Filled with rich forests, towering volcanoes and fascinating Mayan ruins, Guatemala has become famous as an exotic place of natural beauty. Unfortunately, not many people get the opportunity to visit and soak up the incredible facets of Guatemalan culture. Not to worry. There is now a new way to experience a taste of Guatemala in Los Angeles. Thanks to Mario Granados and Darwin Amador, two friends who have dreamed of opening a restaurant, Angelenos can now have the complete Guatemalan culinary experience at the new Tikal Restaurant Cocina Maya.
When walking into this restaurant, customers are welcomed into a store filled with authentic Guatemalan artistry, crafts and Las Delicias brand candy. Customers can purchase imported goods like wood-carved napkin holders shaped like exotic fruits, vibrant throws and clay pottery. Having this store attached to the restaurant distinguishes this place from other restaurants because customers can take a little bit of their experience home with them. It also further proves the owners’ true appreciation for the native Guatemalan artists and the indigenous culture of the country.
After perusing the exotic items in the store, customers can begin their culinary trip to Guatemala with a refreshing beverage, such as the homemade horchata or the jamarindo. Horchata, a brilliant mixture of milk, rice, cinnamon and other spices, is so sweet and delicious that it feels as if it should be on the dessert menu. For those folks who are already familiar with horchata, the jamarindo is a refreshing way to try something new and different. Jamarindo is a cold, magenta-colored drink made with hibiscus and tamarind infused with mint and ginger. The flavors mix together harmoniously, resembling the taste of a sweet, fresh iced-tea.
After the drinks, why not start with an appetizer? At the average Mexican food restaurant, it is painfully easy to fill up on tortilla chips before the main dish reaches the table. However, the Guatemalan twist to chips and salsa at Tikal Restaurant, called tostaditas, provides an appropriately sized way to start the meal. The tostaditas include three fried corn tortillas each with a different topping of guacamole, tomato sauce or black beans. It’s delightful, inviting, and it leaves room for the main event.
Speaking of the main event, the enchilada offered at this restaurant is one of the prettiest main dishes one will ever see. It is very different from the traditional enchilada with all the heavy cheese and sauce that Angelenos have come to honor as a cherished hangover food. Instead, the enchilada at this restaurant is more like a tostada topped with beets, cabbage pickle, sautéed beef and veggie stuffing, tomato sauce, parsley and grated cheese. It looks gorgeous and it tastes great, what else is there?
Actually, there is a great deal of other authentic Guatemalan dishes on the menu like the pan con chile, which is a sandwich filled with an egg-battered roasted bell pepper stuffed with the sautéed beef and veggie mix, tomato sauce, parsley, onion and grated cheese all put inside Guatemalan bread. There is also the pepian, the national stew of Guatemala, which contains roasted chilies, green beans, squash and chicken. Additionally, there are some vegetarian options on the menu like the chilaquilas, which involves steams squash filled with fresh cheese, tomatoes and onion.
As customers enjoy the food, upbeat Guatemalan music, such as marimba, plays in the background. Twenty-two tiny frames adorn one of the walls, all of them representing a different dialect of Guatemala, while large photos of the Tikal ruins decorate the wall on the other side of the restaurant. Basically, every adornment in the restaurant was used to remind the customers of the Guatemalan traditions, further enhancing the authentic dining experience.
Mexican food is easy to come by in Southern California, but Guatemalan food is not nearly as common. At Tikal Restaurant, the two owners have made a point to provide a complete cultural experience that commemorates Guatemala’s native culture and delicious cuisine.
Tikal Restaurant Cocina Maya is located at 4838 E. Huntington Drive North in Los Angeles. For more information, visit tikalrestaurant.com