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Guatemala’s underground restaurants … Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s gate

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Guatemala’s underground restaurants … Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s gate

rworange | Feb 15, 2011 07:44 AM

“This restaurant doesn’t exist. It’s a fantasy”, said the owner.

If I didn’t have the pictures, I would think it was a wonderful dream of the perfect restaurant. The chefs were top-notch, the food amazing, the ingredients the best of the best and the friendly, fascinating customers like the valiant characters in a Steinbeck novel. I think John would have loved this place and could have written his next great novel about the people there.

Visitors often complain about the food in Guatemala. That it is bland and unexciting. The food in NY, SF, Paris, etc can also be boring if you are trodding the tourist trail with your eyes firmly affixed to some outdated guidebook.

Instead, close your eyes and listen. Let people know you appreciate gastronomic greatness. You might be directed to one of these guerilla restaurants and have a meal and experience no four star Michelan restaurant can match.

Fancy? Nope. The dinnerware is by Corelle. The napkins are paper. There are no dancing servers a la French Laundry.

Inviting and delicious? Definitely. It is simply surprising and well-made food served in a relaxing beautiful garden with a backdrop of a volcano rising from the lake.

There are some underground restaurants you will never get into. A German chef with a European degree in pastry baking talked about the great food at the Guatemalan restaurant where he works. It is where local politicians and celebrities go. Unless you fall into that category, there’s no admittance.

But that restaurant has a staff with pedigree and will make any dish the customer would like to eat. I asked if the German chef made any German food. He said yes, there were occasional requests from Eastern European customers. He mentioned some of his dishes and then started talking about the sauerkraut he makes and he absolutely glowed. It was enough to make me want to run for public office in Guatemala just so I could eat there and try that sauerkraut.

Back to the other restaurant. It was built with passion and a sheer love and appreciation of outstanding food.

Here’s what we had over the weekend

- Maybe the best pizza I have ever had in my life.

There’s lots of talk in my hometown of SF about what makes the perfect pizza. If you looked in the dictionary under perfect pizza, this would be the definition.

- Chicken and vegetarian tortolone
- House-baked foccacia
- Lasagna
- Mayan chocolate cream pie
- House-roasted coffee
- Mojitos
- Chuck wagon breakfast with gravy and biscuits
- Omelet, hash browns, house-made sausage, and sourdough bread
- Patin with tortillas - a Mayan dish made by a local Mayan woman who speaks neither Spanish nor English, only the local dialect.

The restaurant operates only two hours a night on Friday and Saturday… and only while the owner is in Guatemala from mid-November to just before Easter. People staying at the posada can make special arrangements for breakfast and other meals during that time.

There is zero advertising. There were people lined up to get in on both nights … people who loved good food and happened to hear from others about this incredible place.

Due to the secret nature of the restaurant, no address … actually I doubt there is a specific address. It is almost like the lyrics to the old song Hernando’s Hideaway … “Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe”.

However, by the end of the evening, it was like the lyrics to Cheers, a place "Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came."

Why write about it? It is an incentive to seek out what is not obvious. This is what you may stumble across.

No ratings because it would be like rating paradise … the garden of Eden and eating next to heaven’s red gate and down the dirt trail marked by a cola billboard.

So the only thing I can tell you is to put down that guidebook and keep your ears and eyes open when visiting Guatemala … or anywhere in the world. You might find a mythical restaurant that doesn’t exist … yet does.

Details about the food in the next reply

More photos in the Flickr photostream here
http://www.flickr.com/photos/7685047@...

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