Carne Asada – Eat Food Like a Local in a Mercado in Oaxaca, Mexico

categories: mexico travel

Mecado 20 Novembre - Oaxaca, MexicoThe best meal that I had in Oaxaca, Mexico on my recent trip was not in a fancy tourist restaurant nor was it eaten for that matter with any other tourists in sight. Like many cities in Mexico some of the most interesting culinary experiences can be found in the markets where the locals eat. In particular one of the entrances to the Mercado 20 Novembre is a dim smoke lined corridor filled with the wonderful smell of grilled beef or Carne Asada.

I have eaten Carne Asada numerous times in Tijuana on volunteer trips. Usually Carne Asada is the meal served to celebrate the hard work we have done. So my mouth immediately started salivating. I looked around for where I could sit down and order but there the adventure begins.

In my limited Spanish I questioned one of the vendors there until I found out that ordering the meal I wanted was not a simple task.

Mecado 20 Novembre - Oaxaca, Mexico

    1. Buy chiles and onions – The woman closest to the interior of the market will sell you onions (cebollas) and chiles to grill. She will also give you a plate that you will need to collect the rest of the ingredients on this scavenger hunt.
    2. Buy your meat – At the entrance to the market there are a number of butchers with their meat displayed. Carne Asada is made with flank steak. You will order your meat from the butcher who also has a grill and will grill it up for you. Sausage is also a popular meat in the market. The butcher will also take the onions and chiles you brought and grill them directly on the coals.
    3. Buy your tortillas – While you are waiting for your meat to be grilled a tortilla vendor will arrive and sell you the tortillas.
    4. Buy your beverage – Oh you want something to drink? A vendor in between the butcher and the tables can sell you a soda or a beer (cervesa).
    5. Buy your side dishes – When you have your meat, onions and peppers cooked you will return to the vendor who sold you the onions and chiles. This is the only area that has tables. Now you can purchase sides like guacamole and pico de gayo (diced onions and tomatoes) and have a seat.

It’s just that easy. You only have to collect your meal from 4 different vendors in 5 different steps, but it is worth the effort. This is a good meal to share with a friend as most of the sides are larger than one person would need. Yes, my meal is missing the grilled onions. I figured out the system a little too late, but now you will be prepared.

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

9 Responses to “Carne Asada – Eat Food Like a Local in a Mercado in Oaxaca, Mexico”

Lauren at Northwest Cheapsleeps


I’m a vegetarian, and the mercado 20 de noviembre was still one of my favorite places to hang out in oaxaca city. (Indeed, I did duck a little extra low when walking under the hanging cow carcasses.)



I saw lots of pieces of cow but missed the hanging cow carcasses!



I live here in Oaxaca and love this place – I especially like the picture of the sign with the prices – I never noticed it before!



There are a number of great mercados in Oaxaca like the one you describe – all of them offering great food at reasonable prices. Oaxaca is a culinary experience.



There are indeed. There is another one just across the street from the mercado I mentioned here. In my oaxaca trip journal I mention more.

Mexico Trip Journal – Day 6 – Oaxaca
Mexico Trip Journal – Day 7 – Oaxaca
Mexico Trip Journal – Day 8 – Oaxaca



The chorizo here is out of this world!

Mark Wiens


Yum, I’d really love to visit Oaxaca just to eat. That carne asada looks wonderful and I think that method of purchasing fresh food from the market and then getting it immediately cooked is great!



I discovered your post way back in late 2014 when researching places to eat in Oaxaca. We had the most wonderful experience navigating this food journey thanks to your tips. Last night, my partner and I were reminiscing and I had to track down your article again to thank you. This was our favourite meal experience in Mexico, especially since my partner had no idea what was going on with the different steps and I just kept telling him to trust me and the process. Eventually, he just went along with it. The chorizo was amazing, the smokiness of the meat, chilli and onions. I’m drooling now just thinking about it and cannot wait to go back.

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