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Do you know what a Guatemalan breakfast is? Here are 6 places to find out

Do you know what a Guatemalan breakfast is? Here are 6 places to find out
Amalia’s signature breakfast is gargantuan -- steak, longaniza, fried plantains, eggs, black beans, crema and bread or tortillas. (Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

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?

Guatemalans are so serious about breakfast that some restaurants open as early as 5 a.m. You’ll get eggs, of course, but also sweet fried plantains, pureed black beans, thick Central American-style crema, handmade tortillas, freshly baked rolls and robust mains that suit the Guatemalan taste for hearty food.
Here are six places to go, all in the central city. Four are also bakeries, with pretty tempting selections of Guatemalan sweet breads and cookies. One place even contains a mini-mart where you can pick up coffee, chiles, salsas and other Guatemalan imports -- but maybe eat breakfast first. 

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. 

Try the hard-boiled eggs in mild tomato sauce. If you want sausage, ask for longaniza. Or delve into traditional dishes such as carne guisada (stewed beef) or pepian -- chicken with chayote and green beans in a pumpkin-seed sauce.  If you’re up for it, you can order revolcado, a collection of pork offal in tomato sauce. If not, get eggs cooked any style with crema, black beans, tortillas or bread, for less than $5.

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.

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The girls at the cash register will bag your baked goods and ring up your breakfast so quickly you’ll have only seconds to decide what to eat. The easiest choice is the desayuno Chapin -- Chapin is a slang word for Guatemalan. This includes eggs any style, pureed black beans, crema, fried plantains and either handmade tortillas or a roll that might be fresh from the oven.
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A desayuno económico (economy breakfast) omits the plantains but includes the eggs, beans, crema and bread or tortillas for $4.25. More venturesome? Then try gallina en kaq’ik, chicken in a light brown sauce with a hint of chile, which is on the wall menu under almuerzos (lunch dishes).   
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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.

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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.

The restaurant is family-owned, and friendly. If you're a stranger, someone will help you order, bring the food to your table and let you pay later -- cash only. If you don't speak Spanish, they'll explain the menu in English.

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.

The classic Guatemalan breakfast of eggs, black beans, fried plantains, crema and tortillas or bread is done very well here. The crema is almost fluffy compared to American-style sour cream, and not as sour. And the Guatemalan coffee is superb.
The restaurant opens at 8:30 a.m. daily, but the schedule is erratic -- one day it didn’t open at all because supplies hadn’t arrived. Aside from breakfast, there are many antojitos, such as Guatemalan-style tamales and enchiladas and a long list of typical meat dishes. Additional specials are handwritten and posted on the wall. These include licuados (blender drinks) of fruits such as strawberries, bananas, mangoes and pineapple.

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.

Open since 1994, Amalia’s is in a house, so it’s cozy and homey too. You can eat inside or relax over breakfast on a terrace shaded with umbrellas and awnings. The walls outside are painted a warm orange, typical striped cloths decorate the table, a giant cactus branches out of a pot, and bits of pottery are embedded in the paving.
Amalia’s signature breakfast is gargantuan -- steak, longaniza, fried plantains, eggs, black beans, crema and bread or tortillas. Or try something you’ll find only in Guatemalan restaurants: paches. These are corn tamales filled with chicken or pork and studded with chunks of potato.

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.

Three of the four breakfasts are eggs with black beans, crema and additions such as fried plantains, chorizo, ham or sausage. The other is eggs with hotcakes and bacon. Drinks include cappuccino as well as coffee. A new promotion offers a chicken-and-rice lunch for $5 on Thursdays.
The menu is sizable for such a small place, but you’ll have to scan the steam table to see what's on hand. There might be envueltos (batter-coated fried vegetables), a boiled vegetable combination that includes chayote seeds, casamiento (a combination of rice and black beans), and the day’s selection of meats. Try hilachas -- beef shreds in tomato sauce -- if it's available.
There’s another Chapinlandia on West 6th Street, but that location doesn’t have a restaurant. 1455 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (213) 481-2239.

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