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Jun 21, 2010 06:24 PM

Guatemala City restaurants, street food and more

My main post covering all of Guatemala is getting long so I'm starting a new post here. The Guatemala City section of that long topic starts here

The only place I've posted about so far is La Estacia Steak House. It is Guatemalan chain with one location next door to the American Embassy

Some useful links

Revue magazine which has some restaurant info for various cities in Guatemala

Que Pasa Antigua expended its scope this month to include restaurants in other parts of the country.

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  1. Mercado Central - 8 Calle and 8 Av (Zpma 1)

    At 9:30 am vendors were still setting up stands. The customers at the produce stands were mainly restaurant owners buying veggies for the dishes they were preparing that day. At the foot of the steps that lead down two flights to the market, Comedor Flor Antiquena was setting for the day.

    The market is divided in two parts. One half has way over 30 small comedors (restaurants) and the other half is produce, flowers, seeds, grains, beans, dry dog food, spices, meat, fish and candy with a few food stands mixed in

    Down another flight of steps is a level with mostly household items and a half dozen cheese stands. Other areas in the market are devoted to crafts and non-food items.

    I got a coke while waiting for the vendors to finish setting up and watched Flor prepare for the day. I was going to get a coffee but when she pulled out the jar of Nescafe … well. She didn’t have anything other than bottled drinks.

    One table was de-stemming tiny tolito chiles … a daunting task since they are the size of ball-bearings. The next table held jars of spices and a third table the veggies – winter squash, tomatoes, oregano, basil, garlic, onions, corn, celery, cilantro. Hunks of meat simmered on the stove … the guisado (stew) was on

    Mayans in traditional dress passed by balancing baskets of produce on their heads. Some of the stands delivered atole on trays to the various vendors.

    Around the corner from Flor, were vendors selling spices from large plastic bags or burlap sacks.

    The fruit vendors sold mountains of tropical produce such as mamy, zapote, pataha, papaya, pacaya, mangos, nance, guavas

    At the back of the market meat and fish vendors lined one aisle. Large cuts of meat and strings of sausages hung from the ceilings of these stalls. Trays held various organ meats. I liked one chicken vendor who had a string of tiny rubber chickens on a wall.

    Fish vendors sold mainly tlapia and shrimp. There were also endangered seafood items such as turtle eggs and shark fins (I had no clue that’s what the were),

    All of the meat and fish was unrefrigerated and not in coolers and VERY few on ice. Some trays were covered with plastic to discourage flies, but not many.

    In the same aisle as the meat, I decided to stop at Refresqueria San Judas Tadeo for an atole de habas.

    Googling after my visit it seems this is one of the better known comedors at the market and it was easy to see why. The 10 little plastic stools at the counter were always occupied. The spread of food looked mouthwatering.

    A few of the items: fat sausages, fried pacayas, chopped radishes, tortitas, chucitos, ground meat, fried turnovers, whole roasted chickens and a lot of things I never saw before.

    Habas are broad beans. They get described as lima beans or fava beans, but they are really a different type of broad bean. These are often sold roasted which splits them open like butterflies. I don’t like them much as they are very hard … like the jaw-breaking quality of corn nuts.

    For atole, the habas are dried, roasted and made into flour. Served in a large glass mug, it had a nutty taste that was like roasted almonds. They also sold a beautiful looking atole de arroz con leche that was ladled out of a pot and lovingly sprinkled with cinnamon. Atole was five quetzales (about 55 cents)

    The market in general is a good place to sample different atoles. Other vendors had chocolate arroz con leche, plantano (had that at home), atole blanco (had that elsewhere) and regular corn atole

    While sipping the atole and being entertained by the marimba player across the aisle (Guatemalans are big on marimbas) the people next to me ordered some fabulous looking tacos made from the fat sausages. I had to get them.

    For 12 quetzales ($1.50) there were two small tacos each with a whole sausage. On one taco the sausage was covered with chojín (diced radishes with onions in lime juice) and the other with guacamole A bowl of a green sauce called pacamas was passed to me by the people in the next seats.

    The sausage was juicy, meaty goodness with little bits of peppers and maybe herbs. This linhk about this comedor says they are longanizas nahuizalqueñas. If you scroll down, just after the photo of Harry giving a thumbs up at the Jude counter, there is a photo of the sausage tacos. The toppings are different from what I had though. If you click on the photo, it will enlarge and there is even a nice cross view of the sausage interior.

