SW Houston Chow - Lo Nuestro - Guatemalan
I have passed this place hundreds of times without paying any attention to it, assuming it was just another Mexican restaurant. Located just a block west of 59 on Bissonnet, the main street-side sign is faded and only a smaller one points to the side of the strip center where the restaurant is located, across the parking lot from a Burger King. It’s a combination restaurant/sports bar, seating only 47; they are big supporters of the Dynamo. The restaurant side of the space is very plain, the bar looks well worn, but judging by what comes out of the kitchen, it is in fine shape.
The complimentary chip (!) comes with a house-special roasted tomato salsa that tastes a lot like a roasted tomato pasta sauce; it is sprinkled with a cheese that smells like Parmesan. Hey, they go real well together with a crispy corn tortilla. The salsa, which comes with many items on the menu, has virtually no heat.
They have a daily lunch special, 11-3, M-F, $5.99 including drink, with 6 combo options, all but 2 of which come with yuca frita y chicharron, curtido and salsa de tomate. I wanted to try their tamales so I got # 2, un chuchito de puerco, a snack-sized pork tamale. One on-line source says there are more than a hundred different styles of tamales served in Guatemala; Lo Nuestro serves 2 of them. The chuchito is about the size of a billiard ball, served in a corn husk, is very, very moist, and has a generous amount of chunks of pork It was very good. The yucca/casava fries are about as interesting as french fries; I’ll try to avoid them on subsequent visits. Some of the chicharrrons, deep fried cubes of pork, were awesome, with tender, moist chunks of pork goodness inside a crispy, fried exteror, but some were very tough.
I like pickly, vinegary cole slaws much better than sweet and creamy ones so I have a natural affinity for Central American curtido, their pickled slaw. Like creamy slaws they can get soft and mushy if they aren’t fresh but Lo Nuestro’s is very crisp; it has a small amount of red pepper and a little bit of heat. I liked it very much.
On a second visit I had an Enchilada Chapina for an appetizer ($1.95). Chapin is a nickname the Guatemalan people apply to themselves so this is a Guatemalan style enchilada. Much like what we would call a tostada, it is a crispy corn tortilla topped with marinated red cabbage, lettuce, finely chopped marinated beef, parsley and cheese with half a hard-boiled egg. There was also some ingredient that was either small peas (smaller than black-eyeds) or something like capers which weren’t mentioned in the menu description. Another winner – I really liked it.
Eggs seem to occupy an important part in the diet; another dish on the menu, Bandeja Chapina ($13.99) is a grilled T-bone served with frijoles negros, arroz, 2 poached eggs, plantanos fritos, queso fresco and crema while El Plato Tipico ($7.25) is basically the same with just one poached egg (and presumably a lesser or smaller steak).
The other tamale I’ve tried is labeled Tamale Centro-Americanos ($3.25) and like the chuchita comes with either pork or chicken. I presume it is their version of what an on-line source says is the most common Guatemalan tamale, tamale colorado, topped with their salsa and a dark chile sauce. Cooked in and served on a plantain leaf it is about the equivalent of 3 or 4 Tex-Mex tamales with their very good, very moist masa dough which includes some raisins and nuts. The pork version came with a large chunk of fork tender pork, about 3-3.5 oz worth I’d estimate. This comes with a hot sauce in a squeeze bottle that tastes a lot like Cholula. It’s the spiciest thing I’ve had there.
I had read that it is considered rude in Guatemala to eat more than one tamale at a time so I was surprised when the waiter asked if I wanted just one. It would not only be poor etiquette, it would also be foolish to try to eat more than one of these; they are very, very filling.
All of my pictures of the enchilada and tamale came out a little fuzzy but here’s the best of them:
Down the middle of the mass of masa is the piece of pork, flanked by masa dough. I thought the toast listed on the menu was a translation error but it wasn’t. I though the toast was totally superfluous.
They have about a dozen import beers - I remember Gallo (Famoso) and Regio but didn’t make a note of all the others. The decor is very plain. One sign asks for patience since your food is prepared ‘para sue ordenar.’ Another one I liked that I’ve seen in other ethnic restaurants translates basically as ‘Curb your child.’
