of your favorite pair of @travelinglamas.