    The stall was decorated with fake flowers, lots of religious statues (Jude, I presume), dolphins and clowns … Guatemala has the creepiest looking clowns … not a country for the clown-phobic. A sign on the wall read “Se vende chica” a fruit that has a taste of pears. Since there were some bottles under the sign, I am guessing they made it into a beverage.

    The most noted comedor is Doña Mela’s food stall. I didn’t read about this until after my visit. It seems celebrities and even a Guatemalan president have made stops here. I’ll give it a try on my next visit. There’s even a video about the place

    Hey, Jude was very tasty. I was happy and next time I want that arroz atole.

    I wandered over the candy tables across the way and bought some dulces típicos, typical Guatemalan candy.

    While they didn’t have some of the more elegant candies at the shops in Antigua, there was a very good selection. I had

    Canillitas de leche – Probably the most popular Guatemalan candy and rightly so. They have the taste of caramels without the stickiness that threatens teeth fillings. The texture is like a soft fudge, but not as solid. It is texture-wise (but not taste-wise) somewhere between canned frosting and fudge ... but again, the taste is of a really good caramel.

    Tamarindos - The photo of these red sugar balls was so pretty. so that was the other candy I selected. The taste was ... startling. It was sort of like Sweetarts, but more intense. It was amazing that something that was basically just a ball of sugar could be so tart and tangy at the same time. Tamarind seeds are included for prolonged puckering pleasure. After getting over the assertive taste ... well, it was kind of addictive.

    Then it was over to another stand that had six huge jars of aqua frescas, or refrescos as they are called here. This is actually a photo of the stand

    I chose lime because it also had something that looked interesting, like black pepper. It pretty much tasted like lime. Then I started thinking about the flies over at the meat stands a half a aisle away. “Um, por favor, que es eso? El negro?” I inquired.

    “Chan” she replied to my relief. Lime and dragon fruit agua fresco … cool. It was delicious.

    How can you dislike a place that sells dragon fruit for 50 cents each and bags of rambuten for $2 One stand had the the most amazing white mushrooms … six inches across. Of course, this being Guatemala, dogs joined the shoppers.

    I didn’t explore the cheese stands too much. One was a common cheese vendor that can be found almost everywhere in Guatemala. They are actually quite good and make a nice crema and queso fresco. This article about the market also mentions queso de capas, queso de Peten, and queso de Taxisco. There’s a picture of one cheese and some addition photos of the market.

    The stand that really caught my eye was Queso de Jalapo. There were huge wheels of cheese, some fresh cheese and quesadillas. In Guatemala a quesadilla is a sweet cake made with cheese. Next time I’ll bring a cooler.

    Fresh goat milk, direct from the goat, is available though I didn’t see it. However, in another part of Guatemala City I saw two separate goat milk vendors, herding three goats that looked like these from a photo someone took of the central market.

    My husband had a doctor’s appointment in Guatemala City and I said I wanted to go along and he could drop me off to do some shopping and sightseeing. Everyone, literally was scandalized by my shopping alone at the Central Market because it was so dangerous.

    Phone conversations ensued and an aunt was sent down to safely drive me back to the doctor’s office. She lives in a town with a reputation for gang violence and SHE said it was dangerous.

    Other relatives who live in Guatemala City was also were shocked. In the next post, I’ll write about the market near them in zone 17 on the very edge of the city which was proclaimed safe … no robbers and lots of police.

    As indicated, I really dug this market. I liked it more than the Antigua market. To me it seemed no more dangerous than any other market in any city and I took all the precautions I usually take. So I’ll be back to explore more.

    Photos, websites and blogs about the Central Market (most in English, some in Spanish)

    Comedors (restaurants)

    Doña Mela food stall

    Photos of produce stalls

    Nice photo of picaya (the veggie, not the volcano)

    Photos of the spice and veggie stalls


    An offal photo of meat

    Housewares stall

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Mercado Calle 10 and 15 Avenida a (Zona 17)

      With the exception of one level-headed relative, everyone who has knows about my trip alone to the Central Market in Guatemala City has been shocked. I’ve been told it is very dangerous.

      When I recently visited a wealthy relative in Guatemala City, Doña Estala, the family matriarch whisked me away with her nephew, her body guard and had the driver take us in the minivan to the local mercado in that section of Guatemala City.

      Doña Estala knows this market like I know the farmers markets in the San Francisco Bay Area and the woman can bargain.

      One vendor had some exquisitely sweet, juice oranges. When she heard the price, she said “Muy caro” and started to look at something else. Prices were arranged and the bodyguard hauled off a bag as large as Santa’s, filled with those wonderful oranges. I do believe the vendor threw in some plums in the transaction.