I plan to visit this restaurant repeatedly to try other items on the menu. Garnachas, apparently the Guatemalan version of nachos, sound good, as does the pollo a la chula, grilled chicken breast smothered in cream of vegetables.
I know you mentioned in another thread that this restaurant has changed owners and menus since this post but just a comment about Gautemalan food in general. I'm not sure how much of it you've tried since this report.
The red sauce is call chirmol and, as you mentioned, it is on practically everything. It is just tomatoes and maybe onions or bell peppers run thru a blender.
The lunch special is a standard in Guatemala. Even restaurants that serve other cuisines will offer a Guatemalan lunch special for a low cost.
One thing to look for is the soups. Chicken soup or beef soup may not seem exciting, but it is the equivalent of a New England boiled dinner. You get corn, potatoes, meat, squash, carronts on a plate and then add them to the soup. If they don't give you any, ask for avocado as well.
I haven't really seen yucca fries anywhere. If yucca is served it is usually boiled and one of the vegetables with soup.
French fries are huge in Guatemala with almost every corner with a vendor ... selling fries and fried chicken. Fried chicken is almost as popular as eggs. If you go to a Guatemalan restaurant and there is chow mein on the menu, then you have the real deal. Seriously, after fried chicken, chow mein is one of the most common dishes. Go figure.
A site I learned A LOT about Guatemalan food is Antigua Daily Photo. While it covers Antigua, most of the food is just standard throughout the country. And there is a post in there about the etiquette of eating only one tamal at a time.
I've eaten at 4 other Guatemalan restaurants and a couple of the trucks I mentioned. I've had the Chao Mein urged on me once and seen it elsewhere and also at Central American groceries but haven't tried it. I think it's also popular in El Salvador. We have the Pollo Campero chain here which was started in Guatemala but I don't think I've ever seen fried chicken on the menu of any of the other Guatemalan places I've been to - I'll have to look for that. On the other hand, it's on the menu of every Honduran place I've been (and not very good).
One of the mobile units that I've seen has french fries but I haven't tried them. It's only open mornings and evenings and I'm never in that area those times. It also has shucos and one other Guatemalan hot dog, chevros or something like that? I want to try those.
The fried chicken and the chow mein aren't anything to go out of your way for, they just are signs of authenticity. The soup is something to seek out though.
The chevre is simpler than the shuco.. It is just the sausage, mayo, catsup, mustard and cabbage. You do want to ask for Picamás on it. You will find this sauce on the shelves of Latino markets. If there is anything more ubiquidous than chirmol, it is Picamás .
It is made out of a tiny pepper called a chiltepe. If you ever see thise fresh locally, snap them up. They are little bigger than the head of a pin but just fabulous. Anyway, Picamás is made from them. Picamás on won tons ... great fusion of two cuisines.
The thing to pay attention to in both shucos and chevres is the sausage. Usually a hot dog, Guatemalan chorizo or Guatemalan longaniza are the choices. The pick here is the chorizo. The hot dog is no better than Fud or your local bargain supermarket dog. I have yet to get the alure of longaniza.. However, chorizo .... mmmmmm. Here's a link from Antigua Daily Photo on chevres
The shuco on the other hand has all that and much much more. Here ADP on the shuco
But wait ... that's just the standard shuco. All sorts of stuff can get added. In the case of the Antiguan baleen shuco it can have up to 20 types of meat. I'm getting that whale of a sandwich next week when I'm in Antigua
The shuco had its origins in Guatemala City near a college calle the Liceo. Today there are streets near the school with back to back shuco shops. El Chinois is said to be the first. Here's my report on that.
Guatemala City: Shuco Street … Who’s your shuco daddy?
Oddly enough, the best shuco I had was at a gas station in the town I'm living in and not in La Capital. It seems Guatemalans like their shuco rolls with some black char. I preferred lightly toasted. Photos of the shucos near the college
One other thing to look for if you see a Gautemalan bakery is pan Frances. These are soft yeasty rolls that are almost as important as tortillas. They are great with a tamal for mopping up any masa left on the leaf. The are alos nice with the typical Gautemalan breakfast. Heck, they are just nice period.
