Guatemala: Escuintla restaurants, street food and more
- rworange Aug 1, 2010 03:59 PM
My main post covering all of Guatemala is getting long so I'm starting a new post here. The Esquintla section of that long topic starts here
Escuintla is both a department and a city. Esquintla, Esquintla is like saying NY, NY.
Although all my posts to date are about the city, I plan on exploring the costal region, so this will have food information for the department of Esquintla as well
Places in the city of Esquintla that I've tried to date:
Tho shuco dogs belong under general cuisine notes because they are everywhere in Guatemala, the one I describe here was bought in Escuintla. I don't have the exact address, but on the street that leads to the center of town, there is an Esso gas station and a Shell gas station across the street from each other. This cart is in the driveway of one of them .. the only such cart in that immediate area.
LAS CANCHE$ #12 ESCUINTLA, ESCUINTLA
Don't even think of going if you are not an adventurous type.
Go if you want a ridiculously inexpensive filling meal served by some very nice people.
The menu changes daily and my friend said some of the best dishes are the carne asada and the beef soup which takes over 5 hours to cook. We got there a little late so they were sold out of a lot.
For about a total of $3 each ... drinks included ... we had (on a scale from 1 - 10)
- Carne guisada with rice ... 6 - A little better than average
- Tortillas ... 6 - A little better than average
- Fresh tamarind refrescos (i.e aqgua fresca) ... 7 - Above average
- A hot red salsa ... 7 - Above average
- A milder green salsa with thinly sliced onions ... 8 - Way above average
Service: 7 - Above average
Ambiance: 2. Way below average
Color: 8 - Way above average
The Guatemalan carne guisada's I've tried at other comedors and at home usually are beef in a thin sauce of the meat juices.
The sauce here was thicker and richer. There was a good sized piece of chewy beef topped with two small potato halves.
Guatemalans do rice right. It is not dry like in so many Mexican restuarants. The rice here was nicely done and flavorful.
What really made this dish was the salsas. Mix a little into the sauce and the flavors sing a lovely harmony. The red was delicious, but the green salsa filled with the thinnest slices of whole onions was probably one of the best I've ever had.
The salsa jars get rotated around the tables. So add the salsa when it is first served as it will be sent to another table and you will need to ask for more.
The tortillas were actually average. I'm guessing given the space problem, they buy them elsewhere and heat them. However, they get the extra point because they kept replacing the basket with hot tortillas as they came off the grill.
The large tamarind refrescos served in glass jars were also better than most and not overly sweet.
My friend said that what impressed him about this particular comedor was they were really clean ... and it was true. Tables were cleaned immediately as people finished. I had a second tamarind refresco and just gave the glass to refill, but they insisted on giving me a clean glass.
I am a fan of dives, but this place gave me pause. If my friend had not said very favorable things about the food, I would have looked and walked out immediately. I probably would not have found it on my own.
Next to the central market in Esquintla was a little door with a modest hand-written sign. I never would have suspected it contained restaurants. Las Canches translates to 'the courts' You can think of this as a Latin American food court.
There were at least 12 cubicles that contained little comedors. Crammed into these cooking cubicles, smaller than the average American bathroom, was a fridge, camping stove, sink and tables covered with huge pots and baskets that held stews, rice, tortillas, etc.
There was only the narrowest path to get to each of these comedors as almost every other inch was full of boxes and soda crates. Narrow benches hugged the counter of each comedor and other counters and tables were sqeezed into whatever space was left. It was not the type of place you would want to be in an earthquake.
My friend said that the restaurant marked as Comedor Margoth #12 was the best.
He dropped me off to find parking and Dona Elda greeted me. My Spanish is still poor, but there are some people I can understand almost perfectly ... usually body language. With Dona Elda, she was smart enough to keep it simple and clear without talking down to me.
So while waiting for my friend, she introduced herself, asked my name and chatted about where I was from and how long I had been in Guatemala all the while keeping a sharp eye on the half dozen workers in her comedor, the customers and her table.
She was also a stylish woman, dressed a long black skirt, black and white blouse and a white apron with an accent of pink lace.
