A last-minute cooking class cancellation left me dinnerless. Lost and alone in a world with too many food options, it was suggested that we check out a place near my work that I discovered while absentmindedly perusing Google Maps: El Quetzal. Finding the restuarant was no small feat because it’s tucked away inside La Union mall, Langley Park’s Guatemalan hub. From the outside, it looks like a dated office building, but being inside this mall was like being back in Quetzaltenango again. I had definitely found the hole-in-the-wall I was hoping for, and bonus: I now know where to go to send packages to Central America, get pan de yemas, and buy a dress for any and all future quinceaneras!
I highly recommend El Quetzal as a place to practice your Spanish. I got the feeling that the staff there was kind of surprised to see our gringo asses in there, but in my mind, that’s how you know you’re in an authentic ethnic restaurant. Plus I’m a little too happy to play translator. We took a seat and meticulously planned our meal. Here’s what we ended up with:
Platanos rellenos de frijoles:
When I had this in Guatemala, it was a life-changing blend of sweet plantain and smoky-savory refried beans. This was definitely made in-house but a little sad and dry from sitting in the hot box all day. The flavors were still right, though, and they were huge.
Pollo pipian (left) and carne adobada (right): The chicken was stewed and tender, but I think my husband will have a mental breakdown the next time he encounters bone-in chicken stew. The sauce was gravy-esque, only slightly spicy, and not overly salty. Rice is rice. For the carne, I was expecting beef but I got pork ribs. Once again, the seasoning was right, although kind of standard. The meat was charred in places (not disappointing) but chewy and cartilage-y in others (disappointing). The salad was plain, but not the intended star. The beans were liquid and smoky. Rice is still rice. The best part was the tortillas, which were uncharacteristically moist and served warm.
Price: $10 per person.
Bottom line: El Quetzal is sure to bring back memories of standard Guatemalan food if that’s your thing. They have a wide variety of platos tipicos that are surely authentic even though they aren’t all fresh off the comal. On the other hand, it might not be the best introduction to Guatemalan cuisine for you or your well-meaning spouse. Next time, you can find me at their downstairs neighbor, Pan y Pasteles La Chapina.