Thanks for all the detail. I had seen the ADP and Wiki articles on Shucos but this makes it clearer. Looks to me like they should be compared to po'boys rather than hot dogs. And the shuco is the one to go for; I thought maybe the chevre would be special since it's rarer but I haven't been very impressed with Mexican or Central American salchichas as opposed to chorizos or longanizas.
Sounds like maybe fried chicken in Honduras plays the same role as in Guatemala - a sign of authenticity rather than something worth going for.
The Guatemalan panaderia that is the best at labeling their goods is the one farthest from me so I seldom get up there. I'm not sure if I've seen Pan Frances there but at the bakery where I got the tamale blanca mentioned in the other thread it was accompanied with a very large, yeasty roll that I just described as an oversized dinner roll. Perhaps that was Pan Frances? The place is a bakery/grocery store that serves from a steam table and is one of the two best places I've been to since Lo Nuestro went down hill and changed ownership.
Yep, that roll was pan Frances. As far as I can figure, the majority of the rolls are the same dough only different shapes. Here's my post about the different types of Guatemalan baked goods with photos I found on the web.
The standouts (if they are done right) are the banana zepelins, lenguas and quesadillas.
Zepelins are like tea breads. Someone called them pound cakes but not really. Lenguas are just long flaky cookies.
Quesadillas are interesting. They are more like corn bread but with parmesan cheese. Like corn bread, you can get bad versions and greatness. I had quesadilla greatness at the central market in Gautemala City. A vendor from the cheese producing region of Zacapa was selling it in addition to the cheese from that region and special butter. It was made with the dairy products from that region and really something special.
Oh, yeah ... corbatas. I just had one of those and liked it. Antigua Daily Photo has a picture and great description. I'll add my photo to the above link on baked goods. Here's what ADP says
"Corbatas are fried flour-based crunchy dessert soaked in syrup or honey. Corbatas take their name from the shape they are cooked into. I believe corbatas are known as molletes in Mexico, which are not at all like the Guatemalan molletes."
I'd say more honey-coated than soaked. One dessert to skip, IMO, is mil hoya. These are sort of like unrefrigerated napoleans. They look fabulous, but I've tried this at a few places and have given up on them. It is the cream ... it makes the stuff in Twinkies seem gourmet. And they always taste stale.
Yeah, I guess you could say a shuco is like a poor boy ... on a big hot dog roll. Like the shuco, you can get your chevre at some places with chorizo. The chevre is just the Guatemalan version of the American hot dog only with different condiments. A mixto is just a chevre on a tortilla.
Houston seems a big stopping point for Gautemalans on the way in and out of the country. People driving to and from need to stop there or at the California border to get the paperwork for driving vehicles in Guatemala. I'll ask my family if there are any Guatemalan places they like there ... though in the US they tend to favor ayce Chinese buffets.
Sorry to go on, but you seemed interested in Guatemalan food. I have known my husband's family since the 1990's and really could not get a handle on exactly what Guatemalan food is until I moved here.
A good portion is similar to food in the US ... rather US food from the 1950's ... liver and onions, creamed chicken, etc. Some is they just consider unimportant and Americans would be uninterested.
And others, of course, are dependant on local ingredients. Ceviche is big in Guatemala, but I'd say that the fresh seafood is key to these.
I have been exploring Latin cuisines for several years and I'll get my learnin' anyway I can, so don't apologize for going on.
Here is a link to a local restaurant site with Guatemalan listings. I will be interested to see if your relatives know of any others.
I've been to the El Quetzal's - not very impressive -, Chapinlandia and Guatemala. In fact, you'll see my reviews of them there and there is more on my blog. There was another El Quetzal up on Long Point in Spring Branch that is now # 1 Xelapan or something like that; that was the best of them, and where they label the baked goods more helpfully. That site is not complete and besides Xelapan I know of at least one other place similar to Chapinlandia - a bakery, grocery store, steam table restaurant.
I'm working my way through those pictures of the bakery goods.