Antigua and Xela Guatemala
So strange to find a Xela thread on Chowhound!
I miss Xela! I love the fresh soft pan francesa, the not too sweet little cookies with coffee, the fresh tortillas, the best black beans on earth, and my house mom's tamales con arroz (mmmmm yum, the sugared fruits (higos higos higos!) And my cafe con leche , hmmmm. So yummy that leche en polvo with nescafe classico became stock in my pantry when I got home after being there for months(weird I know).
Here's my tip for not getting sick - NEVER eat ANYTHING with your hands if you can help it. Use the provided toothpicks. Your hands are way dirtier than you think and that Purell won't kill it all.
And the fried chicken and the tacos sold by the lancha ramp in Pana are just the BEST.
And if you order an entire bottle of rum, you get all the cokes and puro hielo you need for the table plus plenty of free antojitos - not bad for 25Q!
(I don't miss the chinese food with sweet ketchup and white bread, though!)
I loved living in Xela. It's been too long since I've been back.
p.s. In Xela, I forgot to mention the Cafe La Luna. It's one of the only cafes in town that has a local clientele as well as the usual gringo scene. They've got incredibly friendly waitstaff and WONDERFUL hot chocolate. It's a local institution and has been around for many decades. It's near the parque with the mcdonalds (isn't that a great recommendation? But really, it's good!), on a small side street.
As a previous poster mentioned, Antigua has become touristy so you have a nice selection of food there. I'm assuming you're interested in more tipica food instead of mediocre italian or chinese.
Fonda de Calle Real is a must, and their soup and pepian are classic.
Right across from the Calle Real on 5av Norte is Cenicienta Pasteles (I think that's the name). They have wonderful cakes and pies, along with quiche, coffee and chocolate. The prices are a bit high for Guatemala but you'll probably find them reasonable.
For a real treat, walk to Doña Maria Dulces Típicos. It´s right near Hotel Aurora and is an old-time candy store. The prices are a bit high, but every piece is hand made and many are quite artful and unique. The place has been there for some time and most Antigüeños will tell you to head there for a piece of history.
A nice simple comedor for lunch is Casa de las Mixtas on a nice side street a short walk from the market or park. They have standard comedor fare but definitely better than most similar places. Croissant with chocolate is a good bet in the morning!
La Escudilla is a popular place with travelers, although I find it too expensive. But it´s a nice place to head, as there are two bars inside (riki´s which is loud and plays jazz, and another smaller bar that is quiet). The restaurant has good pastas, salad and sandwiches.
The market is a great chowhound option, with reasonable prices and great food. Just be sure to eat somewhere with lots of locals for reasons mentioned by the previous poster. Further, many many travelers to Guatemala come down with amoebas or dysentery. If you feel sick don´t hesitate to hit the nearest farmacia and get medicine. Don´t forget to brush your teeth with bottled water!
Enjoy the tortillas! You will notice how different and tastier they are than their Mexican counterparts (IMHO).
A piece of advice about Xela- the town isn´t particularly interesting. But do go to the town museum on the north (?) end of the parque central. It´s a hoot and worth the price of admission! One room has dozens of species of local animals preserved in jars of formaldehyde. Some are fetuses so best to not go around mealtime.
You can get a good taste of Xela in a day, then I would encourage you to go to one of the outlying towns such as Momostenango or San Francisco el Alto. Both have a strong indigenous flavor (mainly Quiche) and have wonderful markets. Momos market is Sunday and San Francisco on Friday. Blankets are a good purchase at both.
Well enjoy your trip and if you have travel related questions check out the Thorntree board at the Lonely Planet website.
There is some great food to be had in both places.
Antigua has gotten increasingly touristy over the years -- and it's been a while since my last visit -- but there are a few places which should not have changed appreciably.
- Don~a Luisa. (There's a longer name, but I don't remember it and you don't need it.) Great for breakfast, coffee and afternoon snacks. OK for light lunches. One of the best deals was (is?) the Refraccion del Dia, which was a cup of coffee and a piece of recently made cake/pie (they decide what you get), for a remarkably small sum.
- La Fonda de la Calle Real. There are two locations: I prefer the one on the street that runs north from the western edge of the central park (maybe it's the 5a avenida norte?); the restaurant is about 1-2 blocks north of the park on the east side of the street. Their Caldo Real (the name is close to that -- it may be Caldo de la Fonda Real) is one of the best chicken soups I've ever had. Big enough for a meal, it is served with a collection of condiments - lime, cilantro, chile pepper, oregano, maybe other things too. It's great. Make sure to sit upstairs.
- In many places you can get great licuados (fresh fruit blended drinks), and there are some fantastic market stalls. Just eat at one that's crowded, so that you're assured of high turnover and thus freshly cooked food. I had some great Pepian (Mayan stew with a pumkin-seed base) in the market.
Xela is less touristed, and it beautifully situated. There's one place that stands out in my memory:
- Alba Mar. (I'm not 100% sure about the name, but it's close...maybe Albamar or some other variation.) This is a restaurant across from the corner of the central park (near the large church). I think it's at the NE corner of the park, but I'm not sure. The place looks a bit like a 1970s US-style diner/coffee shop, but has some great food. Try their specialty, Kak-Ick (a traditional Mayan dish, sort of a turkey stew). I found the flavor to be amazing...and frustrating, as they would not share the recipe!
In Xela, there is an Amish Bake Shop (I swear, that's the name, they didn't translate it into Panaderia or anything!) that is only open a couple of mornings a week (Tuesday and Saturday? not sure). It's wonderful. Amazing yogurt, decent granola and delish donuts. It's a weird spot, because they basically bake things for an American palate (and they're priced closer to something an expat could afford) but they're selling it all in Xela. I haven't been there since 2000, so I don't know if they're even still open and don't remember the address. It isn't too far from the main mall in town, and if you meet gringos (which you surely will) they'll probably be able to tell you where it is.
For pizza, I always liked Cardinales. Pricey, but really not bad.
Sorry I don't have more Guatemalan recommendations. I got sick early on in my 10 weeks there, and it made me really gun shy about being adventurous with food. I know, it's totally non-houndish of me, but getting amoebas in the gut is a real bummer. The best Guatemalan food I ate was served by the matriarch of the family I lived with. It was incredibly labor intensive to prepare, and amazing. We usually ate some pretty dreadful food, I suspect often her idea of what an American vegetarian ate (e.g. spaghetti noodles boiled and then fried in chicken fat, with a side of rice that had been fried in chicken fat--I'm not making this up!).
Have fun, I loved the country!