Insider’s Guide

Best of International Houston: Guatemala

Tamales in banana leaves, empanadas and, of course, coffee

By Nick Esquer September 1, 2015 Published in the September 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Owner Max Gonzalez at Catalina Coffee

Population in Houston: 31,000 (the 5th largest Guatemalan population in the country)

“The culture shock [in Houston] really got to me. I became friends with people from Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Venezuela, the Philippines and Liberia. It was always funny to exchange stories about moving to the United States and hearing about the cultural clashes we all faced.” — Maria Villagran, child care teacher, YMCA

Catalina Coffee

2201 Washington Ave., 713-861-8448,

Owner Max Gonzalez ships in volcanic soil-grown selections from Santa Cecilia and Finca Borbón, processes them at his Houston-based roasting company, Amaya, and then pours them by the bucket at his popular Wi-Fi-free coffee house in the Sixth Ward. No time for a leisurely latte? You can purchase his beans by the bag at Catalina Coffee or grab a cup to go.

El Quetzal Bakery

3700 Hillcroft St., 713-952-9253 

Authentic Guatemalan fare is rare in Houston, but El Quetzal Bakery is the real thing, offering the nation’s candy, baked goods and tamales (wrapped in banana leaves, not corn husks, and quite different from Mexican versions). Fun fact: Guatemalan Houstonians with family in the old country use the bakery as a post office of sorts, as El Quetzal can send their packages home more cheaply than other mail services.

Pollo Campero

4701 Washington Ave., 713-863-8200,

This Guatemalan staple serves up tasty, traditional Central American favorites like mouthwatering spicy fried chicken plates, thick yuca fries and black bean empanadas. The drive-thru whole roasted chicken makes a great weeknight dinner for the family. Don't miss the wall of fresh juices, including jamaica, tamarindo and guava, and make sure to save room for the caramel flan. 

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