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Dec 30, 2010 09:49 AM

2010: Top Tastes in South and Central America

I know you South and Central American Chowhounds are out there. What were your favs this year?

My top honor goes to ...

Antigua, GT: El Rincon del Conquistador – caracoles en la crema de ajo

I haven't written this up yet, but it was one of my top, if not my top taste this year.

A dozen plump caracoles were in a lovely elegant cream soup subtley flavored with herbs.Photo below\

More in the first reply.

And while it isn't food ... it is about food. One of the top sites about Guatemala is Antiigua Daily Photo.

Without this site I would have missed so much about Guatemalan food. Also fabulous for info about Antigua and Guatemala in general. What is wonderful is it is NOT a site for tourists. It is just someone recording everyday life in Gautemala and, as a result, provides an amazing insight into all things Guatemalan ... and it is in English. Be sure to read the comments as well where there is a wealth of info.

What knocked your socks off in South and Central America?

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  1. Other top tastes in Guatemala in 2010 (in no particular order)

    SAN CRISTOBAL Ocean Palace

    Ocean Palace has one of the best egg rolls that I have ever had, if not the best. They were really glorious, filled with plump medium fresh local shrimp and almost no vegetable filler. The wrapper was crisp and greaseless. Even the sweet sauce with it was good. It was not at all gloppy and had a slice or two of fresh onion in it.

    The Sunday buffet brunch at Las Velas at the Hotel Camino Real

    Um, yeah. Haven't written this one up yet either. I've been saving the best for last. Probably one of the best buffets I've had in my life. Usually the miss ratio on a buffet is 25%. There was only one dish that was slightly missed here, the pork Wellington, but even that was flavorful. Pork doesn't take wel to this prep and was on the dry side. They actually have a tamale lady who stands by a cozmal making tortillas to order. The gelato station is fabulous as is the sushi station. The ceviche station where it is made to order is pretty darn good as well. It's all good ... even the coffee ... and ohhhh ... the mangu juice ... wonderful

    Guatemala City: Chojin with chicharrones at Arrin Cuin

    Report due, but I just ate there two days ago. Everything is is good enough, but the chicharron was a standout .. tender with little fatty bits that were ... like buttah ... pork butter ... the outside was crispy but tender and not jawbreaking like most

    Antigua, GT: Canoli at Epicure

    I know, I'll get to this report. Great French bakery in Guatemala. This is a classic perfect version. The cheese bread is great and they make fabulous croissants ... and potato chips ... and ... almost everything except the thing that brought me there in the first place ... weekend chicharrones ... hey, it's Guatemala and even a French joint will make chicharrones. Not their forte, IMO.

    Antigua, GT: Chocolate at Chocola La La ... especially the chile and citrus flavors

    There are samples and what made me an instant fan was the chile. I took a bite and there wasn't much chile flavor, then 30 seconds later there was a fiery burst in my mouth like a volcano exploding.

    Antigua, GT: Pepian at Saborico

    It is the best pepian I have had anywhere. The stew had depth and complexity, the white meat chicken was tender and flavorful. Even the accompaniments were top quality … perfect avocado, nicely done rice. Note: the pepian at El Prado in San Felipe is a close runner up and it has three meats in it.

    Antigua, GT: La Cuevita de Los Urquizu complementary moshito

    Moshito is like cream of wheat, only using oatmeal. This is the best version I have ever had. It was nicely spiced and garnished with a piece of cinnamon bark and a clove of nutmeg. Consistency wise it was the mama bear of moshito … not to thick or thin, just right. Nicely sugared as well

    Antigua, GT: Bacchus Cigar Lounge – smoked fish

    It was moist, light, beautifully and delicately permeated with smoke. The ,,, owner met a women from Germany who was known for her expertise in smoking fish and meat. He custom-built a smoker for her in Gautemala to her specifications. Coal is involved. Once a week she smokes the fish and beef tenderloin for the restaurant. It is an all day process. All that effort produces something really special.

    Antigua, GT: Hector's Restaurante

    Quiche, frirtes and duck ... and I usually hate duck.

    Antigua, GT: Dona Luisa Xicotencatl - Guisquil pie

    Guisquill is a local squash and some varieties taste just like pumpkin. This was probably one of the best slices of “pumpkin” pie I’ve ever had. Unlike too many pies that use fresh pumpkin, the texture was dense and not watery. The spicing was perfect. There was a lovely buttery, flaky crust. This is a seasonal pie and not always on the menu

    Antigua, GT: Flan Antigüeño at La Casa del Flan Antigüeño

    It is different from any flan I've ever had. It gives flan a good name. It sits on top of sweetened chopped figs (higos), sweet potato (camote) and yams (chilicayote). It is almost a fruit-cake type of mixture ... in a good way. The flan itself is rich and more white than yellow, reminding me more of a cheesecake.

