For most college students, who normally exist on a diet of only pizzas and hamburgers, eating Guatemalan food is definitely a unique experience.
Maya Quetzal, 429 N. Fourth Ave., is a small restaurant with a distinctive Guatemalan atmosphere. Customers seat themselves at one of about 10 small tables, decorated with brightly colored western-style tablecloths and matching wooden chairs.
After selecting a table, my friend and I were greeted with menus and bowls of chips and salsa.
It took us a while to decide what we wanted to order, because most of the dishes were unfamiliar. Even the dishes like tostadas and tamales, which at first seemed familiar, had a definite Guatemalan touch.
I finally decided to try one of the three "favoritos mixtos de la casa," ($4.75-$5.95) so I could try as many of the unique dishes as possible.
The combination I selected included a chicken tamale, a guacamole tostada and a vegetarian pancho. I had the option to add black beans and rice for $1.75, but decided not to.
My friend decided to try the Thursday special, Carne Hilachas ($7.50), thin strips of beef with potato and red pepper covered by a flavorful sauce.
We both also decided to be daring with our drink choices. I ordered a limonada, or poppyseed lemonade ($1.10), which turned out to be a little sweeter than regular lemonade and was very good.
My friend's drink, a tamarindo, or "sweetened refreshing citrus drink ($1.10)," was a little too watery and a lot less exciting.
Our food was served within five minutes after we ordered it, even though every table in the small restaurant was full, and the service continued to be excellent throughout our meal.
The food was nothing like I had expected. I am a big fan of Mexican food and I guess I expected to find the same over-generous amounts of spices and cheeses in the Guatemalan food. However, besides a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, my dinner did not include much of either ingredient.
As I sampled my food with a more open mind, I decided that the dishes did not suffer from leaving those ingredients out. The tamale was a thick layer of soft, warm rice and corn masa surrounding a center full of thick, tender chicken and several green olives and was covered by a mild tomato sauce.
The guacamole tostada was simply a small, fried corn tortilla, topped with a generous portion of mild, almost sweet guacamole and a sprinkling of shredded lettuce and parmesan cheese.
Although I normally like a little more spice in my guacamole, it was still very good and was the portion of the large meal that I found room to finish.
The pancho, the most daring of my choices, was also quite good. The same type of corn tortilla was topped with a thin layer of black beans and a generous heaping of shredded lettuce and mild tomato sauce. Surprisingly, the tastes blended very well together.
My friend mentioned several times that his dinner tasted like stew, which he enjoyed enough to finish almost the entire large plate full. Since stew is not one of my favorites, I took his word on the main course, but did decide that the beans and rice, basic staples of Guatemalan cooking, deserved a taste.
The rice was very mildly seasoned and was soft and fluffy and the beans were flavorful, but not spicy. I took as many tastes as my friend allowed before he finished the dishes himself.
Although the food wasn't the best I had ever tasted, it was good and very filling. Read Next Article