Say no to the expensive restaurants for tourists, you’ve got the same back home anyways. Enjoy the typical food instead.
By the force of things I’ve learned to live without good baguettes, cheeses, and wines. But I’m french, and there’s some limits that I cannot cross.
I love my food and I’m picky about it. I won’t just eat anything, it needs to be cooked with a minimum of love, to be relatively healthy, and to mainly benefit the locals rather than multinational corporations.
Since I’m not cooking much myself, it means that there needs to be some good places to eat in town or else I won’t enjoy myself. Exception made if going through the jungle, of course.
And obviously, I’m not travelling around the world to eat everyday the same pizzas that I could have back home. Or even worse, to end up in a freakkin’ McDonald’s which I’ve happily been boycotting with other crappy places for almost 10 years now. That being said, I’ve got to admit that Antigua has the most beautiful McDonald’s that I’ve ever seen. It even has a lovely garden with a fountain. A good way to remember where the money goes to, when the locals around are struggling to survive.
I’m not talking about fancy gastronomic restaurants either. No, I simply want to experience the local popular cuisine. I want to eat in the same humble places where locals actually go to have their meal.
That’s why after touring for 2 weeks around Guatemala I came back to Antigua. To enjoy a larger choice of good food. And to get stuffed with my favourite banana bread.
How to Spot Them
I won’t teach you anything by saying that Antigua is a touristic city. And that, as such, it is crawling with restaurants targetting this specific clientele.
The price of a meal in one of these restaurants equals the average daily wage of a Guatemalan. And I’m not even talking about neither the truly poor locals here nor the even fancier restaurants.
But that’s good this way. Let them be. It makes it simpler to spot the places that are affordable and hence courted by the locals. If it’s cheap—around 15–20 quetzales—, then we’re on the right direction!
And you’ll be wrong to think that paying more will necessarily give you access to a better food quality. Instead, it’ll most probably be a case where you’ll just be another milk cow following the herd driven by prejudices and irrational fears of unsafe food. Chances are that you’ll more likely be eating in a tourist trap—I mean, how can you justify to spend more money on a hot chocolate in some places than on a proper meal elsewhere?
So let me guide you—you’ll thank me later—and start by clicking on the map below to get to the actual Google Map for the location of each place.
I’m starting with my favourite lunch place here. Forget about the chicken which was a bit disappointing when I tried it—probably I wasn’t lucky that day since it was a bit dry due to the cooking—, and order instead the pork—“cerdo” in Spanish—like everyone else. That’s all you will see grilling on the barbecue at the entrance anyways.
Your plate will be well garnished with whatever tasty side of the day and you’ll be filled with one of their fresh drink. The limonade juice will make the unaminity but the pineapple with real big chunks and others more typical rice or corn based drinks are not any less delicious.
No, but seriously, they’ve even managed to make me like radishes!
All this costs only 20 quetzales at lunch time! It’s also open for breakfast but this won’t get you close to any pork.
The only thing that I regret is the pink coloured insecticide for flies that they put on each table. A few seconds after giving it a go, the flies will start to have their limbs straightening up and will keep slowly losing control before going for their last desperate flight in an attempt to escape the inevitable.
What a terrible way to punish some innocent living creatures for getting into a place where we decided that they wouldn’t be allowed. No prevention, no attempt at repelling them. Just death. I felt like if I was having lunch in a concentration camp for flies. But who will mind that except me, right?
I was heading once again for Rincón Típico when I passed by this one. I stopped. Froze for an instant. Cheap price. Tourist–proof with its thick layer of barbecue smoke running through the entrance hall. All the signs were reunited.
So I went for it and I did well. Indeed I couldn’t see any gringos, only locals. The chiles rellanos were yummy and spicy as promised! A family joined my table and their meals also looked quite appetizing.
The chicken grilling outside looked very tempting and I had to go there another time to try it out with their pepián de pollo. Win.
Taqueria Doña Lupita
I hated myself for staying just in front of that place for that long and not having noticed it earlier. But in my defense, there’s no much clues from the outside that you can eat in there.
If you’re hungry, one serving definitely won’t be enough, so get yourself some gringas and tacos, try out the different sauces, and enjoy. The guy knows his tacos, they are most likely the best in town.
