8 Places to Eat in Panajachel, Guatemala

When we were booking our trip to Guatemala, the most common piece of advice we got was not to stay in Panajachel. It’s a dirty backpacker tourist town, it turns into a huge thumping club scene at night, there’s nothing to do there. I was second-guessing myself, especially after looking up some food options, as we arrived. Luckily, though, all those warning turned out to be for naught and Panajachel turned out to be my favorite stop on the trip. The quiet, calm lakefront and quiet mornings, nice people, and surprisingly good food. It was well worth the two days we spent there.

1. Taqueria Orale

When we first arrived, we wanted to grab a quick bite before we settled in, and then go out for something later.  Taqueria Orale, set back in a small shopping area off the main street (Calle Santander) fit the bill.  The tacos weren’t anything special, but they were tasty—especially with the buffet of sauces, onions, and cilantro up front to choose from.  A solid choice to sit back with some cheap beer and cheap food.

2. Café Loco

We didn’t eat here, but the coffee was top notch. Run by two Korean gentlemen who clearly care about what they do, I don’t think you could find a better cup of coffee in Panajachel. We were trying to kill time and each had two iced coffees (in copper mugs so they stayed cold) and would have gone back for sure if we’d had more time. We also picked up a few bags of beans to take home with us.

3. Mister Jon’s

If you’re missing American food, this is the place to go. Fashioned after an American diner, this will give you all the things from home you’re missing, and a few extras. The service is still Guatemala-slow, but you can get some American craft beers, a decent omelet, free refills on your coffee, and if you’re there on the right night two-for-one margaritas (be sure to get the spicy one). If you happen to be in Panajachel on Thanksgiving, as we were, they even cook a standard American Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re not missing home, though, there really isn’t much reason to stop in.

4. Pupuseria Cheros

Neither of us had ever had pupusas, and we weren’t sure where to eat, so we stopped in here on a whim.  There was a really surly looking guy hanging around out front and the place was empty, so we almost didn’t, but we’re glad we did: it turned out to be one of the better meals of our trip. We found out the scary guy out front was the owner, and turned out to be a great guy.  He corrected our Spanish as we ordered (but not in a condescending way) and taught me the word for “check.” We ordered pupusas with beans, pork, garlic, and spinach (all with cheese, of course) and they came with sauce, slaw, and spicy pickles.  The bar filled up (with people and smoke from the cooking) and we had a great time eating pupusas and drinking Gallo.

5. Guajimbo’s

We wanted to go to Guajimbo’s for our “Thanksgiving” dinner, but they are closed Thursdays so we had to settle for it being our last lunch in Panajachel before moving on, and it was worth the wait.  The meal included huge portions of perfectly-prepared food.  Easily the best meal we had in Panajachel and one of our top in all of Guatemala.  We split the chicken and avocado soup (Kaitie was feeling a bit under the weather) and the avocado, tomato, and heart of palm salad (sorry, environment). We both finished with orders of kebabs; I ordered the beef and she the chicken.  Everything was cooked as it should have been, and was delicious besides. I’m glad we were able to stop here.

6. Taco Stand

I don’t think this place has a name, but if you’re walking on Calle Santander between 6 and 9 pm, you’ll see the crowd.  Both nights we were there, these folk were posted up at two long tables on the corner of Calle Santander and Calle El Chali (right next to the Romantic Fashions boutique), often with other vendors near them.  A tortilla topped with goodies is 7Q (about $1) and you’d do well to buy a few.  From what I could see, this was the most popular street food stand in the town.

7. Super Tacos Bell

I’m not sure where the name came from, but this street food vendor at the top of Calle Santander serves up some great pulled-pork tortillas with slaw and sauce.  She has a cool-as-shit contraption that looks like a sombrero with hot, flavored oil on one side that she cooks onions and tortillas in, and then a hunk of pork for shredding on the other side.  Cheap and delicious.

8. Humo En Tus Ojos

Translated to “Smoke In Your Eyes,” this outdoor grill cooks up some great-looking steaks and vegetables; and yes—with plenty of smoke.  We didn’t actually eat here due to stuffing ourselves multiple places, but the small table they had was packed and the smell coming off the place almost made me want to job a few laps up and down Calle Santander to make room for more food.  I would definitely consider it if you’re in town.

I’m not sure why people seem to shit on Panajachel so much—when we went on a tour of some of the lake cities, it didn’t seem any better or worse than any of the others (and it DID seem worse than Santiago).  The streets were calm and quiet, the temperature was excellent, the lake views were superb, and the food was worth eating.  I couldn’t have asked for a better stop, and would surely make that stop again.

