Guatemala: Local chain restaurants
- rworange Jun 10, 2010 05:22 PM
My main post covering all of Guatemala is getting long so I'm starting a new post here. The local Guatemalan chain section of that long topic starts here
Why cover chains?
1. Some of them aren't bad.
2. It bugs me when I go someplace and find out after the fact it is a chain
Yes, yes, I know ... it doesn't matter if it is delicious, but still I prefer single-owner restaurants giving the food some local love.
Pop's Ice Cream, for example, had the look of a small place, but they are so extensive they even have ads at the local movie theatre ... a pretty funny ad though.
Places I've tried as of this post
La Estacia Steak House
Ok, but been there, tried it. Unlikely I'll go back. Not a bad one-time choice ... stick to the beef
Good ice cream, especially the gunaba. The restaurants are ok-ish ... better than Denny's but not as good as Cheesecake Factory ... American coffee shop and Gautemalan dishes
I love this vendor. I'm pretty sure they are natural popsicles. The strawberry yogurt and the mixed fruit in yogurt are the best. The mora (local Gautemalan blackberry) is pretty fabulous. I plan to try all the flavors. Don't chose to have them dipped in the chocolate. It is pretty meh.
Ice cream shop similar to Sarita which I currently prefer. However, I've only been here once and a friend highly recommends the strawberry.
Cafe San Lucas
The local version of Peet's or Starbuck's ... but without the flavor. I am not a fan of mild roast Guatemalan coffee.
No, no ... a thousand times no ... a dozen combinations of tortillas, cheese and three steam table meats. Whatever you do, don't get the pastor. Better you should starve than eat here
Los Cebollines (the green onions / .scallions)
This chain of restaurants serving Mexican food is not only the best chain restaurant I've tried in Gautemala so far, it is better than any chain Mexican restaurant I have been to in the US.
It started in Gautemala city in 1982 as a taco stand, evolved into a beautiful restaurant. The 23 restaurants are also located in three other countries ... Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica. The mission statement is to be the premiere Mexican restaurant chain in Central America. If they are all as good as the Esquintla location, I wish them well.
It is a very nice looking restaurant. Photos are on the website ... which is in English and Spanish
- Complementary chips with salsa made tableside
- Grilled chicken breast
- Tortilla soup
- Pork chops
- Jamaica agua fresca
- Tropical liquado
- Complimentary tortillas
They roll out a salsa cart with four bowls and a large molcahete. The server takes roasted tomatoes and peppers from two bowls, adds them to the large molcahete and proceeds to chop them up with knives. A little of some sort of oil is added. It is then topped white fresh diced onions and cilantro from the other two bowls.
It was pretty good salsa and different from the usual salsa fresca. The chips could have been better though. They were thin and ok but not quite crispy. We went early for lunch, so maybe they were from yesterday. Still a good start
Most other tables also got a tray of three condiments. For some reason our table and the table next to us got missed. Next time.
My friends grilled chicken breast was excellent. It was moist, tender and flavorful with nice flame-kissed grilling. It came with excellent guacamole and pretty good rice. This was a white rice mixed with veggies rather than the dry Spanish rice mixed with tomato sauce that is usually served in the US.
I took advantage of the current lunch promotion ... I'm sure this link wil expire soon.
For $49 quetazels, about $6, there was a choice of
- soup, salad or special beans
- one of six entrees
- refillable soda, tea, aqua fresca or a single glass of beer
The tortilla soup was one of the best I've had in a long time. It tasted like it had red wine in it. The tortilla strips were pre-added and there was a dollop of thick cream on top.
The two thin pork chops were ok ... but not as good as the chicken. They could have been dry, but even the thin chops were moist. It came with rice, refried beans and some really great plantanitos.
The basket of warm Mexican-style tortillas were ok, but I've gotten used to the more flavorful thick Guatemalan tortillas.
I thought my friends liquado tasted a bit too much of frozen fruit. However, the Jamaica was one of the best I've had in a long, long time ... and they refilled it.
Also nice ... not only was there complementary water, but they kept the glasses full of fresh ice.
The service was friendly, efficient and professional.
Lots of people had the chimichanga pibil which was huge and looked good. Someone ordered fajitas which was served on a sizzling platter.
While it wasn't food greatness, it was very good. I see this as a restaurant I'd take the family to for birthdays. I think they would really like it. I know I do.
& I love it
Just when I abandoned hope of finding good coffee in Guatemala, I try & Cafe.
While I've ranted about this in other Gautemalan posts, it seems in this land of coffee, the jarred Nescafe Clasico is the national coffee. Either that or coffee lacking any flavor ... you might as well be drinking water or steamed milk.
