REVIEW w/ pics: Making a U Turn for Cafe Antigua Guatemala
You know how you have one of those days when you rush to get to an appointment only to find out that you got the times mixed up and are actually early? So now you have time to kill and then you realize that you're also hungry? What's a girl to do, except look for some place to have lunch, so I decide to take a drive and tell myself to stop at the first place that looks interesting. I'm cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard and of course, a small Guatemalan restaurant with a red facade catches my eye and I proceed to drive right past it. Unfortunately, the street was pretty busy, so it took me awhile, but I managed to do a U Turn and was soon on my way back.
Part of the appeal of this restaurant laid in the fact that I've never had Guatemalan food before and feeling a little adventurous decided that day was the day to check it out. Walking in, I noticed that this was indeed a small hole in the wall restaurant with only about 6 tables in the space. The menu was also quite limited, so I just asked the Owner for a recommendation. One dish she mentioned was a stew, but the weather was just too warm for that, so I went for her other suggestion, the Chili Relleno Plate. While waiting for my food arrive, I tried one of their Guatemalan Soft Drinks. The company is Tiky and I went for the pina flavor. Two words. Super Sweet. Letting the ice melt actually helped a little bit.
The tortillas arrived first. and I loved how thick and pillowy they were. If I had some butter, I could have just eaten them on their own. Finally, my Chili Relleno Plate arrived. Now with this dish, it comes with black beans, sour cream and rice and your choice of 1 of 2 different salads. I had asked if I could have a small portion of each salad and the Owner was fine with my request.
Since I'm not familiar with the Guatemalan cuisine, I was surprised at some of the foods that were served. One of the side salads was Pickled Cabbage, Beets and Carrots, which I absolutely enjoyed, but it's a dish that seemed to me, more Eastern Enropean in nature.
The other salad option was a mayonnaise-based Beans, Carrots an Potato Salad. First, I've never had green beans as part of a potato salad before, let alone carrots, but in general, I wouldn't think to associate mayonnaise with South American or Central American cooking. So if anyone has information on how these two particular salads would have made it in a Guatemalan restaurant, I'd love to know. As for the salad itself, it was tasty.
I absolutely fell in love with the side of black beans that came with the Chili Relleno. The best way I could describe it is that the texture was silky smooth and it had a sweet-earthiness to it that I really enjoyed.
As for the Chili Relleno itself, it was killer, except for one little thing. I've only had Mexican chili relleo dishes where the peppers were usually poblano peppers. For this Guatemalan version, a sweet red pepper was used instead and its filling consisted of ground pork, beans and carrots. One thing I found interesting was that though this pepper was deep fried, it was soft.
I'm not sure if these were prepared ahead of time and just heated or it's just the nature of this particular pepper to have a softer texture or maybe, the particular vegetables used for the fillings are more watery in nature. I don't really know. Although I would have liked a firmer pepper, I still absolutely enjoyed this Chili Relleno. It was hearty and the sweetness of the pepper really went well with the sweetness of the carrots. I also liked the addition of the green beans and overall, this could have been a meat intensive dish, but the veggies added a nice texture and balance.
I was pretty full by this time and wasn't sure if I could fit in dessert but once the Rellenito was described to me, my wall of resistance came tumbling down. Not that the wall was that strong in the first place. Simply, the Rellenito is a plantain stuffed with black beans, deep fried and than sprinkled with a little sugar. Now who could say no to that? I certainly didn't. It was a perfect end to the meal. Sweet, but not too sweet and not too greasy either, considering the plantain was deep fried.
Overall, Cafe Antigua Guatemala was a wonderful find and with the weather getting cooler, I look forward to returning and trying out the pepian stew recommended by the Owner. So if you're driving along Santa Monica Boulevard, Cafe Antigua Guatemala is definitely worth a stop for a delicious meal.
Cafe Antigua Guatemala
5421 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90029
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Hey Abby, the potato salad is very much a part of, well, I believe just about every cuisine, but is called ensalada rusa in Guatemala. And they have these potato salads very much like you describe here. In Brazil it's called maionese, for which there are a hundred versions. In other latin american cuisines it's also called ensalada rusa, and ingredients vary from country to country.