      Her nephew told me that bargaining like that is common, especially for a regular customer and there was usually some extra item added to the deal.

      The little cheese stand across from the orange vendor had pails of thick, rich crema that was ladled into plastic bags. They also carried some nice queso fresco, some with lorroco and a few other cheeses.

      In back of the cheese vendor was a carneceria where we bought some chicarrone.

      From one fish vendor she purchased two long black pez sierra (wahoo). Her nephew pointed out little crabs that looked like crab on a stick. The claws and legs are extended and wrapped with strips of banana leaves. There was also carocol (sea snails). For fish with scales, the vendor scraped them off into a large burlap bag. For the wahoo, he removed something near the back of the head and the fins.

      The chicken vendor had two types of chicken. One type was pale and on the scrawny side. The others were plump golden birds that are fed a special diet of maize and the skin is as yellow as a bright ear of corn.

      I should mention that in almost all the markets I’ve visited in Guatemala, none of the meat or fish is refrigerated or kept on ice. A meat market will have sections of beef and pork hanging from the window with pans of organ meats. Every time I see chickens, often sitting in the sun, I think of the SF Bay Area organic chicken vendor who says she can only sell her birds frozen due to health regulations. A cooler doesn’t meet the local health code temperature standards.

      We bought some wonderful, small deep red dragon fruit – three for 5 quetzales (about 55 cents). When I had one at home, it actually had a very noticeable spicy note to it. It was excellent.

      There were vendors with fat red and yellow plantains. I had the yellow plantains at another market and didn’t think too much of them. However, the plantains are sweet in Guatemala and not the starchy type that require cooking

      One vendor had two different types of pineapple and another had two types of watermelon. There were bags of black tamarindo pulp with seeds

      There were quite a few vendors selling Guatemalan candies, dulces tipico, especially figs. There were at least three ladies with big bowls of figs in syrup. Though they tried to keep them covered, I think the flies were winning in terms of the figs.

      I saw my first fresh lorroco, a flower used for many dishes. I had a taste of ceresas, a black fruit like a tiny cherry that had a tanic note.

      Dona Estrela picked up some nances, a yellow fruit that was used as a beverage that night. One stand had deep pink guava that perfumed the air. We stopped at a little shop around the corner to pick up a bag of fresh tortillas.

      Vendors sold roses, snapdragons, and other flowers. There were some parakeets for sale and a few hung around outside the cage. Everyone in Guatemala seems to have caged parakeets. I haven’t been to a house without them. Lots of people also have large Lorroco’s as well.

      This was a bustling market. The streets were lined with food shops and restaurants. There were many produce, cheese, meat and fish vendors. There were also lots of other goods such as clothing, pots, pans etc, but the food stands ruled here.

      I thanked Dona Estrela and said I liked it very much. She nodded and said that unlike the Central Market there were no robbers here and lots of police to keep shoppers safe.

      1. re: rworange

        First-class article about Doña Mela at the the Mercado Central that I came across today.

        It takes the author a few paragraphs to get to but there are photos of: MOLE DE PLATANOS, TOSTADAS, RELLENITOS Y PLATANO FRITO, CHILTEPE (love it), BUCHE CON TORTILLAS, CHICHARRONES, ENCHILADAS (impressive), PANZA (cow stomach and surprisingly good), POSOLE CON CHOJIN Y GUACAMOLE, and RELLENITOS

        I learned about a lot of those mystery foods I saw at stands

        Revolcado "It’s made out of ground pig head. And by pig head, I mean the whole thing.... everything that involves head. I’m not going into details. But it tastes damn good. At Doña Mela, you buy it by the pound. It’s pretty much like a mix between a thin sauce and a thick soup. With bits and pieces of ... a pigs head. (Don’t worry; you cannot tell what it is) High on vitamins... minerals... collagen... iron... all the good stuff."

        Buche - pigs stomach cooked in lime juice with tomatoes, onion, thyme, laurel (bay leaf) and cilantro . Who knew? In Mexico it means cow's head.