Seven Places to Eat in Antigua, Guatemala

For a small town, Antigua packs quite a punch when it comes to places to eat—but as a tourist town, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that every other door seems to lead to either a restaurant or some kind of shop.  This helps to keep things fresh, though; even though there is plenty to do in Antigua, you wouldn’t want to keep eating at the same place over and over.  Or maybe you would, if it was good enough—there were certainly plenty of places that made me want to go back for the following meal.  We resisted, however, so we could bring you a quality list.  Hopefully when you go to Antigua (and you should go to Antigua), you’ll have as good a variety of meals as we did.

Quick tip: don’t be put off by the service. The restaurant culture is basically to take your order, bring your order, and then ignore you until you flag them down for another drink or the bill.  Even making eye contact isn’t enough to bring someone to your table like in the states.  Some places will add on a 10% tip, but if not, that seemed to be the standard for gratuity, if anything at all.

1. Iglesia de la Merced

Yes, this is a baroque church in town that is well worth a visit when you’re not hungry, but if you’re in town on a Sunday, there is always a small farmer’s market set up with a bunch of street food vendors.  Whatever you’re looking for, they’ve got it here: Guatemalan enchiladas, tortillas with delicious grilled meat, grilled corn, warm cups of atol or cool cups of juice—if you want to experience Guatemalan food, this is a great introduction.  And it’s all cheap, so you can get a little bit of everything. 1a Calle Poniente & 6a Avenida Norte

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2. Rincon Tipico

Our friends at These Foreign Roads recommended this stop, and it didn’t disappoint.  Well, it did a little, but only because it’s mostly a lunch joint and we went for dinner, when they’re only serving half the menu.  But the half we got was great, with some smoky grilled pork and some local slaw and potato salad.  They were the one place I couldn’t get a Gallo (the popular local shitty lager), but I was still able to load up some delicious tortillas and did not go back to our hotel hungry. # 3, 3a Avenida Sur

3. Guate Java

Now, we didn’t get any food here, but we did get some of the best coffee of our entire trip, and it was one of the only places we stopped by twice.  It’s a little out of the way if you’re hanging around the city center (meaning it’s about a five-minute walk from anywhere), but you’ll be glad you went.  It’s small, but the rich smell of roasting coffee fills the place and it’s an excellent spot to hang out for a bit and enjoy some down time.  They also offer a coffee roasting class, and it’s a great place to pick up some beans for a souvenir. 7a Avenida Sur & 6a Calle Poniente

4. La Tortilla Cooking School

I always take a cooking class when I go somewhere, and this one was excellent.  There were seven of us total, and everyone got to participate in some way in the preparation of each aspect of the meal, which turned out to be a large one: a standard local stew called pepian was the main attraction, along with a beet salad on the side, a rice mixture, and a warm cup of atoll (prepared however you’d like: sweet or savory).  We made rellenitos for dessert, which are a mixture of beans and chocolate stuffed inside mashed plantains and fried, as well as the ever-present tortillas. A very informative and filling experience. #25, 3a Calle Poniente

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5. Saberico

After traveling all day to get to Antigua and not eating much, this was our first stop, and we wanted to pile on the food.  We tried their famous sky-high Guatemalan enchiladas, which were worth the price (55Q, or $7, for two), as well as a trio of guacamoles, some portabella rellenos (four portabella caps topped with vegetables and parmesan), and gallina en chicha, a chicken stew made with tomato sauce, herbs, nuts, and fresco de suchiles, a local fruit drink that is slightly fermented.  This turned out to be one of the best things we ate the entire time we were there.  Saberico is also worth going for its expansive back outdoor patio, though if you’re in the right spot you get a lot of noise pollution from the hostel next door. #7, 6a Avenida Sur

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6. La Cuevalita de los Urquizu

La Cuevalita was at the top of my list for places to eat in Antigua, and I’m glad we made it—it turned out to be one of the best meals we had our whole trip (thanks, Andrew Zimmern!). There’s a large selection of meat stews out front, and you start by selecting one.  The workers will explain them to you, but unless you know Spanish, you’re on your own.  We picked based on some keywords—Kaitie got the one they described as “picante” and I chose the one where the guy pointed to his face and stomach, as if to say “this is all the face and guts.” Next, you get to pick from two side dishes that are lined up behind the stews, which helps with pointing.  Finally, they throw in a tamale for good measure, you pick your drink, and you sit in the back and enjoy with the omnipresent warm tortillas. The stews were delicious (though Kaitie’s was decidedly not picante), and while mine had a nice underlying flavor of offal, it was never overpowering or off-putting.  And there were so many textures. Definitely a must-try when you visit.  #9D, 2a Calle Oriente

