Panaderia Y Restaurante Guatemalteca is a Guatemalan-family-run eatery/ bakery. The mom cooks the food, the son (both Guatemalans) and his wife runs the rest. The son immigrated to the US when he was six and the family originally came from about half an hour from Guate (Ciudad de Guatemala), near Antigua. The eatery also offers packaged snacks from Guatemala and the rest of Centro America on a couple of racks in the dining room.
Guatemalan cuisine is somewhat of a mystery to me despite spending more than a month there many years ago. As with many countries with limited disposable income, the small restaurant landscape caters mostly to gringos who stay in the country for Spanish immersion, especially in Antigua, and often times are not cooking Guatemalan. Rich families have maids that cook meals at home, and middle class just cook themselves and don’t often eat out. Home-cooked food are obviously dependent on the cook in the kitchen. I had a number of those meals but the cook repeated the same rice, beans and tortillas every meal. The most well known restaurant export from the country is Pollo Campero, but it serves food that is more like KFC than Guatemalan. Hence I don’t have a very good handle on Guatemalan specialties.
In the Bay Area, one can count with one hand restaurants that proudly fly the Guatemalan flag instead of incorporating Guatemalan dishes as part of a larger Mexican menu. Geographically Guatemala borders the state of Chiapas in the southern tip of Mexico (which is south of the better known state of Oaxaca). The place caters to I am guessing home-sick Centro-Americanos living around Redwood City, which has a large Latino population that makes up the labor force around the area.
This was a dinner meal so I didn’t order any of the bread/ pastries. On the recommendation of the son, I ordered their most frequently ordered item on the menu- churrasco (often eaten there at gatherings and festivities), which came with grilled meat, beans, a little cream, small salad, rice and tortillas. I asked for the hot sauce on the side, which was fiery and lively. Rice was flavorful. The meat cut was a bit tough which seemed like its a sirloin. The seemingly machine-made tortillas were bland.
The more interesting item was the chicken tamale. This rendition of the Guatemalan tamale was wrapped in a banana leaf. The masa, with tomato recado, was smooth and almost mochi like. I thought the masa was fragrant and enjoyable, though the wife preferred the texture of tamales from Mexico. They were out of the pork tamale at the time, and the white chicken meat was dry.
The hibiscus drink was like Ribena, if anyone is familiar with that drink. The dining room had a few patrons. Given the availability of baked goods and tamales, mornings are probably a busier time for them.
Though the ordered items didn’t wow and didn’t try to, I thought its bold for the owners to run it as Guatemalan, since Mexican food is much more prevalent, and the fact that Guatemala and other Central American countries are sort of looked down upon by Mexicans as their southern neighbors ravaged by civil war and poverty (and when not that, earthquakes and corruption). When I pass by next time, I’d like to try the baked items like pan dulce and drinks like atol de elote.
If anyone knows more about Guatemalan cuisine, I’d love to learn more.
The quetzal flying proudly.
Special was a tilapia.
Hecho en Guatemala:
More items from Centro America: