Leidy Bautista and her family run OaxaRico, a food truck that serves up Oaxacan dishes like molotes (pictured).

Located about an hour from the Mexican border, many of us are familiar with the sights and tastes of Sonora. Crossing the border on a sunny afternoon, we walk around town, stopping to indulge in a carne asada taco topped with lime juice and fresh pico de gallo.

Going deeper into the country, you may be familiar with Mexico City, where tourists flock to take in the colorful city and the rich history it has to offer.

As you continue to head south, you’ll look out the airplane window and notice vivid green scenery you may be unfamiliar with. That means you have reached Oaxaca, a place known for flavorful mole and popular cheese.

Instead of taking a six-hour flight to taste their molotes, you can head down to the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, located at 101 N. Stone Ave., where Leidy Bautista and her family serve up Oaxacan delicacies in a cherry red trailer.

Bautista and her mom, Silvia Bautista, and her dad, Oscar Bautista, run OaxaRico, a food truck that puts a twist on the usual Mexican food we see here by incorporating Oaxacan recipes and flavors to popular dishes.

Originally from Oaxaca, Leidy and her family decided to move to Tucson to be closer to family here. Silvia’s mother taught her how to cook when she was 13, learning the ins and outs of making delicious dishes like mole and molotes.

When they came to Tucson, Silvia’s cooking skills were loved by all, making her a hit at family gatherings.

“At family events my parents always cook and everyone loves how they cook,” Leidy said. “It [the food truck] was a thought for years and years and years and two years ago is when we decided it's now or never.”

Silvia Bautista adds Oaxacan flavors to classic Mexican dishes. 

In 2022, the bright red trailer hit the town for the first time. On the side of their truck is their menu featuring food like mini chimis; flautas; and sopes, which have a fried corn tortilla-like base topped with savory items like carnitas or shredded beef; and gorditas, which are thicker corn tortillas packed with meat and your usual lettuce, sour cream and salsa.

Each of the dishes on the menu are Silvia’s twist on recipes she learned from her family.

“For the menu, we wanted to pick something that people are familiar with, because if someone hasn't traveled down to Oaxaca, they're not going to know what all of this is,” Leidy said. “We wanted to give our customers something that they're familiar with and then add a little bit of Oaxaca to it.”

A standout on their menu is the molotes, an empanada-like dish where chorizo and potatoes are stuffed into a dough made from corn. To make the molotes, Silvia makes her chorizo from scratch, adding chopped up potatoes to the meat. Then she’ll stuff the chorizo mixture into the corn dough, frying it and topping in with lettuce, guacamole, salsa and a sprinkle of Oaxacan cheese.

Biting into the molote, you are hit with different flavors, each blending perfectly with one another. You get the softness of the corn outside, which tastes like a thicker corn tortilla and pretty much melts in your mouth.

Then you get a mouthful of the chorizo and potato, which adds a bit of spice to the dish. Finally, the guacamole and lettuce tie the whole thing together, plus you can dunk your molote into their salsa for an even spicier experience. The whole thing tastes like Mexican comfort food, making you want more even after finishing the three you’re given.

While the molotes are one of Leidy’s favorite dishes, she has other Oaxacan dishes that are near and dear to her heart. She eventually wants to add more Oaxacan specialties to their menu, like one of her favorites: tlayuda. Similar to a pizza, tlayuda is a toasted corn tortilla topped with ingredients like black beans, meat, stringy Oaxacan cheese, tomato, avocado and salsa.

One of the main meals Oaxaca is known for is mole: a rich, dark sauce made from dried chiles, peanuts, sesame seeds, chocolate, cinnamon and anise. Don’t let the chocolate fool you though, mole has a smoky and spicy taste with just a hint of sweetness. It's a flavor journey unlike anything you have tried.

During the colder months, OaxaRico sells Silvia’s mole and mole tamales. To make the mole sauce, Silvia has to use more than 50 ingredients, making it a four-to-five-day process. She also has to toast and blend everything to make sure they have a big enough batch to last a couple of days.

OaxaRico can be found outside the Joel D. Valdez Main Library on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Here in Tucson, we have no shortage of Mexican food, with many chefs and restaurants serving food we see when visiting places like Sonora. We’re used to the flour tortillas and the carne seca, but Oaxacan food features different ingredients and techniques that make it a different experience.

In Oaxaca, Leidy said there's no such thing as flour tortillas; everything is made with corn. She also said another difference is in the ingredients, where everything has more of a natural taste and feel, and no artificial ingredients are used.

“It's more of like, make what you can with what you have,” Leidy said.

She also said Oaxacan food typically has a kick to it, meaning it's spicy, but not to the point where you’re crying and chugging down water for relief.

“[Oaxacan food] is like a burst of flavor,” Leidy said.

OaxaRico can be found outside the Joel D. Valdez Main Library every Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Stop by and try a little taste of Oaxaca, where one bite of a molote will transport you to the vibrant culture of southern Mexico.

“You'll see things on our menu that not a lot of places have,” Leidy said. “It's really like your grandma's or your mom's home cooking. It's all handmade and we try to be really careful with our ingredients. It’s just really good.”

We're taking a trip around our border country through the lens of Tucson restaurants 🌮 El Tour de Mexico is a series that highlights local eateries who specialize in cuisine from different regions of Mexico.

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Jamie Donnelly is the food writer for #ThisIsTucson. Contact her via e-mail at jdonnelly@tucson.com