        "Enchiladas in Guate have nothing at all to do with Mexican enchiladas. Here they are a huge pile of meats and vegetables and they are served cold. It’s a very colorful sight and kind of sloppy to eat ... It has carrots, string beans, beats, onion and green peas, marinated in vinegar and salt, thyme and laurel"

        Patitas a la vinagreta - pigs feet "boiled and mixed with cabbage vinaigrette, slices of green bell pepper, thyme and laurel ... The fun part, I understand, is sucking on the jelly inside"

        Tira - Long strips of cow’s stomach in a thick tomato sauce with spices that include cinnamon

        Fritanga - If I understand this correction, potato patties, moranga (blood sausage, quite tasty if done well ... think boudin noir), tortillas, guacamole and radish

        There's lots more descriptions of dishes and how to eat them, I just posted the ones I was unfamiliar with. Good article. Anything by this writer about Gautemala is excellent.

        1. re: rworange

          Doña Mela - Mercado Central

          The only thing good about Doña Mela, is that my friend took pity on me and later we went for good Gurtemalan food ... actually Guatemalan greatness ... at Billares San Carlos

          Guatemala City: Billares San Carlos - Since 1951 the world's best doblada

          I am finding that is quite a sucessful strategy. Take a Guatemalan to an over-hyped tourist joint and they feel sorry for you and take you someplace for great Guatemalan food.

          "It's not very good" my friend said when I said i wanted to go to Doña Mela

          "But it gets raves everywhere. There's a video about it. Presidents and celebrities eat there" I said.

          "It's not very good" my friend repeated

          We went. It wasn't very good.

          First of all, there are no seats. You stand at the counter. Only bottled drinks are available.

          I am not even going to waste my time describing the stuff because it was all the same ... tasteless diced stuff on guacamole or with chopped radishes served on cold tortillas.

          The chicharrones are a joke. Crunchy, yes. But minced. What is that all about. The moranga (blood sausage) was inedible. I have had great moraga. This wasn't it. It had a disgusting liver taste. Even the chopped radishes were soggy and flavorless. I've had good versions elsewhere.

          The rest is a blur. Some dry shredded chicken stands out.

          The enchiladas looked tired and so unappetizing that I didn't order one.

          Go instead to the far superior Refresqueria San Judas Tadeo around the corner. They have seats and much better food. Unfortunately they were sold out of the atole when we got there in the afternoon.

          I am such a smuck tourist here and my Chowhound instincts are just not kicking in. I can't believe I fell for the hype. The food gods have smiled on me though with friends and family who are cluing me in on Guatemalan food greatness. This was not it. Doña Mela was the antonym for greatness.

          This was so bad that my friend coughed up some info about great places in Esquintla that he has been holding back on. This was so bad, after lunch when he saw a Taco Bell, he said that was better than DM. I had to agree.

        2. re: rworange

          I went back tto the Central Market to try out the cheese vendors. Here's info about Guatemalan cheese I've tried so far.

          La Sampedran is the real star. They sell four items and only four items - queso de jalapa, queso de Zacapata, mantequilla de costal and mind-blowing great quesadillas or Guatemalan cheese bread.

          Both dry cheeses cut from huge wheels are excellent, the Zacapata with a slight creaminess and the Jalapa more crumbly.

          The mantequilla de costal or sack butter is dense, rich, creamy and wonderful.

          The quesadilla made with tha butter and the Zacapata, a cheese like Parmesan but with more character, impressed all my Guatemalan friends and relatives. They proclaimed it excellent.

          Also, the guy at the shop is just wonderful. He got did just fine with my fractured Spanish and was nice enough to label each bag with the cheese name.

          Lacteos Santisimos Trinidal has a larger selection of cheeses. The stars here for me were the chile queso seco and the slightly smokey, creamy and elegant requeson that was wrapped in a plantain leaf like a tamale. The requeson is similar to ricotta, but better.The notes about the rest of the cheeses from this shop are in the general link about Guatemalan cheese.

          Both shops are worth a stop.

        3. Café Zurich – chocoadictos

          The strength here is anything with chocolate.

          They make their own Swiss-style chocolates that remind me a little of Neuhaus. Some chocolates with liquor are literally that .. chocolate with liquid booze inside. The little marzipans are very pretty as well.

          The hot chocolate was exquisite. It must have been made from melted chocolate it was so smooth, rich and thick (but not too).

          They also make some nice cream cakes. The black forest cake with light sponge, cherries and whipped cream was wonderful. I had a nice mousse torte as well, though I didn’t like the raspberry mousse cake because I thought it lacked flavor.

          They have a number of hot and cold chocolate specialty drinks such as: orange and cognac, fresh mint, amaretto, cherries and kirsch, pistachio, hazelnut, cardamom, chai, toasted almond, coconut, cinnamon and ginger.

          The coffee is not great. The cappuccino comes in a glass mug that looks pretty with it’s perfect proportion of 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk and 1/3 foam. However, it doesn’t have much taste.