I will definately be back. I want to try that beef soup and the carne asada.
5a Avenida 8-2 (next to the central market
CARNE DE RES – BEEF SOUP
On this visit we had
Carne de Res: 8 - Way above average
Horchata: 5 - Average
I took some photos of the food and restaurant this time. They are here on flicker
Escuintla, GT: Las Canches
The soup was rich from long cooking, flavorful and filling. It is cooked for over five hours It had a nice large piece of beef tendon and rice.
As is the style with Guatemalan soup, it was served with a plate of veggies and meat on the side. On this visit it was white chayote, cabbage, squash and corn on the cob. We asked for avocado and a large, whole, perfectly ripe avocado was brought to the table We also asked for extra limes.
Scoop out the avocado, chayote and squash and add to the soup. Add salsa to taste. Enjoy.
There were two huge pieces of beef on the plate. Slice and put on tamales, squeeze some lie on top and sprinkle with salt.
The corn was ok. I haven’t found fresh Guatemalan corn very flavorful. I think it is best used for masa.
This time the tortillas were better. We went late in the day for our last visit and they were sold out of a lot. Maybe they bought the tortillas elsewhere after running out.
The fabulous green salsa was even better on this visit. This time it also had finely shredded cabbage mixed with the onions. I may bring a container and ask to buy some for home next time.
Fans of beef tendon would love this. It is tender from long cooking, but with just the right satisfying chew.
The horchata was fine, but it had Mexican cinnamon which I don’t like since it has a clove taste to me.
Two lunches and three large horchatas came to 65Q which is about $8 USD … four dollars each.
Dona Elda wasn’t there this time. However, the woman who was running the show was every bit as pleasant and wonderful.
My friend said that Las Canches doesn’t mean ‘the courts”. That is canchas. It means “The Blondes” and it is more of a nickname like “Blondie’s”. I have no clue about why it is called that. I didn’t see one blonde in there
Next: Carne asada
Restaurant and Bar record for Las Canches
OVERVIEW - RESTAURANTE LOS HERMANOS COMIDA CHINA
When I first moved to Esquintla, my friend said there were some decent Chinese restaurants along a stretch of Ave Centroamerica. Looking at the sad-looking shacks we were driving by, I not only mentally wrote them off, I wrote off Chinese food in general in Guatemala.
I like dives but even I have standards on how low I dive
We needed to eat after doing some tasks and it was Chinese or Pollo Comparo. So I took the plunge at Los Hermanos.
Nothing outside even indicates this is a Chinese restaurant. With a name like “Los Hermanos” who would have thunk it?
However, inside there is a nice Chinese restaurant with some items on the menu that I haven’t seen even in Guatemala City such as whole roasted Chinese chicken or turkey.
They also have a list of grocery items that can be purchased such as noodles, dried mushrooms, siracha sauce, etc.
Here's what we had rated on a scale of 1-10
- Shrimp won tons: 7 - Above average
- Fish with vegetables and mushrooms: 7 - Above average
- Lobster in Chinese sauce: 7 - Above average
- Michelada: 5 - Average
- Lime refresco (aqua fresca): 4 - Slightly below average
- Complimentary slices of white bread: 5 - Average
Service: 7 - Above average
Ambiance: 6 - Slightly above average
Details in next reply
Restaurante Los Hermansos Comida China
Ave Centroamerica 2-9, Zona 3
7888-1092 or 7888-0574
Photos on Flickr
Link to Restaurant and Bars record
DETAILS - RESTAURANTE LOS HERMANOS COMIDA CHINA
SHRIMP WON TONS: 7 - Above average
These were lightly crisp and nicely fried with one or two small fresh-tasting shrimp in the middle.
These were good on their own but I discovered a happy marriage of Chinese and Guatemalan. The ubiquitous green pacamas sauce on the table was fabulous with the won tons. This green sauce is on every table in every type of restaurant in Guatemala. It is a great sauce.
