In Mexico, Oaxacan Flavors Meet Japanese Omakase For Unique Dining Experiences

Mexico and Japan may span continents, but their respective cuisines aren't quite as distanced as their geographies. Across Mexico's state of Oaxaca, omakase restaurants are embracing the flavors and styles of Japan — but with a Mexico-inspired twist.

At its simplest explanation, omakase refers to the Japanese style of dining where the chef makes the decisions on behalf of the customer. In fact, omakase loosely translates to some version of: "I trust you, chef." These restaurants seat diners at sushi counters, where they enjoy multiple courses designed by the chef in question. These meals typically rely on whatever food comes fresh, available, and relevant to the specific day, so there are opportunities for variation and flexibility — all depending on the chef's judgment call. These meals typically last a few hours, with small dishes and ample chances to engage with the chef. That chef may even decide what goes on the plate during the course. 

Nami is a soon-to-open sushi omakase restaurant in Puerto Escondido, a coastal Mexico town a few hours from the city of Oaxaca. The restaurant will be located on the grounds of the new hotel OCN Resorts & Residences, but will require reservations from the resort's guests. In line with its origin, the restaurant is all about the omakase-style of eating but with ingredients from the state of Oaxaca.

As for what, exactly, these ingredients are, think local. The restaurant relies on foods and flavors that are accessible — and inspired by the resort's surroundings.

Oaxaca boasts a range of unique flavors and cooking techniques

The state of Oaxaca offers more than just tacos, and the area's omakase restaurants are proving just what they can do with local ingredients. Typically, Oaxaca is associated with staple foods like corn, beans, cheese, and chiles. Then, there are quintessential dishes like moles, which loosely refer to a kind of sauce. The Oaxaca region is known for a whopping seven.

"There's so much to discover in the mole world," chef Brad Kilgore, who's partnered with OCN Resorts & Residences, told Tasting Table. Kilgore bears responsibility for Nami, as well as the resort's woodfire cooking restaurant, Asador Raya.

Yet while moles are indeed a Oaxaca mainstay, seafood in the state is not to be overlooked. After all, Puerto Escondido sits on the coast, where the day's catch is never from reach. Coastal towns, specifically, are known for foods like mussel tamales and seafood soups, among other sea-based dishes. It is these local Pacific waters that have inspired Nami, which will focus on fresh seafood.

Omakase restaurants in Oaxaca bridge the gap between Mexican and Japanese dining

Crudos, ceviches, nagiri... These raw forms of seafood will all grace the menu at Puerto Escondido's Nami — "all in a 12-course tasting menu experience," says Kilore. He noted that ceviches, specifically, will appeal to the resort's vacationers; they're the perfect food for eating poolside, whether you're in Mexico or Miami. 

Of course, there are some considerations required to respectfully combine varying culinary inspirations. Kilgore, specifically, highlighted the importance of engaging with local chefs and vendors and using the environment as inspiration to create OCN's menus. 

"It is very important that I don't go to another region and start cooking French food in Mexico," he said. "Simultaneously, I am not going to act like I'm a classically trained Mexican chef either. So, for me, it's meeting with vendors, meeting with fishermen, meeting with farmers, and being inspired by the abundance of incredible ingredients and folding that into my style."

To see how, exactly, food brings together different inspirations, it may be time to book a trip. Mexico's abundance of omakase restaurants is just another reason to visit the beautiful country.