This chain is localed mainly in Gautemala City, with a one or two outposts in other cities such as Antigua.
If you click on their website, they look exactly like the photo.
The cappucino I had ... had flavor ... and nice steamed foam.It is the Guatemalan version of cap ... which means a medium sized cup. It was about $1.50. This coffee reminds me of Peet's in San Francisco.
They even have ... gasp ... different regional Guatemalan beans ... and a coffee of the day ... be still my heart. I was looking at one of the menu boards and wondering what in the world they were selling for $5 ... oh ... whole 1lb bags of beans.
Rollovers of the website photo give more inforamtion. Rollover the sign behind the guy in the photo and there is "proceso del cafe', a fabulous video about coffee that start with planting the coffee and shows every single step along the way.
My husband's, kid's aunt's husband ... whew ... Carlos ... took me here. He takes pity on my local food cluelessness without making me feel bad. I had dragged him to a mediocre coffee shop and the next time we got together, he brought me here.
If you see & Cafe... they are one of the good chains. One is located in the airport according to the website.
Dobladas San Carlos
A doblada is a deep-fried corn tortilla filled with meat and veggies such as chopped cabbage. They look something like this
This was the fast food version from a chain localed in a shopping mall. The shop itself looks like this
These are large-size tortillas. We ordered them with beef. The shredded beef was pretty tasteless and the veggie was cooked, chopped cabbage. That didn't have much cabbage flavor, but that seems the norm cabbage-wise in Guatemala.
Small plastic cups of Picamás were available. This is a mild green chili sauce made from chiltepes that is served whith almost everything here. Picamas Salsa Brava is the bottled version
Squeeze a little lime in the center, give it a hit of green sauce and ... crunch, crunch, crunch. It was ok and filling but it was probably to doblasdas as Mcdonalds's is to a good burger.If you are really looking for Gautemalan food, I'd hold out for a better version.
Most of the beverages were bottled, but they did serve ponche, a punch with mixed chopped fruit. I ordered the cold version, but you could get it hot. It tasted like weak, watery pineapple juice. The diced fruit was mainly pineapple and some mango ... I am guessing mango due to the color. It was so far from the exquisite version I had a few weeks ago that had been cooking over an open fire for hours, aquiring a wonderful smokiness. Big chunks of all sort of fruit filled the bottom.
Next to Dobledas in the food court was Tipcos comida de Guatemala. It is a take on the phrase 'comida tipicos' ... or typical Guatemalan food. Someone joked about the place saying "pero no es comida typico"
If the version of torrejas I had was any example of their food, I'd have to agree ... at least it wasn't good typical Guatemalan cuisine.
This site describes this dessert as "torrejas is what happens when you mix a good sampling of Guatemalan sweet bread known as molletes; stuff it with manjar (custard*); then wrap the whole thing with beaten eggs; fry it; and finally let it boil in a sweet sauce made from sugar, water, red wine and cinnamon until syrup is obtained."
This wasn't that.
It was simply a sweet roll in a weak honey sauce. Skip it here.
The food court had all the usual suspects. Of course there was Pollo Comparo ... which really should be the comida typico of Gautemala. The American chains werer there such as Domino's and Burger King.
There was a fast food Chinese joint, a place serving Guatemalan hamburgers, frozen yogurt. There was also a place selling Columbian fast food. I didn't get a look, but they had Columbian hot dogs.
A local Italian place, Ciro, had a shop. I was told the coffee was good there. The cakes and pastries looked pretty good.
There was a candy stand on the first floor selling typical Guatemalan sweets.
It was a REAL mall with three stories of shops, escalators and elevators. If you didn't look closely at the signs, you could be anywhere in the US. It was centered by PAIZ, which is as close to upscale groceries as I've seen. It is owned by Wal-Mart which has a really unsettling presence in Guatemala. They own a lot of different businesses here. Every town has some store ... and usually many ... that are owned by Wal-Mart.
It was quite a day of contrasts. In the morning I was shopping at the Mercado Central that was filled mainly with Mayans in native costume, many carrying what they bought in baskets that balanced on their heads. Then in the afternoon it was this mall that was nicer and more modern than many US malls. Not a Mayan in sight.
The food at the Mercado Central was far superior
Coffee, pastries, beverages, wraps and sandwiches. The photos of the food pretty much say it all. Standard chain coffee house food a la Starbucks
The cappuccino wasn't bad however and had some flavor. I like & Cafe better, but this is decent.
My friend had a mango granita. He's Guatemalan and he said it was too sweet ... so it was really over the top.I thought it tasted fake on top of it.