Other condiments included a squeeze bottle of an ok Chinese hot sauce and Sriracha
FISH WITH VEGETABLES AND MUSHROOMS: 7 - Above average
Nice wok-cooked slices of white fish in a light sauce were mixed with whole dried shitake mushroom caps, very good fresh veggies such as broccoli, carrots, onions and an occasional snow pea. It was in a nice sauce that was not over salty. This was served on a sizzling platter with steam rising from the dish.
At another restaurant I didn’t understand the distinction for two Spanish words used for mushrooms on Chinese menus. It turns out that champignons are fresh white mushrooms, probably button mushrooms. Hongos are dried shitake mushrooms.
LOBSTER IN CHINESE SAUCE: 7 - Above average
My friend had the langoustines which came in a nice sauce with lots of chopped broccoli, carrots, onions and red peppers. I only had a little taste but the small langoustine was sweet and fresh.
COMPLIMENTARY SLICES OF WHITE BREAD: 5 - Average
It was three slices of average supermarket white bread. Guatemalans seem to like some sort of bread with the meal. The slices were fresh,
MICHELADA: 5 - Average
It was fine. Just beer and tomato juice.
LIME REFRESCO (AQUA FRESCA): 4 - Slightly below average
The lime flavor was very good, but it gets a ding for being sweeter than most.
Nothing extra was offered at the end of the meal such as fruit slices or fortune cookies. Guatemala doesn’t seem to do fortune cookies.
Los Hermanos gets points for the fastest service so far in Guatemala. Our waitress was pleasant and helpful. My friend has got his patter down on explaining me saying I’m visiting from the United States. That explains my photo-taking and asking for odd things like take-out menus. No menus para levar aqui.
They didn’t have a take-out menu so I don’t have details and didn’t look closely on what they might serve that was different. The menu was divided into the following sections.
Wantan Frito (beef, chicken shrimp plus egg rolls) , Sopas, Camarones, Pescados y Calamares, Menu Especial, Arroz, Ensaladas, Otros, Postres (cheesecake and ice cream), Productos Chinois, Se Hornea (pollo, pavo, carne)
They also had a few Guatemalan items on the menu such as sandwiches. Since they roast their chickens, some time in the future I’d be interested in trying the pan de pollo or chicken sandwich. They serve three breakfast dishes – a typical Guatemalan breakfast, eggs divorcido and something else I’m not remembering.
One dish ordered at another table that looked great was the Camarones “Los Hermanos” which was a huge plate of shrimp served on a sizzling platter.
My friend said that what looked like white onions was something called canchon. I’m not sure if that is just the Guatemalan term for white onions though as I can not find anything on the web about it.
I am starting to become more and more impressed with little, unsung Escuintla as far as food. Is it a tourist destination? Nope.
However, with only a few exceptions, so far I’ve had tastier and more memorable food here than in Antigua and Guatemala City.
It reminds me of the town I grew up in the US. It was a working class town but it had great food. None of it was fancy, just purely delicious.
Another visit to Los Hermanos and a stand out dish
Pork chop suey: 9 - Exceptional
Mixed chow mein: 6 - Slightly above average
Egg rolls: 4 - Slightly below average
Jasmine tea: 6 - Slightly above average
PORK CHOP SUEY: 9 - Exceptional
Yep, chop suey ... but like none I've ever had. This had thick tender slices of pork with just enough fat to up the richness. It was covered in a sauce that helped bring out everything good about that piggy. The only other addition, some flavorful chopped onions ... so simple, so amazing.
Ok, so there was green salad with it ... and French fries ... get over it. It's Guatemala. Give some slack. They didn't matter because that pork was so fine. Actually, the fries were good. My friend ordered this dish ... I took waaay too many tastes ... and he really appreciated the greens .... as in "oooohhhhh, salad!!!". The lime was to squeeze on the salad.
Come to think of it, I don't believe I've ever seen rice here. I'll have to check the menu next time. They never ask if you want rice.
Congrats Los Hermanos. You earned my first nine since I started using ratings.
MIXED CHOW MEIN: 6 - Slightly above average
This was all good ... lots of chicken, pork (though different), shrimp and veggies such as fresh mushrooms, onions, peppers and bean sprouts on top of some nice noodles ... but I couldn't focus on this dish due to trying to snag more tastes of the chop suey.
