I make a lot of fun of Renton, so my friend Catherine challenged me to come down and eat my way through her ‘burb. We ate a lot, we ran into a few roadblocks, then we ate a terrific meal at a Guatemalan restaurant called Chapinlandia.Guatemala is a beautiful country, one that I think is not well understood by most Americans. The picture above is from a town I got stuck in while I was visiting. And by stuck, I mean the combination of wonderful, friendly people, breathtaking scenery and delicious food prevented us from going anywhere else. We ventured out to a few markets, spent some time in Antigua, but the shockingly adorable town kept us from going further.
I think I’ll run into a similar issue next time I’m in Renton–I’ll be stuck going back to Chapinlandia because the food was so good venturing further seems pointless. I will venture further into the menu, which was expansive but not the least bit expensive.
We ordered enough food for an army, skipping over the main dishes ($8-15) and picking from the page of appetizers ($1-5) and one sandwich. While the sandwich was enormous and only $4, rivaling the cheapest of Vietnamese sandwiches for most calories for the lowest price, it was not a compelling reason to return. As we sipped our augas frescas, mine Tamarindo, hers Jamaica, we waited as the flurry of small plates came out. First to arrive was the Tamal. Guatemalan tamales, unlike the ones you see in most of the U.S., come in banana leaves as oppose to corn husks, leaving the masa silky smooth, with a texture more like thick grits than anything else. Additionally, fillings are not stuffed inside, but mixed throughout the tamal, for a more uniform taste. This was the only item on the table to get finished.
I won’t talk about all the dishes–some, like plantains with crema, while good, were unexciting. The Chuchita was great, similar to the Tamal and equally delicious. One other dish was phenomenal, while one was an interesting find. Later that night, as I sat at Po Dog eating a wasabi egg roll hot dog, I considered the Mixta we had ordered. At a quarter the price, the Mixta was a hot dog wrapped in two fluffy handmade corn tortillas, atop a dusting of iceberg lettuce and with a ridiculous amount of ketchup, mayo and mustard squirted over it in a criss-cross, zig-zag artists rendering of an American hot dog. We laughed as we ate it, discovering the perils of a well lubricated dog held loosely in open ended tortillas. How different was that really, than the expensive gourmet hot dog I ate at Po-Dog? A different culture, a different adaption.
The final dish up for discussion set this restaurant apart. On the menu as an Enchilada, you must suspend any definition you have of what an enchilada is. Second step is to know that where it says “ground beef and hard boiled egg on beef salad” it actually means on BEET salad. What we were served was a crispy fried tortilla piled with an amazing, nuanced and vibrant salad of purple cabbage matching the beets, a feast of color crowned with a ground beef and vegetable mixture and a hard boiled egg. Don’t ask questions, just eat. The cost of our feast? $25. With tax and tip. We left with enough leftovers to sustain a family of four.