Guatemala’s culinary history and diversity of ingredients is equally as profound as that of neighboring Mexico, yet why aren’t we all talk about it in the same way? While things are happening all over the country, Guatemala City’s culinary scene is quietly becoming one of the most exciting in Central America. Chefs with experience at Mugaritz and Noma are creating menus around Guatemalan products, while others are working to resurrect ancestral Mayan recipes. There’s a new wave of artisan bakeries and food halls, not to mention some of the region’s best coffee, though many of Guatemala City’s old school eateries and market stalls that have withstood the test of time might be more enchanting. Here are my recommendations:
On the lower level of the Casa del Águila in Zona 4, Mugaritz and Noma trained Diego Télles’ fine dining restaurant serves an 8-course tasting menu inspired by the Popol Vuh, the Quiché Mayan book of creation. The menu applies a combination of modern and ancestral techniques to Guatemalan ingredients, such as nixtamalization, fermentation, pickling, salting in brine, and smoking. This is easily one of the best restaurants in Central America. Casa del Águila, Ruta 3 Vía 5, Zona 4; flordelisrestaurante.com.
Recently reopened at the start of 2018 in a spilt level space with an open kitchen across from the Casa del Águila, the market driven restaurant is helping redefine how Guatemalans think about their food and drinks. Pablo Díaz, who worked at Noma Mexico during its run in Tulum, and his team serve soulful, playful dishes like beef tongue with coffee mayonnaise and zapote with mole. In the evenings they offer a 4-course tasting menu. Ruta 3 Vía 5, Zona 4; Facebook page.
Anthropologist Rosita Pu recreates Mayan dishes from different regions of Guatemala from an open kitchen beside a long bar facing diners. The recipes have been impeccably researched and focus primarily on Pre-Colombian proteins such as duck and rabbit with sauces made with a stone mortar, though some dishes utilize ingredients that originated with the arrival of the Spanish, such as beef tongue and chicken. 6A Avenida A 10-16, Zona 1; senorapu.com.
From the owners of Mercado 24, this divey storefront that used to be a shoe shop is proof that if you have good food, the clientele will come. Dora, just has one item on the menu, the Guatemalan style tostada, for which they offer a handful of different toppings each day, such as octopus and solomillo (pork). They open at noon and the toppings get crossed off the board as they sell out. 9 Venida 1-63, Edificio 414, Zona 4; Facebook page.
There’s good coffee to be found all over Guatemala City, but some of the best is at Paradigma, a small café that sources their beans from small farms all across the country and roasts on site. 1-75, Via 5; Zona 4; paradigmacafe.com.
This bustling stall inside the Mercado Central opened 64-years ago by the current owners mother, utilizing typical Guatemalan recipes that continue to be passed down from one generation to the next. There are enchiladas, where a fried tortilla is layered with toppings; revolcado, a stew made with offal meat; rellenito, mashed plantains stuffed with black beans; and chicharrón. Only open in the mornings. Mercado Central, 8 Calle, Zona 1.
Open since 1940, this small shop specializes in different variations of typical Guatemalan drinks. The súchiles are fermented drinks that are made from various fruits and grains, including pineapple, chilacayote (squash), maíz, and jocote (acidic fruit). 5a Calle 10-52, Zona 1; Facebook page.
This rambling food hall in the heart of Zona 4 offers a little bit of everything: a taqueria, coffeeshop, a sandwich shop, burgers and meat, and a dessert bar, among other concepts. Pick up a charge card on your way in and pay for everything you ate or drank on the way out. Ruta 2, 4-71, Zona 4; mercaditolaesquina.com.
Contemporary Guatemalan food fused with touches of Asian cuisines are emphasized at this big, flashy restaurant that also attracts a lively bar crowd. Home to one of Guatemala’s only R&D kitchens where chef Chef Sergio Díaz – who cooked in Chile, France, and Spain before coming home to Guatemala – experiments with native ingredients, finding ways to integrate them into fine dining. 10a Avenida 5-49, Zona 14; ambia.com.gt.
More than 30 different types of artisan breads with European and Latin American influences are made from scratch each day by Fado’s Portuguese Guatemalan owners. Via 5 1-11, Zona 4; Facebook page.