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Monday
May252015

Oaxaca 2015: Day 1 – Into the Night

The small plane into Oaxaca is maybe my most favorite vehicle for transport in the world. It's like flying on a Lear jet; or maybe on Airforce One. There's a row of single chairs along the left side, with doubled seats along the right; plenty of leg room and more than enough space to spread out. You can feel the speed in the fuselage and the control the pilots have with every small turn and each little bump of turbulence. It's enthralling. On my last visit, I was only on the smaller, Oaxaca-bound jet for about forty minutes. We transferred in Mexico City and the flight from D.F. is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. This trip, however, we switched planes in Houston, which meant a two hour romp across the Gulf of Mexico in the most-stylish and comfortable of airliners. What a treat it was to finally see land outside my window as the sun began its descent behind the mountains, and we began ours into the Oaxacan valley.

I cleared customs, hopped a cab into town, and met Ansley and the gang over at the hotel. We were just itching to get out on the street. The weather was warm and balmy. The Sunday night crowds were mellow and the calle was tranquillo. The Templo de Santo Domingo was illuminated as we passed by it on our way to Danzantes. Our minds were food focused. We needed nourishment and alcohol quickly.

I'm not sure what people think about Oaxaca, if they even think anything at all. But let me clear one thing up for you: Oaxaca is not some little rinky-dink village in rural Mexico where all the houses are humble and the establishments modest and minute. No. This was the seat of Cortez during Spanish colonial rule, so the city itself is nothing but immaculate. The streets are clean and cobblestoned. The buildings are orderly and in perfect condition. Oaxaca is completely cosmopolitan. It just happens to be in a rather remote area, out of sight from the everyday hustle and bustle. There are little mezcal bars everywhere, just a quick cut away from the main strip, with atmosphere galore; dripping romanticism.

If I didn't make it clear before, I'm here to visit with the Danzantes boys—the pair of brothers who took their little chain of boutique restaurants and expanded it into a full-scale brand of top-quality mezcal. Make no mistake, however: Danzantes is more about food than booze. That's why we hustled right over to their Oaxacan outpost and settled in for drinks and dinner upon our arrival. This is the best restaurant in town and I couldn't wait to eat here for a second time.

Oaxaca is the culinary capital of Mexico, which is what originally drove the Dazantes group into the region to create their chain of restaurants. It wasn't long, however, until they realized that booze and food were two peas in a pod, so they founded their own distillery outside of town and began producing what we now know today as the "Los Nahuales" mezcales. They soon branched out into the Alipus labela series of contracted, single village spirits from a different subset of producers. I immediately ordered a Mezcal Punch and a glass of Santa Ana—the village we're headed to tomorrow morning.

We ate a lot of tacos. Tongue tacos, beef tacos, tuna tacos, and tacos de chicharron. I had a few more beers before calling it a night and heading down the main avenue La Constitución towards the hotel. We've got a lot to do tomorrow and it's not going to be easy. Santa Ana is a two and a half hour drive from Oaxaca City, down country roads that bring new meaning to the word "bumpy". We'll be meeting up there with the distiller that Danzantes uses for their Alipus label. I can't wait.

-David Driscoll