Bless my friend for putting up with my food fixation. He asked about what was in the Chinese ceviche I saw on the menu the first time. In addition to fish, it has peanuts, ginger, cilantro and soy sauce. Our wonderful waitress said the best time to order it was around lunch time but it wasn't always available as they only had it on days they get fresh fish.
EGG ROLLS: 4 - Slightly below average
This is the only item I haven't liked so far. The stuffing was fine with the usual juliened veggies, beans sprouts and little bits of chicken. However, they were way too oily. I won't order this again, especially since the won tons are so good. Also, their sweet and sour sauce is lacking. It is out of a bottle and I've been spoiled by all the other great sweet and sour sauce I've tried in Gautemala. Oh yeah, green hot sauce doesn't work well on egg rolls like it did on won tons. Go figure.
JASMINE TEA: 6 - Slightly above average
It was pleasant and they get major points (point) for having jasmine tea. It was pre-brewed with no leaves. Can't say for sure if it was brewed from leaves or was from a tea bag. Nicely done and I'd order it again.
The last photo is the counter where they keep the small supply of Chinese grocery items that they sell.
When the sunsets, this little sandwich cart opens. It does two things and only two things ... chicken salad and grilled steak and bean sandwiches.
They are 80 cents worth of fabulous.
The first photo shows the rolls being toasted over a charcoal fire. They are similar to Mexican bollios. The grilling gives them a nice toastiness.
The steak is also grilled giving it the kiss of smoke flavor. The rolls are slathered with mashed black beans and the steak added. You can ask for a small baggy of green sauce, but it doesn't need it, IMO.
Pan doesn't only mean bread in Guatemala, it means sandwich. Pan de pollo translates as chicken salad sandwich. It was surprisingly good because when I opened the roll, it looked dreadful. That is not just my bad photography, the chicken salad looks like that. However it is almost pure chicken ... good tasting, fresh chicken with minimal dressing. I am guessing the chicken was also grilled over the coals.
There is a caveat. They must be eaten immediately hot off the grill for sandwich nirvana. The are fine later, but the roll loses its crunch, the steak isn't as tender after sitting. There is only so far you can push the limits on an 80 cent steak sandwich ... inexpensive by even Guatemalan standards. But hot off the grill ... mmmmmm.
This is a hugely popular cart. There's one small plastic table in the parking lot. It is open until midnight. Shell stations in Escuintla seem to attract good street food. My favorite shuco dog cart is at the other Shell station in town.
I don't have an exact address, but it is the shell station near the traffic circle in the city of Escuintla . Just ask "Pan Fredy?" at the gas station and they will point you in the right direction.
re: paul balbin
You can buy it in the US ... though many places make it fresh here. It will be at most Mexican markets. It is called Picamas.
As to making it at home you would need chiltepe peppers. These are tiny peppers, little bigger than the head of a pin. They have a fresh green flavor and a hint of heat. They are wonderful to add whole to soup, on a taco or just as a little bite on the side of whatever your are eating.
I really haven't had a chile that was similar in taste. Here's a photo. To get perspective on how small they are, look at the type on the newspaper.
You can order them dry online, but I doubt that would work. The bottled sauce though is almost indistiguishable from fresh made, the latter being a bit brighter in flavor.
Here's a recipe. I suppose you could try a mix of Anaheims and Bell peppers with a touch of jalepeno for heat to approximate the flavor However, the bottled is close enough so I personally would go with that
In the above recipe photo there is also a penny ... which again gives perspective on size.
Thanx Krys. I see these little chillis in the market in Santiago Atitlan and wondered how
to use them. I can't wait to try them when we get down there. I hope we can make it
mid November but there seems to be lots of road and bridge damage in Mexico so I am
not sure when we will get there this year..... We are blessed with a sour orange tree in
our yard and I suspect that it will work perfectly for the lime part. good luck
Pablito el gordito
re: paul balbin
It is just those Mexican limes that are called limones. Be sure to ask what the are because Guatemala has lots of tiny little peppers that look the same. Go with 'que es eso?". I asked at a market "Chiltepe?" The vendor said si.