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7. McDonald’s

I’m serious—kinda.  Even if you don’t want to eat here, be sure to swing in to check it out.  Having the money they do, McDonald’s was able to but what seems like the nicest place in Antigua, with a massive and beautifully manicured courtyard, complete with fountain and a stunning volcano view.  The Taco Bell across the street is pretty nice, too, if you get sick of real Latin-American food and need a quick crunchwrap. #21 4a Calle Oriente

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BONUS: Ta’cool

After a volcano hike, we got back to town late and needed a quick meal.  Ta’cool, right off the main square, took care of that.  What clearly seems like a chain, or at the very least a slick spot aimed at tourists who need recognizable food names, the tacos were actually pretty solid, and their sauces were very tasty.  They also, of course, had Gallo, which was a selling point for anywhere.  While I would never drink them at home, there is always something about vacation—especially in warmer climes—that makes me crave whatever local, shitty, mass-produced lager is available.  4a Calle Oriente, between 3a & 4a Avenida Norte

Before our trip, I hadn’t heard much in the way of praise for Guatemalan food, but after watching Andrew Zimmern’s Delicious Destinations in Antigua, I was pumped to get there and eat.  I was not disappointed.  While a lot of the food was simple, we didn’t have anything that stood out as not tasting good, and their extensive use of avocado is in-line with our interests.  My only complaint is there wasn’t a lot of spice to be found, but we can save that for another trip.

36 Hours in Copenhagen

Ahead of our whirlwind tour of Stockholm, we spent the first part of our long weekend in Copenhagen—another 36 or so hours of trying to fit in as much as we could in a short amount of time.  We’d found an AirBNB in the Vesterbro district central to pretty much everything—about two blocks from the train station and, more importantly, even closer to Mikkeller’s flagship pub.  Once again, though, we were jam-packed with things to do, but not having much downtime doesn’t really matter when you’re in such a cool city.

Mikkeller

There was a slight mix-up with the key to the apartment, so after we had to duck into the sex shop on the corner to use their wifi, we parked ourselves at Mikkeller for an hour or so to wait it out—and it’s amazing how quickly an hour of waiting can go by when you’re drinking some world-class beer.  The place is small and can get pretty packed, but there is plenty of outdoor seating to supplement.  The bartenders were very nice and knowledgeable, and the beer, of course, was tops. This should be a must for any trip to Copenhagen.

Meatpacking District

Close by is a rehabbed former meatpacking district, which now houses a small pedestrian area and numerous bars and restaurants.  We took our chances of walking up to Kødbyens Fiskebar—a seafood restaurant with numerous accolades and owned by a protégé of Noma’s René Redzepi.  For anyone not familiar with Noma, regularly listed as the world’s best restaurant, this is a pretty impressive claim—which is why it was surprising that we were seated outside almost immediately.  And the food did not disappoint—fresh fish (with the location of where the fish was caught) with preparations that seemed simple but were incredibly detailed.  We had brown crab with smoked cheese, burnt herbs, and salted green strawberries; seared mullet with baby corn, chanterelles, and chicken skin; and bleak roe with baby carrots, buckthorn, and quail egg—among other things.

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After a very fulfilling meal peppered with plenty of local beers, we headed across the way for a nightcap at War Pigs, a collaboration brewery between Mikkeller and lauded American brewery Three Floyds.  The place is also an American barbecue restaurant, but unfortunately we were too full to do anything but enjoy the intense beers on offer, which included a lingonberry Berliner weisse, a double IPA, and a triple black IPA.

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After this, we figured it would be a good idea to keep drinking, so we stopped at Bollyfood, an Indian restaurant with large carpeted pallets out front.  We stretched out on the pallets and ordered a few cheap Kingfisher beers to close out the night before stumbling back to our AirBNB.

Walking Tour

The next morning, we got up early to grab some coffee and catch a free walking tour.  Once again, the tour was excellent, with probably the best tour guide we’ve ever had.  The guy was quick, witty, and incredibly funny.  We saw the major sights, learned about Copenhagen and Denmark, and got a crash course on what hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) means—a major part of living in Denmark involves being “hyggely.”  I can’t stress enough what a great way these tours are to see a city, especially if you do it early and then can pick and choose what you’d like more facetime with.  Even once you give your guide a tip (it’s really not a free tour, nor should it be), the tours are a great value. After the tour, on our way back to the apartment, we walked down the famous pedestrian street Strøget and stopped by the flagship LEGO store—something I’d been dreaming of since I was six.

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We also stopped by the touristically crowded Nyhavn, the small shipping port with brightly colored houses that is as photogenic as it gets.  Pictures always turn out well, but be warned that it is probably the most tourist-heavy spot in the city, so it will always be crowded.