          I thought the savory items we tried were only ok. The ham croissant only had a single thin piece of ham and the pastry dough was only fair. The chicken empanada didn’t have a lot of flavor though it had things like olives and raisins mixed in.

          They have a breakfast menu with Guatemalan, American and European items. You can get muesli. There are a few salads, soup and other lunch items.

          I don’t think this is a chain despite them having two outposts in a tony neighborhood at the edge of the city. Yes, I know … three locations probably qualifies them as a chain. However, I didn’t see more than that, so they are small.

          I was at the one across the highway from the Hiper Paiz Puerta Parada. I don’t really have that address, so I’ll give the more accessible and original location in Zona 10 near the American embassy.

          Café Zurich
          Address: 6 Av. 12-58
          Phone: 2334-2781

          1. Panaficadora Benedicion (Zona 17)

            This shop in the middle of nowhere has the best pan Frances and sweet breads I’ve had in Guatemala. They are not light and airy, but yeasty with a nice crust. The cookies are also quite good. Avoid anything flakey though. The meat-filled turnover had an unpleasant lemon taste to it. We both threw it away.

            Given the excellence of the breads, I had high hopes for the mil hoya that I tried once elsewhere. These look fabulous with lots of layers of flaky pastry around a center of white cream. This second one was as bad as the first, the white stuff tasting fake … but not in a good way like a Twinkie. The flaky pastry … meh.

            But the bread … the bread. It is the reason for this shop to exist.

            This is really out of the way in a strip mall. It would be at least a 45 minute drive from the center of the city. So as great as the bread is, I really can’t recommend a special trip … and I never caught the exact address.

            However, if you ever find yourself in Zona 17 and in the area of the Metronorte shopping mall (there’s a Hiper Paiz (Wal-mart) there. Then I recommend trying to find it. Continue on the road away from the city. You will pass some large stores such as Distun and Super Mayan. Look for the first strip mall after Super Mayan. If you get to the gas station next to the restaurant selling chicarrones … you passed it.

            1. Barquillos / barquilos

              These are rolled wafer cookies ... ginormous rolled wafer cookies ... two feet long ... that are sold by street vendors for 5 quezalaes or about 55 cens. The bags have about a dozen cookies that look like this

              They are similar in taste to Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes ... but no filling

              They are giant versions of those rolled wafer cookies that come with ice cream or fancy coffee drinks.

              I put them under Gautemala City because this is the only place I have seen street vendors selling them. The minute you hit the city limit, there they are and the minute you leave ... poof ... no more barquillo vendors

              It seems the origin of these cookies is Spain and the are very popular in the Philippines where you can get ube barquillos

              More about rolled wafer cookies world-wide ... but I'll bet Guatemala wins for size

              1. While visiting a relative in Mexico City, I asked for restaurant reccomentations. I wasn't taking them too seriously as Applebee's was on the list. But ... hey ... I decided to check out the recs that weren't American.

                One rec was Lai Lai ... which seems to be a Chinese Fast Food chain. One was in Wal-Mart (aka Hiper Paiz).

                I stumbled across this great restaurant blogger and it turns out there is a place called Lai Lai Dim Sum ... who knew ... dim sum in GT. Most of the Chinese joints here are horrible stereotypes. In the US, these restaurants would attract mobs protesting racial insensitivity.

                Anyway, although the blog is in Spanish, if you don't know that, you can get a general idea using an online translator. There's also another dim sum joint in the city ... and Mongolian BBQ ... though he writes of that place "desserts that seem removed from The Rocky Picture Horror Show"

                Ya know ... online translators may influence my English restaurant reports as there's some creative transalations such as a rather boring salad bar with "dramatically conventional ingredients" and "rancid rolls" For dessert he avoided the "the gelatin that seemed inspired by science fiction" and went for the "gloriously sweet pineapple and watermelon"

                He also does just some general food topics. I liked the term he coined "Gastrosexual"

                "By all means, the food and its preparation can be extremely sensual: the textures, the aromas, the colors… the heat of the source of fondue, the voluptunes of chocolate, the firmness and roundness of the eggplants… the ... champagne, that irritates your throat lewdly and causes that the eyes fill to you of tears of pleasing… :the whipped cream that takes your breath away and almost leaves you dead, to only revive you in the middle of its frothy fullness"

                Anyway, a nice local perspective about restaurants. He has some of the places mentioned over and over and over on all the English tourists sites ... but also a lot more that are more geared to people who live here