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One of the most powerful and restorative culinary combos enjoyed in Mexico is, without a doubt, seafood and micheladas, delicious concoctions made with beer – usually lager – and a mix of sauces, lime and spices, which can go from zero to quite spicy. A michelada is one of those drinks that it is often judged a priori but loved after the first or second taste. The mix of a light beer and the power of spices create a wonderful balance that, when served with fresh seafood, can refresh and restore us on a hot summer afternoon or after a long night out. During weekends, it is very common to see groups of people looking for seafood and beer menus all over Mexican cities. However, bringing out the best of these ingredients can be a daunting task – it takes a good chef and a good mixologist to make beer and seafood more interesting than they already are.

In Oaxaca City, La Cofra: Miches, Ceviches y Maestros is a place that is up to the challenge. The name mirrors its offer, but also its level of commitment to the art of good food: cofradía means guild or congregation; that is, a place and a concept in which people with similar interests come together. “Miches” is short for michelada, “Ceviches” indicates all the different seafood dishes served, and “Maestros,” for its customers. Since the beginning, La Cofra has indeed been a meeting point for all sorts of maestros: artists, poets, photographers, painters and food lovers, because, naturally, in Oaxaca, food equals art. Eusebio, Victor and Ana are the minds and hands behind this fresh, straightforward space in which, from Thursday to Sunday, we are able to enjoy seafood and fish specials along with their notorious micheladas and their meticulously curated mezcal menu.

Although today La Cofra is one of the most authentic eateries in the city, the concept only began to take shape a few years ago. Eusebio and some other partners ran a small, reservation-only space where they offered mezcal and coffee tastings and food pairings, and occasionally held concerts. Despite the success, the partnership eventually dissolved due to conflicting goals. Unlike his partners, Eusebio Villalobos, a 39-year-old professional musician nicknamed “Chebo,” had found in food and mezcal a playground for endless creation, and decided to invite Victor Manuel Díaz Narvaez to join him – a good friend, fellow musician, and famous for his killer micheladas. “I wanted to join forces with someone who understood the importance of composition, of ingredients coming together like musical notes,” explains Chebo. “And I wanted to leave behind my office job and take the risk of making a living doing things I liked without losing the freedom to pursue my own musical projects,” adds Victor. “Plus, I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to micheladas.”

Slowly but surely, La Cofra took off in June 2021 with a succinct but unique menu. Chebo took care of the food, making seafood and fish tostadas, all marinated, cured, or seasoned with surprising combinations of ingredients, along with pescadillas (cheese-free fish quesadillas) made on the spot with fresh corn dough, and caldo the mariscos, a seafood broth (Thursday’s special). Victor, meanwhile, fixed the most delicious micheladas and his other beer-and-sauce creations.

La Cofra stands out precisely for the unusual twists and turns in its flavors. The daring yet accomplished use of ingredients in the tostadas include combinations like capers and discrete hints of aged cheese on the tuna tiradito; a “mermaid” (a creative name that stands for the seasonal catch, often shallow-water fish like red snapper and snapper ) sashimi drenched with “Oaxaca ponzu” sauce (inspired in the traditional ponzu but with mezcal instead of sake); an octopus carpaccio with caramelized onions, as well as an aguachile (fresh shrimp cured with lime juice) served with avocado criollo (a local type of avocado with edible skin) and pomegranate. At the same time, the freshly made pescadillas (with a filling of smoked fish, capers and other special ingredients that the chef declined to divulge) topped with cilantro cream sauce (Thursday’s special), or the smoky picanha and charcoal-grilled Argentinian chorizo sandwich (Saturday’s special) add the perfect amount of comfort food and diversity to the menu.

When it comes to the “Miches,” Victor has developed a secret formula after trying other micheladas all over town and not being satisfied. “Micheladas and other drinks with sauces need a lot of balance: the spices should not be overwhelming. The idea is to take advantage of the tangy flavors in sauces without overshadowing the lightness of beer,” he explains. Besides the micheladas – whose classic recipe mixes beer with ingredients such as lime juice, Clamato, tomato juice or Maggi sauce, to name a few – La Cofra has a signature drink called “Giovanna”: beer with a base of the “Oaxacan ponzu,” and a rim of pitiona salt, an aromatic local herb from the verbena family and a rich show for our taste buds. “Our public is just as sensitive as we are. In art, just like in food, it is all about leaving the senses flow. We take that very seriously in everything we offer,” explains Ana Aragón, the brain behind all the operations. After quitting her job managing a famous local artist, she joined her friends of La Cofra’s team with the goal to give shape to Victor and Chebo’s alchemy. Ana makes sure numbers, food and drinks run smooth and steady at La Cofra. Her good eye for art and music, as well as her attention to detail have contributed to the restaurant’s look and environment: every wall is decorated with paintings and the tables are filled with customers happily eating to the beat of her great music selection.

Ana’s attention to the Maestros, Victor’s Miches and Chebo’s Ceviches are unmistakable, just like works of art are irreplaceable expressions of their creators. Every bohemian city has spaces in which artists come together to have fun and share ideas; where music, food and drinks flow generously. In that sense, La Cofra is much more than just four walls full of tables and food. On the contrary, it is a place where friendships and familiarity can bloom. Every weekend, La Cofra emerges as a haven in which both the team and its customers are collectively inspired by the same vision: to create and be creative.

María ÍtakaJalil Olmedo

Published on August 23, 2023

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