My Spanish teacher recommended me this one. It’s apparently a popular place amongst Guatemalans but it was relatively empty the two times that I went there for dinner. Maybe I should have tried for lunch instead.
In any cases, it definitely had all the authentic cuisine for 30—35 quetzales a meal. Nothing too special but it fills the belly.
Another taco place. You get your taco and you load it with whatever is available in front of you. So I went for everything. Mixing black beans with tomato sauce, grated cheese, and... pineapple! It was good!
Despite of the slightly more expensive price of 30 quetzales, it wasn’t very fullfilling. Maybe did I pay the gringo price?
Here you go, the food market. That’s the most typically authentic experience that you can get with the street food. In the heart of the maze that is the market, there is a food court where the crowd of Guatemalans head to for lunch.
You know you’re there when you see a bunch of boxes delimited by yellow walls and when the ladies try to get you in their shop, sometimes by grabbing you by the arm.
I didn’t appreciate this behavior at first but started to accept it after chatting with my Spanish teacher. She said that these ladies are earning around 20–30 quetzales a day and are being pushed by their boss to act this way. They’re already having an hard time so let’s not make it worse.
All the shops serve pretty much the same meals, so picking one is a matter of sitting in a busy place. Once you’ve picked your shop, notice the peoples all around that are staring and laughing at you. They’re wondering what a tourist like you is doing in a such place but are glad that you made it.
The food is simple but enjoyable. And it’s cheap—15 quetzales for a meal with a drink.
Possibly even cheaper than the food market, it ranges from 4 to 10 quetzales per serving. If you’re happy to eat light for dinner, you won’t need to spend more than 10–15 quetzales total.
My favourite spot being on the North side of Antigua, on the park in front of the church La Merced.
The most popular choice are the tostadas on top of which you can put a ton of things, like avocado sauce—not guacamole—, hashed meat mixed with various stuff, salads of vegetables, persley, sauce, cheese, and so on.
Also recommended are the chuchitos which are made of corn dough filled with chicken and a sauce. It is not being sold in every stand, and it’s larger in some than others, so try them all! Or at least the ones in the North area. The common point is the price: 4 quetzales each.
If you fancy a dessert, the rellenitos are a premium choice. It’s basically some sweet beans with chocolate wrapped into a thick layer of mashed banana which is then grilled. Super yummy!
To keep you warm on the way back to your hostel, don’t forget to pick up a rice with milk—arroz con leche in Spanish—drink.
But seriously, don’t rush back and stay just a little bit longer to take the time to talk to these peoples. They are lovely.
Doña Luisa Xicotencatl
Let’s just call it “the banana bread place”. But not just any banana bread. The best one that I’ve found since Australia!
It’s simple, when I passed by the shop in the street for the first time, my nose ordered me to stop. And it started to sniff. It told me that it smelled banana. Good, tasty, banana. So I got inside and felt like I was in heaven. It was everywhere! The banana bread! And it just got out of the oven!
Officially it’s not where you’ll be having your meals. But if you’re like me, you might suddenly turn lazy in the sole goal to replace them with this new addiction. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. I tried it all and it did work well for me in every case. And it only costs 13.5 quetzales for the half of a bread.
As good things never come alone, literally next door there’s a museum of chocolate. Ok, it’s definitely a touristic place BUT all you need here is to buy a yummy tab of chocolate and sit on a table from the relaxing inner yard.
Some locals go there to exhibit a vast choice of fabrics but don’t pay attention to this just now. Relax. Focus on the banana bread and the chocolate. Banana bread... chocolate. Just a row of it. Make a sandwich. Eat. Enjoy life!
Bonus points if you go for the 80% dark chocolate with salt.
We’re leaving the typical cheap food for a slightly more expensive Mexican place but, if you’re craving for a burrito, this is what you need.
You’d better be hungry because the guy is really lovely and friendly but he’s not kidding with the size of his burritos. I went there for a small breakfast and left with a food baby that lasted me until dinner.
Nah, just kidding.
Funningly, just when writing this article in the relaxing lounge of the hostel I was staying at, I’ve heard someone proudly saying that he found a pizza place quite cheap—probably 5 times more expensive than the actual cheapest full meals that you can find—and he then emphasized on the fact that it was empty, like if it was a good thing. I didn’t join them.