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Sep 29, 2010 09:25 PM

Cocales, Guatemala: El Rancho Restaurante – mouthwatering mojarra tilapia

My source who has been giving me some of the best tips on where to eat locally, once again was on target. El Rancho is gold.

Cocales is a crossroad where many buses stop to connect to various locations in Guatemala. El Rancho is not the typical small town restaurant It is a surprise.

Located next to the Shell gas station, most of the tables are outdoors. The waiters are formally dressed in black pants and white shirts. The plating is startling. It was nicer than many restaurants in Antigua. Although the menu is in Spanish and English, I was the only non-Guatemalan in the place. Here’s a link to a discussion by locals from a few years ago. It is in Spanish

Fish and beef are what the restaurant’s specialties … especially the fish which is pulled live from a pool. It is quite the site to see the waiters with nets snag a fish. The fish is weighed. Price is by the pound.

They open at 6am and have a full breakfast menu available. The owners also run Hotel Toliman at Lake Atitlan.

Here's what we had rated from A+ to F -

A -: House-made cream cheese
A -: Complementary green hot sauce
B +: Carrot soup drizzled with crema
B +: Complementary tortillas
A: Garlic fried Tilapia with baked potato and mixed vegetables
B: Micheladas

Service: B +
Ambiance: B -
Price: $$

Here’s the Restaurant record with address, phone, hours and website.

I really wish I had photos, but a trip to the border required leaving anything worth more than a buck at home since the border guards have itchy fingers. I took some photos on my cell phone and may some day figure out how to download to my computer, but everything is in Spanish, so it will be quite a while, if ever.

Details are in the first reply.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)

    House-made cream cheese: A - … Way above average

    I’m not sure why they make it, but it was really good … tart, tangy with a rustic texture. It was almost like a mild soft goat cheese. We ate some slabs plain and added the rest to the baked potatoes.

    Complementary green hot sauce: A - … Way above average

    This was the hottest sauce I’ve tried in Guatemala and it had layers of complexity.

    Carrot soup drizzled with crema: B + …. Very, very good

    This was the first surprise, presentation-wise. The sweet, fresh soup with intense carrot flavor was drizzled with a pretty pattern of cream that would do any upscale restaurant proud.

    Entrees are served with a choice of soup or sala

    Complementary tortillas: B + …. Very, very good

    These thick, warm tortillas wrapped in a colorful towel and served in a basket were excellent examples of why Guatemala is the tortilla capital of the world, IMO. There is a choice of tortillas or bread with the entrees.

    Garlic fried Tilapia with baked potato and mixed vegetables: A … Exceptional

    This earns one of my rare “A” ratings. Beautifully presented, the crunchy skin was delicately flavored with garlic. It was just greatness. The fish was moist, flavorful and since it had been swimming just moments before, super-fresh.

    The A is for the fish. The baked potato in foil was average.There is also the option of French fries. The fresh veggies were nicely cooked al dente, but not too al dente. There were carrots, broccoli and onions.

    I’m still not clear if mojarra and tilapia are the same fish. My source raved about the mojarra, but the menu listed tilapia. I think they are the same as this site claims

    Micheladas: B … Above average

    The tomato juice was nicely seasoned to make it interesting. The slight mark down is for only having Gallo and another beer. I think the other was Dorado draft. If they served Moza it might have rated a B +.

    Service: B … Above average

    It was prompt, it was professional and the waiters spoke some English.

    Ambiance: B - ... Very good

    It is a pleasant place despite being informal. You can stop by in travel clothes, yet it is still special occasion enough that you could have a birthday celebration there.


    It is definitely a planned stop if I am in the area again. I would not call it destination-worthy as it is quite the ride to get there and depending on where you are coming from, there are a few bridges that are being rebuilt after collapsing during this rainy season.

    Some of the other dishes on the menu (lots of typical Guatemalan food)

    Ceviche - shrimp or mixed
    Caldo Tilapeno
    Dobladas con queso and chirmol
    Black bean soup

    BBQ ribs 14 oz (70 quetzales or just under $10)
    Pincho de lomito
    Pollo al limon (cream sauce, lime, mustard, white wine, parmesan)

    Chicken Cordon bleu
    Grilled chicken
    El Rancho chicken (with ham and cheese)

    Mariscos del Rancho (shrimp bisque with fish, squid, shrimp, clams, crab)
    Camarones al gusto
    Fish fillets al gusto
    Whole Tilapia, boiled, grilled steamed

    Hot dogs ‘del licco’ (shuco dogs)
    Hamburger Toliman withcheese and moreda sauce

    Desserts include: Cheesecake, torrejas, buneulos (Guatemalan version), plantano con crema, lantano en mole

    A kids menu is available.