    Antigua, GT: La Dulcerí¬a de Doña María Gordillo ZAPOTIO

    Zowie … one of the best sweets I had in my life. The rich mouth-feel was incredible … like the densest whipped cream … or the texture of the lightest, most heavenly mashed potatoes. It was like waking up on the softest featherbed in a world class hotel on a lazy Sunday morning. Sheer luxury. It is made from zapote fruit and that must be what gives it that amazing consistency. Zapote is somewhat like sweet potatoes. There were nice notes of cinnamon in it. So far I have only seen these at one store in Antigua, so they might be a creation of that shop ... the best creation since God said “Let there be light

    Antigua, GT: Tienda de Doña Gavi - organic ice cream

    The corn topped with pepino powder was like biting into a scoop of fresh fallen snow with a lovely sweet corn flavor. The texture and flavor, a duet of summer and winter, that made beautiful music together.An impossibly light, thin cone held the generous portion perfectly without falling apart. (20 quetzales, $2.50 USD). Quality, flavor, texture, value ... all marvels.
    The black tamal had an amazing, rich, flavorful chocolate sauce. The texture of the tamal was like the soft, sensuousness of bone marrow and every bit as flavorful. An excellent piece of pork was so in harmony with that chocolate sauce. A macadamia nut, a prune and raisins completed this fabulous tamal.

    Despite the sweet ingredients, it really was savory, like a pork roast stuffed with dried fruit. The photo of the open tamal negro looks gross, but trust me, it ws glorious.

    Antigua, GT: Christmas tamales negro from the tamale lady who shows up infront of La Repositeria Bakery in the Central Market on Saturdays at 5:30

    The black tamal had an amazing, rich, flavorful chocolate sauce. The texture of the tamal was like the soft, sensuousness of bone marrow and every bit as flavorful. An excellent piece of pork was so in harmony with that chocolate sauce. A macadamia nut, a prune and raisins completed this fabulous tamal. Despite the sweet ingredients, it really was savory, like a pork roast stuffed with dried fruit. The photo of the open tamal negro looks gross, but trust me, it ws glorious.

    Antgiua, GT: Apple pie and brownies from Cafe Condessa ... honorary mention for fried potatoes

    Few grandmother’s in New England could make a finer, classic slice of apple pie than that at Café Condesa. The crust is buttery, the apples fresh and the right texture, not mushy or underbaked. The spicing perfect. s to the brownie, I haven’t had one this good in a long time. There was rich chocolate flavor, a nice bit of frosting on top. It was chewy and cakey at the same time. Brownie classic

    Antigua, GT: Kaffe Fernando's mocha and chocolate covered carob beans... honorary mentions Java Jane and Gutamalan breakfast

    The karob bean is hand-peeled and roasted. I took a nibble of the sample and Fernando said no ... pop the whole thing in your mouth and bite down. It was an explosion of crumbly, roasted bitter sweet magnificence

    The mocha is unsweetened and uses chopped bittersweet Guatemalan chocolate so there are some bits that melt on your tongue. It is the perfect pairing the deep rich espresso

    San Felipe de Jesus, GT: Restaurante Godspel La Buena Comida - black tortillas

    As everyone said “Sauve” … smooth. I’ve tried black tortillas a few times. These were the best I’ve tried to date. They were nicely blistered, piping hot and smooooth. The texture is softer than a regular tortilla. Some say there really isn’t a taste difference, but I think there is. The taste is more refined and not as course as a regular tortilla.

    Antigua, GT: Pushkar Indican Restaurant

    Need to write it up. Probabl the best chicken kabobs I've ever had, nicely grilled on the outside and moist and tender inside. These came with a fabulous grean marinade ... or some such thing that addled layers of flabvor. In a city of surpsingling good kabos, these were maybe the best.

    Antigua, GT: Bagel Barn coffee

    I went back to Cafe Saul this week to see which whas better. The straight cup of coffee from Bagel Barn beat Cafe Saul.

    The coffee was deeply flavored and assertive without being overwhelming. It was perfectly roasted. The foamy steamed milk gave it balance without taking over the taste.