Then I bring them home and everyone says they are actually Cobran peppers which are much bigger and hotter than chitlepes ... I swear these were no bigger than a ball bering.
Speakinh of oranges, if you ever get to Rabinal in the northern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz, I've been reading they are famous for exceptional sweet oranges.
IBIS RESTAURANTE – THE $2.50 STEAK DINNER
Ibis is typical of the many small comedors or diners in downtown Escuintla.
Ibis only sells carne (beef), beans, cabbage salad and beverages. When they get fresh fish they also sell ceviche
Here's what we had rated from A+ to F -
C+ … Chocolate simple (hot chocolate)
C- ..... Carne with shredded cabbage
D + ... Tortillas
C- ..... Complimentary escabeche
C ….. Micheladas
C ….. Frijoles volteados
Service: C +
Ambiance: C +
CHOCOLATE SIMPLE (HOT CHOCOLATE): C + … Slightly above average
The hot chocolate ladled out of a large pot intrigued me. Lots of people ordered it.
I got it simple. It also comes with cream. It is made from the blocks of chocolate sold in this area for the drink. It is a thin chocolate drink but not overly sweet and with good chocolate flavor. It was a nice way to finish the meal. This was good on a cold stormy night and certainly worth the 6 quetzales or 75 cents.
CARNE WITH SHREDDED CABBAGE: C - … Slightly below average
This steak dinner can be bought for 20 quetzales or about $2.50 USD. It comes with shredded cabbage topped with chirmol and a stack of tortillas.
My friend lured me here by saying Ibis sold beef carnitas. I guess you could say that is true if that means really, really chewy steak. There were two good-sized slices of thin beef that took quite a while to finish chewing. Like a lot here, good enough, but lacking real taste.
The cabbage was fresh as was the chirmol but neither had much flavor.
Still, I can see the appeal of the place which serves a decent, filling meal for $2.50. There was a steady stream of customers.
COMPLIMENTARY ESCABECHE: C - … Slightly below average
All the tables had jars of escabeche, pickled carrots, onions and jalapenos. It was fine but nothing special. The veggies were fresh, but lacked any real flavor. I’ve had better almost anywhere else
TORTILLAS: D + … Below average
The tortillas were on the griddle a little too long and hard in places. While eating with my own family and others, Guatemalans like to occasionally cook tortillas until hard and blackened in spots. However, I don't think this was the intent here.
MICHELADAS: C ... Average
The michelada was do-it-yourself. My friend said the tomato mix was a good one. He mixed us up some tasty micheladas with the salsa Anglesa (Worchester sauce), bottled tomato mix, salt and limes. The limes were very fresh and there was a nice big bowl of them.
FRIJOLES VOLTEADOS - C ... Average
In the michelada photo, the little bowl to the far left has beans which must be ordered separately. They are the Guatemalan version of refried beans, only denser. They were fine mashed beans though nothing special. My friend seemed to think they were very nice. I thought it was a small serving for five quetzales. However, I’m not big on beans.
This link on the life cycle of a pot of beans in Guatmala writes "Every day beans are reheated, using the oil in a pan, they get thicker and also more fatty. By day four your will be eating delicious "Frijoles Volteados" what one would call in the US Refried Beans. "
Service: C + … Slightly above average
The ladies were pleasant and service was prompt. They were always busy cleaning up or cooking. They let us know as we sat down there was only carne today and no ceviche.
AMBIANCE: C + … Slightly above average
It is a humble, but homey and clean restaurant.
There are two small rooms and a few tables along the wall. There are mainly brown laquored picnic tables set closely together. They had touches to spiff up the place a bit such as a nice aquarium near the front.
While I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back, if my friend wanted to go again, I wouldn’t mind. This time I’d try the hot chocolate with crema.
Sorry, no address. It is in downtown Escuintla. Addresses aren’t big in Guatemala. Streets are mainly unmarked and the corner that Ibis is located on had no signs. When I asked my friend the address he said “Ahhh … 4th Avenida?’
Link to photos on Flickr.