If you aren’t familiar with traditional Mexican food – and the holiday Day of the Dead, you might be surprised by what you find at the Penn Quarter hot-spot.
I was at Oyamel the week of Halloween, and at first glance it appears as though this restaurant has gone overboard with decorations: skeletons wearing traditional Mexican prints, candles that have been burned to allow all the wax to drip and create something akin to an altar, a bathroom decorated with tarot card-looking figures. But it pays homage to the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead. The space still has that terra cotta color palate associated with Mexican restaurants, but there are also cool wire mobile and festive carnival flags hanging from the ceiling in the multi-tiered eatery.
Our waitress was very deliberate in pronouncing every dish in authentic-sounding Spanish, but she wasn’t so great at telling us what was in something or being able to put the name of a dish to what we were describing (even though she has worked there forever). She also told me the drink I ordered – mango puree with tequila and infused with chili oil – wasn’t very spicy. Um, it was basically like drinking Tabasco. She had to make two orders of guacamole for our table, so I’ll forgive her for letting the chips run low: the ultimate Mexican restaurant faux-pas.
There are no fajitas on the menu here, and you’d be disappointed if Taco Bell is the picture that forms in your mind when you hear the word “taco.” Instead, Oyamel prides itself on serving traditional Mexican food – and evidently that includes grasshoppers.
Oh, yes. I did.
But first! Guacamole! Your server will make it fresh table-side, ranging from a little too mild (no more than avocados and tomatillos) to red-oniony spicy. At our end of the table, we enjoyed the mild version, made even better by mixing a little of the salsa with it.
Oyamel serves food tapas-style, so I ordered 4 dishes to sample:
The Queso fundido con tequila is basically cheese with tequila on top that they light on fire. Yeah, buddy! I’d recommend sharing this because even the cheese-lovers who walk among us may find it to be a bit too much cheese for them. Also, if your server has brought you enough chips, the cheese is really better on them than the tortillas served with the cheese.
The Sopes de frijol con hoja de aguacate was really fantastic – four discs made from corn, topped with cheese and beans, and evidently avocado leaves (somehow I missed that part when I was eating them). But don’t eat these if you’ve recently had dental work – they’re a bit…hard.
The carnitas taco was just a teaser.
And then, the coup de grâce: grasshopper tacos. Yes, they were really grasshoppers. Yes, I really ate them. No, I probably won’t again. I’ll let the pictures speak for me:
Catch your breath, people…this is considered a delicacy in Oaxaca. To report, they were crunchy (“that’s the exoskeleton” observed our astute server) and a bit tasteless, and I later picked a grasshopper leg from between my teeth. Call before you go if you want to try them because – according to our server – they “have peculiar mating habits” and aren’t always available.
Best for: Adventurous eaters who can’t afford a a trip south of the border with these airfare prices.
Worst for: The squeamish. You know who you are.