McCafe, McPatatas & fried chicken (pollo McCrispy)
Yes, it is not a local chain, but McDonald's has enough of a local spin that it belongs here.
McDonald's has McCafe's throughout the world where espresso drinks are made by baristas. In the case of the Guatemala McCafe's, they use 100% Guatemalan beans.
I had a regular cup of coffee and I really couldn't tell the difference between what they sell in the US. It was good, not great. I also picked up an afajore, the chocolate covered version. They are wrapped in paper and pretty awful, The cookie was soft but not in a good way. The filling and chocolate cover were overly sweet. They also sell Evian water.
The baked goods didn't look all that inviting ... not up to Starbuck's level. They also have paninis, wraps and soups. The McCafe's are in many of the McDonald's restaurants and some are even in Wal-Mart (Hiper Paiz)
As to the regular menu, in country of Pollo Campero and fried chicken everywhere ... from the most modest street vendor to upscale restaurants ... McDonald's offers the pollo McCrispy in addition to the erstaz McNuggets. Pollo Comparo should not worry. The little street vendor should not worry.
Somehow they captured the taste of the nugget in a piece of bone-in fried chicken. It has that weird vegetal taste to it. It must be the chemical marinade. The coating wasn't crispy and reminded me of a Swanson frozen fried chicken dinner. It comes with a stale-tasting braided dinner. roll.
McPatatas are fried potato wedges in a cup. Stick to the regular fries. The heat lamps didn't keep them warm enough and they were on the soft and limp side.
The are McCafes in many of the regular McDonald's and a few mini-versions in Wal-Mart (Hiper Paiz) with a limited menu.
The gem of the Guatemalan McCafe's is in Antigua near the large Mercado.
There is a lovely outdoor patio area with a fountain.
To the left is the regular counter where the golden arches take on a local form
It is the most attractive McDonald's I've been to. However, it is still McDonald's
4a Calle Poniente Casa 21
Burger King - Desayuno Chapin
OK, another national chain and there's not a whole lot on the menu that is different from the US other than some names such as King de pollo or King de pescado ... it makes the sandwiches somehow seem grander than they are with those names.
Of course, they offer fried chicken which seems to be a requriement inorder to sell food in Guatemala. Haven't tried BK's fried chicken.
They offer a typical Guatemalan breakfast and surprisingly they do a credible job. It actually it is the best breakfast item I've ever had at BK anywhere. Here's a photo, not a good one though
It has scrambled eggs, fried plantanos, refried mashed beans, two warm tortillas and a crossant sandwich with ham, bacon AND a sausage patty. It also had two little condiment cups. One with a really good, thick crema and the other with chirmol, a tomato sauce served with almost everything in GT. The nice touch was the chirmal was heated. The tortillas were more Mexican than Guatemalan, but they were fine.
The only downfall was the dreadful coffee ... in a country that for me has had mostly mediocre brews, this stands out as ... ick. Then again, I've always hated BK coffee in the US.
But other than that, should you find yourself with no other breakfast options, this is a decent choice. It's fast food. It doesn't rise above that, but it is done well.
The trip to the border to do some business turned out disappointing food-wise. We had to leave so early that even the little comedors weren't really set up. BK was about the only thing open in the middle of not much. We didn't have a chance to eat again until 7 pm and this was hearty enough to keep us going all dayl
This blogger covers the breakfast scene in Guatemala. There are only so many typical breakfasts one can eat. English doesn't seem to be the first language, but it is very good. There is a bit of fondness for chains, but lots of photos and menus.
La Estancia - the breakfast buffet is recommended over the regular breakfast menu
La Palace - Bakery noted for their Black Forest cake by the blogger. It serves breakfast
Los Cebollines - daily breajfast dishes and buffet available at some locations
Nais - The website shows an breakfast menu with many dishes. Tamales are offered on the weekends. There's also a Western skillet, Mexican breakfasts, waffles and guayaba yogurt. There's a children's breakfast menu..
Panadería San Martín - Salvadoran breakfast with pupusa also offered. Photos of breakfast on website. Kid's breakfasts include pancakes cut out in fancy shapes.
Pastelería Patsy - the blogger likes the strawberry and cream cake here in addition to breakfast. The photo of that cake looks pretty darn good. In addition to the usual breakfast combos they offer a breakfast tamal on the weekends and a breakfast sub on house-baked bread.
Sarita - some offer breakfast buffets on the weekend in addition to the regular breakfast menu. I have to agree with the blogger it iwn'5 my favorite place. It is similar (but better) than Denny's in the US. The coffee is good and the service is always pleasant no matter where I've been.
