Eternal Spring

Our Latest Obsession: El Quetzal Bakery

This bakery's hidden Guatemalan greasy spoon is better than it needs to be.

By Alice Levitt January 18, 2017

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Churrasco, $9.99.

Image: Alice Levitt

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Yes, there is food in there.

Image: Alice Levitt

El Quetzal Bakery isn't exactly user-friendly. You know there's food because of the cheerful painted signs out front like the one at right. But where is it? There's no menu up front and the exclusively hispanophone counter staff just look at you like an idiot for not knowing the set-up. Finally, you see a glint of light behind one of the wheeled shelves holding breads like renovadas and aviones. There, you'll find several tables filled with workers on their break, watching a Spanish-language soap opera. Some are having a late breakfast of eggs with beans and plantains. Others are crunching into a garnachasope-like discs piled with shredded meat, cabbage slaw, pickled jalapeños and powdery cheese.

You sit down and eventually a server comes to your aid. In a mix of pidgin English and pidgin Spanish, you discuss the relative merits of the different tamales before settling on the tamal de arroz. Those familiar with Chinese lo mai gai, or sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, will find the tamal surprisingly similar. Wrapped in an aromatic length of banana leaf, the larded rice is far more tender than either a typical tamal or lotus sticky rice. It's loaded with meat and a layer of peppery red sauce on top lends it depth.

But the best part of the plate is the one you might think of asking to hold. Who needs a pair of dinner rolls with a rice tamal? You do. When they're that fluffy and chewy at once, you can't resist. You make a mental note to return for Thanksgiving. No Parker House roll can compare.

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Tamal de arroz, $2.75.

Image: Alice Levitt

You're already aware by now that the discomfort and confusion of your entrance was worth it. But when the churrasco plate emerges, you're certain. The mayo-laden, softened vegetables, you could take or leave. The rice is really just a medium for the loose but intensely flavorful black beans. The steak is the thing.

This isn't filet. "Toothsome" to you might translate to "chewy" for others. But the beefy strips of skirt steak are marinated in a tomato-and-cumin flavored slurry that oozes into everything it touches, making it more delicious than before. Grill marks on the meat only accentuate the earthy flavor. Thick, warm fresh corn tortillas are at the ready to receive strips of the churrasco along with tangy slaw, a bit of avocado and a slick of spicy green hot sauce.

If you eat half of the tamale first, you'll only need to eat half of the entrée, too. This is a reasonable choice, as you'll be craving a repeat performance of both by dinner.

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