    Guatemala City: Cafe Saul cappucino

    However, no one beats Cafe Saul for cappucino. I went back this week and it was every bit as good as I remembered ... maybe better

    It was topped with the only cappuccino art I’ve ever had that lasted that until the last sip. The steamed milk was that thick. It was pretty. It was tasty. It was everything cappuccino should be. The complementary wrapped dark chocolate on the side was very good and a nice companion to the cappuccino.

    Cocales, Guatemala: El Rancho Restaurante – mojarra tilapia\

    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.

    Escuintla, GT: Shuco at the cart next to the Shell Station

    Not one place in Gautematal City (home of the shuco) or Antigua has beat this joint\

    The shuco hot dog is served on a bed of guacamole and boiled cabbage and topped with fresh onion and decorative squiggles of mustard, mayonnaise,ketchup and hot green sauce. The roll is nicely toasted on a grill. While the roll bread is similar to American hot dog rolls, the bun is larger, like a sub roll to accomodate the condiments without falling apart I had a bite of my frirend's chorizo and the complex, nicely spiced, course ground sausage is the way to go

    Guatemala City: Billares San Carlos - doblada

    Not to be confused with a chain with a similar name. Only three things are made here: dobladas, pan con frijoles and ponche. All three are stars. The doblada is the superstar. It is simple and simply delicious. A flour tortilla is grilled until crispy. In the center is stewed beef and chopped cooked cabbage (and maybe onions). Put some green picamas sauce on it for a tiny bit of spice. Sometimes the whole is better than the parts. Not in this case. Each part is excellent and together they soar. The shredded beef is tender, fat-free and flavorful. The cooked cabbage sweet

    Antigua, GT: Pangea - Avocado Crème Brulee

    Need to write this up as well. Very smooth, elegant and beautifully plated with edible flowers.

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Sorry, rwo. I just can't help myself. Remember less than a year ago?

      You know I post that with admiration . . . as I bookmark this page.

      1. re: JoanN

        Ah yes, the grilled onions and the corn atol at San Lucas. Nobody's topped those yet

        The pork tamale had a red sauce on it. It was topped with the best grilled green onions I have ever had ... ever. At first the thick stacks looked like asparagus. The atole maiz was similarily the best I have ever had ... sweet with deep corn flavor it was topped with fresh corn kernals.

        Actually, yesterday when I was in San Felipe and had some time to evaluate, I decided that San Lucas is probably the better location for sheer variety and maybe even taste. However, San Felipe is pretty darn good at some things, just smaller and more relaxed. Ironically, my family never knew it existed and they really enjoyed it.

        Hmmm ... since I went yesterday and it still is 2010 ... I don't think I've written anything on La Reposteria Bakery in Antigua. In a country of great pan Frances, they have the best I've ever had ... not an easy honor to win. Even the family was really impressed with them. Very nice sheco too. That sheco is one of the few things I've ordered more than once along with Epicure's cheese breaad and canelle (not canoli as incorrect typed above).

        I also know I left out El Pescador Italiano. They had a name change and some staff changes and I haven't had time to go back and see how that is working. Their ads are so off putting that I haven't been in a hurry. They seem more geared to booze and a party atmosphere with the ads.

        So what were your favorite tastes of 2010?

        I know you liked the chicharrones at Epicure, which is what sent me there. They were so radically different from any other chicharron I've had. I tried to get them again to re-evaluate knowing what I'd be getting, but they never seemed to have them when I went back on the weekends.

        1. re: rworange

          This past year I only spent three or four days in Antigua and most meals I had there were business meals at restaurants chosen to have as wide appeal as possible to as many people as possible. Not exactly conducive to finding great food. The one highlight of that trip was discovering the sweet potato fries at Hector's at the one meal I had on my own.

          Didn't eat out a lot in GC either. But we did get back to my favorite cevicheria. Unfortunately, I can't tell you where it is nor can I tell you the name of it. It's a dinky little porch front off some main drag on the way to my friend's mother's house. Does that help any? LOL. Anyway, there's really nothing unusual about their ceviche mixto or their conch ceviche other than the freshness of the ingredients. Maybe it has something to do with the flavor of the limes? So much better than in the States. But their ceviche is just terrific. Actually, there's lots of terrific ceviche in Guate. Do you have a favorite in Antigua?

          1. re: JoanN

            I have a couple of places on my to try list in Antigua, but haven't made it there yet ... new year's resolution ... try ceviche in Antigua.