Recently, we had a chance to check out Guatelinda Cafe on N. Elm St. Here's how it went.
Denton has a sordid past with Central American food. We had some excellent Venezuelan food in what was Mi Taza, the hard-to-get-to restaurant in a strip mall in front of the Kroger on University. For the first six months they were open, they served delicious Latin-American food including cachapas and arepas. If you didn’t go, they had bad service and eventually the place changed management and menus. While they are still open and carry the same name, you can no longer get amazingly good Venezualen food at Mi Taza. Regular Tex-Mex, sure, but who wants that?
A similar story happened years ago at a little place on Elm St. a block or two south of University. This place was called Cafe Garabaldi and every Wednesday they served Peruvian specialties in the form of a three course meal. It was cheap and it was delicious. Once again, we didn’t go because we Dentonites are apparently more interested in eating at the La Mexicanas and Mi Casita’s of the world (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) than we are traveling slightly north of the square. Eventually, it closed down. We miss it to this day.
A few months ago, a new Central American restaurant opened in the same location as Cafe Garabaldi. Guatelinda Cafe was the name. We were more than excited when we first drove by it. The name is good enough to be the title of your band’s next EP, but a name ain't everything. After a few months, we made our way to Guatelinda. Here’s how it went.
Walking into Guatelinda is confusing. There are tables at the front and a counter at the back. If our visit is the norm, then the restaurant is also completely empty -- no customers or employees present. After a few minutes, a man will walk over to the counter from the back of the restaurant and stare at you for a little while. This was most likely our cue to leave.
We took our seats. The dude brought us some menus. He’s actually pretty nice, although very quiet. He understood neither our English nor our 8th grade Spanish, but you could tell he wanted to. In addition to the print menu, there is also a large menu above the counter. Confusingly, parts of this menu contradict the printed one in our hands. We tried to order, only to find out that apparently only three or four of the various dishes are actually available every night. The rest of the menu is unavailable, just there to tempt and ridicule you. We even tried to order one of the specials on the signs only to be told that they didn’t have it that evening. We eventually ordered a couple of Guatemalan tamales (like a tamale but wrapped in a banana leaf and made with potatos and black olives in lieu of masa), some carne asada and some chicken pepian (boiled chicken served in a mole-like sauce).
The tamales came out first. They were soggy, plastic-like and tasted a little off. Still wanting to like everything, we attempted a few more bites of the tamales -- we even tried adding salsa to no avail. Some things that aren’t so great initially are actually acquired tastes and are pretty good after a couple bites (or years). This was not one of those items.
Eventually, the kind, older man brought us out our main dishes. Both were accompanied by interesting sides. The chicken pepian came with a side salad and a pasta salad. The carne asada was completed with some mashed avocado, a potato salad and some black beans. The carne asada was actually pretty okay, but it was slightly dry and the cuts of beef were extremely small. The chicken pepian was less than stellar. It was a thigh and a leg covered in a tannish sauce. The chicken was over-boiled but definitely tender and the sauce’s taste was completely undetectable. The sides were the strange highlight. It was interesting having both pasta salad and potato salad especially with Central American cuisine. We’re not sure if either are Guatemalan customs, but those were the only things on our plates that were gone by the end of the meal.
The tortillas were hopeful. They were small, thick corn tortillas (remember, it’s girth that matters) that had obviously been made by hand. They had the texture of thick flour tortillas, but they tasted more akin to bland corn tortillas that lacked salt. Our hopes were quickly dashed. Even our five year old self-proclaimed "world's biggest tortilla fan" didn't eat more than two of the things.
But wait! Quiet counter guy brought us some fried plantain thing with some sour cream on the side. I believe he referred to them as plantanos fritos. They were not necessarily great by any stretch of the imagination and we probably wouldn’t order them again, but they didn’t leave us in agony. They left us thinking that Guatelinda Cafe has promise that they haven't delivered on.
Upon paying, we found out that Guatelinda Cafe also doubles as a Mexican bakery and opens most days at 7am. Being as nice as we are, we hope to give ‘em a second shot, (this time for breakfast) but they've got a pretty high bar to reach with the other Mexican bakeries in town that we already know and love.
Guatelinda Cafe is located at 1813 N. Elm St. in Denton, TX.