    For breakfast there are the usual egg dishes, omelets and pancakes. The crepes filled with with eggs sounded good. The menu said they had great coffee … sigh … we were in a hurry and didn’t have time for dessert or coffee.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      This restaurant might be even better than I first thought.

      I came back with a friend and we ordered the fried tilapia. He asked the waiter for another order to take home.

      Me: “Good, you must like the fish”
      Friend: “I’ll tell you the truth. I only ordered it to be polite. I hate fish. But, I’ve never had fish like this before”

      And for me it was just as good as I remembered. The garlic they add is just so perfect. The photo below shows a little of it at the top of the fish. It is just enough to give flavor without overpowering the taste/

      The hot sauce was even better than I remembered it. The lovely cilantro notes along with the chilitepe pepper played a spicy, harmonious melody on the taste buds ... but I wax bad poetic. I'm just trying to find a way to say how wonderful it is.

      In addition to the house-made cream cheese, they now have two more cheeses: queso de capas and quesos kalebal. They were out of the later. According to the server it is cheese with chile, but I don’t see anything about that type of cheese on the web.

      The cream cheese is on the left in the photo. The photo makes them look similar, but they were miles apart in texture and taste. The cream cheese reminds me a lot of what Strauss Creamery in the San Francisco Bay Area makes.

      The grades from the original post are still solid. I might actually change the grade on the hot sauce to an “A”. Here are the new things we tried on this visit

      A - … House-made queso de capas
      B ……Chicken soup
      B …… Torrejas
      B ……Coffee
      B- …..Orangeade

      Fie on Tigo, the local phone company. I may take full page ads out in some local magazines about the horrendous service they provide. All these months later, and I still can’t get photos off the phone they sold me. Here’s a link to Flickr photos from this second visit.

      Details on visit #2 in next reply

      1. re: rworange

        VISIT #2 DETAILS

        House-made queso de capas: A - … Way above average

        I’m no expert on this cheese. However, the family said it was excellent and scarfed it down. It was gone in a day. Usually the cheese I buy sits around until I eat it or it needs to be tossed. More about this cheese here

        As others has described, it has an elastic texture somewhat like mozzarella. The taste is somewhere between mozzarella and muenster. While this type of cheese is used in hot dishes like soups and dobladas, I think it is crumbled on rather than melted. I melted a small piece and it was quite good, but it is a layered cheese with lots of whey, so I suspect it would not work successfully in baked dishes.

        Chicken soup: B … Above average

        The soup of the day was chicken. It was better than most complimentary soups that come with meals in Guatemala. The broth was flavorful, there were generous pieces of chicken and a nice mix of vegetables. It didn’t need any flavor help, but a bit of hot sauce and a squeeze of lime made this tasty soup even tastier. The carrot soup on the first visit was so out of the park amazing. The chicken soup was delicious, the carrot soup incredible. So, this gets a slightly lower grade.

        Torrejas: B … Above average

        I have never found a version of this dessert that I remotely liked until the torrejas at El Rancho. I was told they would take 20 minutes to make. That made me want them even more.

        It was like light battered French toast. The syrup was delicate and clean-tasting.

        A good description is in this link to Antigua Daily Photo

        “Guatemalan 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”

        Seriously, though I don’t like soaked breads or pastries, be it bakalava in honey or buenelos in miel, I enjoyed this dish and might order it again, but with the syrup on the side (separado). Next I have to try the buenuelos here.

        Coffee: B … Above average

        This was a surprise. It was a pleasant cup of coffee with nice flavor. Extra points because coffee isn’t on the dinner menu. I asked a few times about it being fresh and was assured it was freshly made … and it was. It was great with the dessert.

        B- …..Orangeade

        Guatemala has great fresh orangeade almost everywhere and this was no exception. The only slight downgrade was for the price which was high by Guatemalan standards and there wasn’t anything that elevated it above other great orangeade. It was a nicer, deeper color than most. The balance of surgar was perfect, not too sweet.


        I was happy to stop by again. In addition to the cheese there also seems to be pepian and jocan added to the menu. They will also be opening another restaurant in Xela soon.

        This time I noticed a little playground for children in the back. One group of kids was entertaining themselves with foosball in the restaurant.

        I still didn’t see any non Guatemalans there despite the dual language menu and the bi-lingual skills of the servers.

        It was Super Bowl Sunday and the game was on. They even had a special snack menu for the game. Not one Guatemalan was watching it on the half dozen tv screens in the restaurant.

        I still would not put it in the destination worthy category, for the same reason as last time … it is very far off the beaten track and the roads are still really bad.

        However, it rises far above 'good for the area' and is one of the better meals I've had in Guatemala