Given the fact that Quetzaltenango is considered by many to be the modern-day heart of Guatemalan culture, a person might reasonably expect its food to be held in similarly high esteem. If that person happens to be you, give yourself a pat on the back, because although the city lacks the concentration of culinary prowess you’ll find in Antigua it’s got plenty of local goodness and international flare to go around the dinner table. Restaurants serving up locally grown, traditionally prepared, fair trade and/or vegan-friendly dishes are as common here as those with an Asian, European or fusion bent, so selection won’t be a problem. Plus, since Xela is in general a less touristy and more student-populated city, prices are kept on the lower side of reasonable when compared to similarly sized urban hubs. Ready for a quick breakdown before breakfast? Then let’s get to it.
First and foremost, Quetzaltenango provides a great opportunity to sample traditional, Mayan-influenced cuisine, which is based around seasonal produce like beans, chilies, corn and potatoes. Oh yeah, and a healthy serving of meat. Stuffed tamales and paches are a particular specialty, especially on Thursdays and Saturdays when they are customarily produced in bulk (look for the telltale red light outside a house or establishment which will indicate that paches are on the menu). You can also fill up on Guatemalan cooking at countless restaurants throughout town, although the ubiquitous food stalls surrounding markets like Minerva Terminal and La Demo are usually a tastier and cheaper option.
If you prefer your meals seated with service and a check, rest assured that there are enough eateries around the city to satisfy pretty much any palate. Start with the entertainment district known as Zona Vivia, where the options range from bakeries (Xelapan) and cafes (Café Lounge) to French fusion (La Crepa Loca) and Indian (Sabor de la India). From here you can branch out in any direction around Parque Central to find noteworthy names like Café R.E.D. (east) and the Guatemalan comfort cooking of Albamar (south). When it comes to taste, however, it’s important not to confine yourself to just these well-trodden areas of the city. Market-friendly Zona 3 to the northwest and neighboring villages like agriculture-rich Almolonga to the southeast provide perfect ways to round out your experience in one of Central America’s richest culinary cities.