Guatemalan road trip - Guatemala segment
(continuing the thread from the Mexico Branch)
I've actually been to Escuintla (passed through the town but didn't stop to eat). And as a tourist attraction and on the scale from 1 to 10, it gets a 1--at best. But I live in Richmond and it gets a zero, I'm sure both towns are fine places to grow up in and live there. We were spending a week in Antigua and drove down to Palín to see the "world's largest ceiba tree," visit the zocalo and enjoy market day (Wednesday). The street food and the town in general were great fun. If you make side trips on your own, you might consider going up there, it's not far at all.
We wound up going through Esquintla because it looked like the fastest way back to Antigua was through Esquintla and then taking the "new road" up to Antigua. Unfortunately the new road was not completed and our car (with the two of us and our two traveling companions) just couldn't make it up some of the steep hills on the old (dirt) road and we had to backtrack and return via Palín.
I don't know your route from the Mexican border to Escuintla, but I can guess. We spent most of three weeks in Guatemala traveling all over the country but we stayed in mostly typical tourist towns and tried to eat "upscale" food (yeah right!). So we're hardly reliable reporters. The four of us were not especially taken with Guatemalan food, finding it mostly derivative and underwhelming--compared to Mexican food, for example. And we did venture out to sample food from just about everywhere we went. But we truly enjoyed our time in Guatemala, the people and sights were wonderful and we would love to go back again.
Here are some places we liked which might be on your route:
Antigua: Café la Condesa; Posada de Don Rodrigo; Restaurante La Escudilla; the restaurant in the hotel of Hotel Convento Santa Catalina; La Fonda de la Calle Real (the Cak-Ik was very good).
Quetzaltenango: Royal Paris (an alleged "French Bistro" which actually had rather good food at a very reasonable price).
The many, many other places we ate at would be well off the route you'll be taking unless you'll be going into Guatemala City or "Gringotenango."
Yeah, I knew long before I even met my husband ... knew his relatives first ... that Escuintla isn't much. I've know this family from the mid 90's and for all the meals together I still can't really describe Guatamalan cuisine because as you mentioned, it seems derivative.
I do like the rolls called Francais though ... a lightly crusty, yeasty French roll , as implied. They do make those terrific Central American type of tamales that are wetter than Mexican. Last Christmas some friend of the family made the most amazing one with a whole chicken leg in it. Also it depends on where you are from in Guatamale. Cak-ik isn't part of the cuisine from that particular town.
Thanks for the tips. I know we will be definately going into Guatamala City because of needing to complete paperwork.
There are zillions of restaurants in Guatemala City, but here's a slightly unusual one I can highly recommend. It's an unabashedly Mexican restaurant across the street from the Holiday Inn: Hacienda Real. The ambience is excellent, as is the food. I had a very flavorful pork dish with a grilled ear of corn on the side and the others had a medly of soft tacos that were interesting and quite good and came with an assortment of various salsas that were outstanding. It isn't Guatemalan food, but as we've said, just exactly what the hell IS Guatemalan food?
Giving Escuintla a 1 on a scale of 10 is generous. I'd say it is the Fresno of Guatemala but that would be an insult to Fresno. Then it turns out I don't even live in Escuitla ... that is the local big city ... I live in a suburb, so to speak of Massagua.
The food action though seems to be knowing the right place to buy the right thing ... someone who makes good tamales, the all but hidden tortilla maker who grills them over a wood fire. We have not been out to a restaurant as the family seems to eat strictly at home. It has been interesting though and the fresh tropical fruit is great. How about that, bananas picked ripe off the tree ... not green and shipped.
I know this is an old post, but I thought I'd reply with some restaurant suggestions in case someone was doing a search for places to eat in Guatemala. I have lived in Guatemala for 3 years now and my husband and I are always seeking out new places to eat (and good places to eat)!! My restaurant recs are the following:
- I also LOVE Meson Panza Verde... if you go, be sure to get the Duck L'Orange... it is probably the best duck dish I have ever eaten.
- Tartines: this is a newer restaurant, near Central Park, and one of my fave places to eat these days. They have great paninis, crepes, and other french food. I love the Steak Cafe de Paris and recently went with my Swiss friend who commented that it was very authentic! The chef, Jean Francois is one of the most famous chefs in Guatemala. It's not that expensive, Q120 or $15 for the plate (including veggies and fries). Go upstairs and sit on the terrace.
- Hector's Restaurant: also a very new restaurant, but last time I went, it didn't have a name yet. It's a small place located very close to La Merced church. If you're looking at the church, it will be on the right side, around the corner from the arch street.
- Sabe Rico: go to the very, very back of the place for a beautiful garden setting. Good place for a snack and the orange tea with rosemary is divine.
- La Escalonia: A plant nursery and restaurant. Great sandwiches here.
- La Fonda de la Calle Real: OK place, but they serve authentic Guatemalan food including the Kakik dish people mentioned. I like the Subanik and my cousin really liked the Pollo Jocon when she went.
- Las Cuevas de Urqui...?: I forget the name, but it is close to Capuchinas. I loved the enchiladas here (not American enchiladas, but basically tostadas topped with radishes (or wait, were they beets?) Try them, they're cheap :)
- Nokiate: nice decor, pretty good japanese food. But really, do you want to eat Japanese food when you're in Guatemala?
- Like the other reviewer mentioned, Hacienda Real is a good choice for steak (I would say steak is typical "Guatemalan" food since every Guatemalan I know eats steak for dinner - with beans and tortillas, of course). Beautiful setting too, but they have changed locations and are no longer across from the Holiday Inn. They are still in Z10, Zona Viva though.
- Donde Mikel: probably the best steak/shrimp place in the city (Spanish style). It's not a gorgeous restaurant or anything, but I think it has some of the best food in the city - definitely Chowhound worthy. Order the Mar y Tierra (steak and shrimp). Closed on Sundays, I think. And closed for dinner on Saturdays (strange, I know).
- Los Alpes in Z9: decent food, great Pear Pie for dessert. Good place for an inexpensive lunch.
- La Plazuela: kind of an ugly place, but their steak is delicious!! I like ordering the Costillas sin hueso (boneless ribs).
- Injerto Cafe: small, new place in Z13 that serves excellent coffee :)
Hope this helps! :) Oh! And as for Escuintla, there is actually a very good Carnitas place there... but I sadly can't remember the name (I only know where it is as I'm driving to the beach). But it's on the main highway to Puerto San Jose and you'll know it by the crowd there ;)
I have been going thru the Guatemalan threads to collect suggestions for when we do get to a larger town. A second thanks for some fresh suggestions. Seems like the same names get repeated over and over.
One place I am dying to go is Quesos y Vino in Antigua which has a wood-burning brick oven
I likr the quote provided by that last link
Costa, given to the pleasure of eating, philosophized about God. He said that his existence was proved in the sublime flavor of garlic, or in the sacred combination of tomato with basil.
—Carol Zardetto, in With Absolute Passion, pg 89.