Paper Island/Reffen

We stopped for lunch at Copenhagen Street Food on Paper Island, a small island across a pedestrian bridge from the city which housed a warehouse full of 50+ street food vendors.  The place was incredibly popular and packed, but we were still able to walk around and make the very difficult decision of what to eat, which turned out to be some local loaded hot dogs.  Unfortunately, the lease for this place was only temporary and had to be closed down.  The same concept opened on a similar island a little farther from the city under the name Reffen.  If it is anything like the original, it will be well worth visiting—especially if you make a day of it.  The new island, Refshaleøen, is full of places to eat and shop and things to do.

Tivoli Gardens

For our final night in Denmark, we stopped by Tivoli Gardens, as it was only a few blocks from our apartment.  It is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world, having opened in 1843, but doesn’t feel antiquated in any way.  There are modern roller coasters and rides, though on a much smaller scale than most places, and lots of green space to hang out.  We wandered around the grounds—we weren’t really there for any thrill rides—and happened upon one of the oddest sights of all our travels: a version of Cinderella set to Danish techno music.  It was weirdly amusing, but we stayed til the end.

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Smørrebrød

While in Denmark, a must-try is the Danish smørrebrød, which is a native open-faced sandwich on dark rye bread.  We stopped at popular local café Mad & Kaffe for one of our meals to try a variety of the sandwiches, and they were all excellent.  We had one piled high with avocado, one with chicken salad, another with fish and pickles, and a fourth that was heavy on the bacon.  We split them all, and I would definitely eat it again—if I had to compare it to the perceived hipster lifeblood avocado toast, I would say smørrebrød comes out ahead every time.

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It’s not hard to see why Copenhagen and Denmark consistently make it to the top of “happiest people” lists and the like—the city was incredibly friendly, walkable, and just all-around pleasant to be in.  Any city that places more emphasis on pedestrians and cyclists than it does motorists will always get a thumbs-up from me, and if you throw in excellent food and some top-notch beer, I’d be happy to go back.  And while the city can be expensive, the day-and-a-half we spent there will never be long enough.  I can’t wait to go back.

Street Food Tour with Cartagena Connections

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Appropriate street art during our tour

During our trip to Colombia, we spent a few days in Cartagena.  Overall, it was probably my least favorite stop–despite the beautiful old city and the great nighttime fun in the Getsemani neighborhood we were staying in, it was a bit of a beachy/touristy town.  The heat didn’t help, either; when we stopped to get sunscreen, and I was having trouble applying it because it was just mixing with sweat, that should’ve been a sign to stay in the air conditioning at the hotel.

So, in this heat, it probably wasn’t the best idea to taking a walking tour of the city, but my love of food won out and we signed up for Cartagena Connections’ walking street food tour. There was a mixup with our booking for whatever reason, and our guide Catalina had a hair appointment booked for that time, so we decided to wait at KGB, a communist Russia themed bar near the square we were supposed to meet, and had a few bottles of Poker beer to fight the heat and wait it out.

Because of the scheduling snafu, it seemed that for the tour we were being rushed through all the stops.  I don’t know if this was just Catalina’s style, but we still had a full and informative tour, stopping for many different foods we wouldn’t have normally stopped for, and learning more about local dishes aside from just arepas.

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Big, fluffy, white arepas

That said, however, the best thing was had was probably an arepa; a big, fluffy, white arepa unlike any we had tried in our time in Colombia.  Most of the arepas we’d had were dense, these were almost like fried mashed potatoes. We still talk about how good these were. Another revelation from the tour was a quick stop at a fruit vendor, where we got fresh slices of mango sprinkled with salt.  I try to tell everyone who will listen about this: salted mango was an eye-opener. Sweet and salty always makes a great combo, and this blew my mind.

We also stopped at various street vendors (as it was a street food tour), with one sticking out amongst the rest: a woman frying up various empanadas with a variety of sauces to try with them.  They were all delicious, and very appreciated–the cart was found in an area we probably would not have wandered into, and we probably would’ve walked right by the cart had we been on our own. We also stopped in a shop for a plate of chicarrones, which was also delicious and also in a place we never would have gone on our own.

Near the end, I could tell LeeAnne was getting full when I had to eat more and more of what we were being served, and combined with the heat, we were definitely slowing down.  We happened to be walking about a block or so from our hotel, so we decided to call it quits on the tour (we were the only two).

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Salted mango: life-changing, as far as fruit goes

Despite cutting it short, and despite the miscommunications at the beginning, I would definitely recommend the tour if you’re in Cartagena.  If you can stand the heat, you’ll learn more about the food, get to try a ton of stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise, and you’ll also get some insight into the history of the city.  It was a solid replacement for our Thanksgiving dinner, and that is not something I would say lightly.