A massive state on the southern coast of Mexico, Oaxaca extends from the mountainous, mezcal-making valleys that surround its colorful capital to the tropical jungles of Huatulco. That range allows a breadth of fruits and vegetables to thrive, making modern Oaxacan cuisine as fascinating as any on the planet. Today, visitors can lunch for $3 on wood-fired tlayudas in a shaded plaza and then head to a garden courtyard to spend $100 on a tasting menu dinner from Mexico’s best chef, whose mind-bending dishes manage to honor tradition.
But, like California, another land blessed with a bevy of meats, fruits, and vegetables, it’s impossible to pigeonhole Oaxacan cuisine into a tidy box — aside from the preponderance of mole, although that too can readily be found elsewhere today. At its best, Oaxacan cuisine is vast, seasonal, and ingredient-driven, providing cooks and consumers alike more of a rough outline than a paint-by-numbers protocol.
Embracing that framework is Flor de Maiz, the latest restaurant by Carlos Luna, who founded the first Los Agaves on Milpas Street in 2008. A dozen years later, Luna’s empire includes five locations in both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties as well Santo Mezcal on Lower State Street.