What better way to celebrate Better Breakfast Month this September than by branching out from smoothies or cereal to something you might not have tried before -- Guatemalan food?
Guatemalteca Bakery and Restaurant -- The best shopping is at the Santa Monica Boulevard branch of the Guatemalteca Bakery and Restaurant. On weekends, Guatemalan vendors gather outside to sell embroidered shirts, brilliantly striped cloths, wrist bands and marimba CDs. You’ll wait in a long line to order breakfast, but that gives you plenty of time to study the menu and check out what’s in the steam table.
Then carry your tray to a table in the spacious dining area. Afterward, check the bakery counter and pick up a few of the golden brown cookies called champurradas -- at three for $1. Then browse the grocery shelves, where you’ll find Café Quetzal and Incasa instant coffees, Picamás hot salsa, dried guaque chiles and many other products. 4770 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 663-8307.
Pan Victoria 2 -- You can have breakfast here starting at 5 a.m. On busy weekeneds, the line stretches out the door, but the restaurant is small, so the line isn't as long as it appears. And it's pleasant to stand crunched against the bakery counter admiring empanadas stuffed with pineapple or mango, pan de elote (corn bread), marquesote (cake) and champurradas.
Lined up on top are tortas, sugar-crusted, sesame-sprinkled round loaves too gorgeous to resist, unless you'd like a zepelin, a loaf-shaped sweet bread with raisins.
The original Pan Victoria is on Vermont just south of Pico. Although much smaller, it has a bakery counter and some food. And soon, there will be a third location, on Imperial Highway in Inglewood. 2190 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 766-1499.
El Venado Bakery and Restaurant -- El Venado also opens at 5 a.m., which is when construction workers come in to power up with hearty breakfasts. No. 2 on the picture menu behind the counter is so big you may not have to eat again until dinner. It's two scrambled eggs, two longanizas -- watch out, they're spicy -- plenty of black beans, a mass of fried plantains and a football-sized French roll, plus sides of crema and ketchup.
Located in a corner mini-mall, the restaurant is more than 20 years old. El Venado means "the deer," and a few deer figures are on display. It's a bakery too -- that's why the French rolls are so light and fresh. One counter is stuffed with crisp cookies, the other with such beautiful Guatemalan breads that you may want to choose one to go with your coffee. 1007 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, (213) 389-3823.
Rinconcito Guatemalteco --This quaint place has brightly painted walls decorated with folksy art, maracas, gourds, even Christmas tinsel. The breakfast menu offers seven egg dishes -- soft, over-easy, hard-boiled or scrambled with longaniza, ham or just with tomato and onion, like huevos a la Mexicana, only without the hot green chile.
Not everything is Guatemalan. If you have kids in tow, they might like hot cakes for breakfast, or a burger and fries. If you don’t speak Spanish, no problem. Everything on the printed menu is translated into English. 501 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 463-6602.
Amalia's Restaurant -- Amalia's is nice enough for date night, offering good service, good food, wine, beer and cocktails. There's even a parking lot attendant. (If you've never been here and the area looks familiar, that's because Amalia's is right across the street from Sqirl.) And breakfast is served all day, from 8 a.m. until closing.
Nice for a weekend brunch is pollo con crema -- chicken, onions and sweet red peppers in a slightly tangy cream sauce. This comes with rice, black beans, salad and bread or tortillas. Most restaurants serve only pureed black beans, but here they come three ways: pureed, refried or boiled (frijoles de la olla). You can linger as long as you like, and your coffee will be refilled -- and refilled. 751 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 644-1515, amaliasrestaurant.com.
Chapinlandia Bakery and Restaurant -- Chapinlandia is a small corner bakery and deli that got bigger in May, when it opened a restaurant in the space next door. Now it draws early risers with breakfast starting at 6 a.m. Later, mothers with strollers pick up milk, tortillas and sweet rolls in the bakery, which opens into the cafe. At lunch the few tables fill rapidly. Most of the customers live or work in the neighborhood, which is just west of downtown.