Saúl E. Mendez - A chain of mens clothing that added a restaurant offering crepes. Some have liquor such as vodka. There are also egg dishes, waffles and sandwiches such as Croques ... I'll have to continue my crogue monseaur crawl in GT.
Tre Fratelli - breakfast daily and buffet brunch on weekends
These are surprisingly good. I'm guessing by American, they mean Central American. Most of their locations are in Guatemala with one or two in a few other Central American countries. Looking at the website they seem to have global aspirations.
The foot-long churros are crisp and not greasy.They had just the right crunch. The vanilla filling I had was good and not over sweet or artificial tasting. They are better than most street churros I've tried.
The kiosk at the Esquintla mall is the stripped down version. They only offer three flavors - vanilla, chocolate and dulce de leche. They didn'tt sell any coffee drinks. Other branches have a flavor of the day such as strawberry, pineapple, apple, nutella or Bavarian cream.
San Martin Cafe and Bakery
I liked this place though some of this post may not give that impression.
So I want to start with the baked good that is the star here, IMO.The patelito de queso is a real stand out
This is a aodr cheese Danish type of pastery with sweet cheese incorporated into the light buttery bun. It reminded me a bit of crumb cake. It had a nice crispy exterior dusted with powdered sugar that didn't fall all over the place.
I bought some other baked goods I really liked alot, but if you had one thing to buy here, this is it.
If you plopped this place in any city in the United States, most people would have no clue it was Guatemalan. It follows the formula of most 'artisan' chain bakeries such as Panera or Grain D'Or.
That is not to say it doesn't carry a full line of Guatemalan bread and baked goods which are all clearly marked.
We had the combo of 1/2 sandwich, soup and beverage.
Some of the baked goods reminded me of Stella D'Oro. There were complementary cups of two-foot long breadsticks that were almost idential to those sold by Stella D'Oro, though a little lighter in texture.
The sopa de frijole came with side cups of fresh cheese cubes, avocado, tortilla strips and some thin crackers that were called lavosh, but really ... no. Nice crackers though.
The soup had the consistancy of onion soup. It was about as good as any type of soup in this type of bakery/cafe.
I'm sort of amused that soup in hollowed out bread seems to have invaded Central America. In this case it is tomato soup
Since Philly Cheese Steak seems to be on a few Guatemalan menus, I've been wanting to try the Central American version. That it has cheddar cheese in it should say something.
Basically it is a steak sandwich with a generaous portion of cubed steak. There were a few scattered fried onions and off on one end a tiny bit of melted cheddar cheese. It comes on a house made roll which was an ok sub roll. There was also lettuce and tomato on it. They don't have a photo on the menu but the photo of the monte cristo might give an indication of 'not clear on the concept'
The Jamaica was quite good. They have espresso drinks, but the cappuccino is the type in glass mugs popular in Guatemala and I just can't do that anymore.
They have a top-notch apple strudel danish. The crisp crust is buttery, the apples fresh and not gluey.
The empanadas were also quite good. The first bite made me think there might be too much crust, but it worked well and the fillings were generous. The Argentine empanada was filled with tasty ground beef. The Chilean empanada had nice tiny cubes of tender beef with raisins and a mild chile. It had a nice savory/sweet thing going on.
I lucked out and got some pan Frances hot from the oven. It was a good version that reminded me why I became a fan of this bread long ago. It was soft and yeasty with a nice soft crust dusted with flour. The aroma filled the car on the way home.
There other rolls were good in that chain bakery sort of way. Campensanitos had a more chewy crust than most Guatemalan bread, similar to a thin sourdough crust. They come in different flavors, but only the parmesan was available, though there was not much cheese flavor. I wouldn't buy it again. The pretzel version had lots of chew but not much pretzel flavor
If you look at the photo of the cookies, you might understand the Stella D'Oro comparison.
The rosquitas were almost identical to those little round iced cookies by Stella D'Oro only fresher and better.
All in all, while I wouldn't make a special trip, I would definately stop by for the baked goods if one were nearby. I'm not too interested in the cafe, though I wouldn't miind trying the Salvadoran breakfast, the breakfast with eggs and peas or the huevos escondidos .. hidden in bread ... aka breakfast in a bread bowl.
I went to the one in the San Cristobal shopping center which seems to also have a nice cheese shop with imported cheeses.
I don't know how I could have forgotten to include the best known of any Guatemalan chain, Pollo Comparo.
Pollo Campero at the sacred source ... the “Campero Conspiracy”
Since that post, I've upgraded my opinion a bit. If you eat enough Pollo Comparo (and I have), you get the mystique and why it is popular.