When we were booking our trip to Guatemala, the most common piece of advice we got was not to stay in Panajachel. It’s a dirty backpacker tourist town, it turns into a huge thumping club scene at night, there’s nothing to do there. I was second-guessing myself, especially after looking up some food options, as we arrived. Luckily, though, all those warning turned out to be for naught and Panajachel turned out to be my favorite stop on the trip. The quiet, calm lakefront and quiet mornings, nice people, and surprisingly good food. It was well worth the two days we spent there.
1. Taqueria Orale
When we first arrived, we wanted to grab a quick bite before we settled in, and then go out for something later. Taqueria Orale, set back in a small shopping area off the main street (Calle Santander) fit the bill. The tacos weren’t anything special, but they were tasty—especially with the buffet of sauces, onions, and cilantro up front to choose from. A solid choice to sit back with some cheap beer and cheap food.
2. Café Loco
We didn’t eat here, but the coffee was top notch. Run by two Korean gentlemen who clearly care about what they do, I don’t think you could find a better cup of coffee in Panajachel. We were trying to kill time and each had two iced coffees (in copper mugs so they stayed cold) and would have gone back for sure if we’d had more time. We also picked up a few bags of beans to take home with us.
3. Mister Jon’s
If you’re missing American food, this is the place to go. Fashioned after an American diner, this will give you all the things from home you’re missing, and a few extras. The service is still Guatemala-slow, but you can get some American craft beers, a decent omelet, free refills on your coffee, and if you’re there on the right night two-for-one margaritas (be sure to get the spicy one). If you happen to be in Panajachel on Thanksgiving, as we were, they even cook a standard American Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re not missing home, though, there really isn’t much reason to stop in.
4. Pupuseria Cheros
Neither of us had ever had pupusas, and we weren’t sure where to eat, so we stopped in here on a whim. There was a really surly looking guy hanging around out front and the place was empty, so we almost didn’t, but we’re glad we did: it turned out to be one of the better meals of our trip. We found out the scary guy out front was the owner, and turned out to be a great guy. He corrected our Spanish as we ordered (but not in a condescending way) and taught me the word for “check.” We ordered pupusas with beans, pork, garlic, and spinach (all with cheese, of course) and they came with sauce, slaw, and spicy pickles. The bar filled up (with people and smoke from the cooking) and we had a great time eating pupusas and drinking Gallo.
We wanted to go to Guajimbo’s for our “Thanksgiving” dinner, but they are closed Thursdays so we had to settle for it being our last lunch in Panajachel before moving on, and it was worth the wait. The meal included huge portions of perfectly-prepared food. Easily the best meal we had in Panajachel and one of our top in all of Guatemala. We split the chicken and avocado soup (Kaitie was feeling a bit under the weather) and the avocado, tomato, and heart of palm salad (sorry, environment). We both finished with orders of kebabs; I ordered the beef and she the chicken. Everything was cooked as it should have been, and was delicious besides. I’m glad we were able to stop here.
6. Taco Stand
I don’t think this place has a name, but if you’re walking on Calle Santander between 6 and 9 pm, you’ll see the crowd. Both nights we were there, these folk were posted up at two long tables on the corner of Calle Santander and Calle El Chali (right next to the Romantic Fashions boutique), often with other vendors near them. A tortilla topped with goodies is 7Q (about $1) and you’d do well to buy a few. From what I could see, this was the most popular street food stand in the town.
7. Super Tacos Bell
I’m not sure where the name came from, but this street food vendor at the top of Calle Santander serves up some great pulled-pork tortillas with slaw and sauce. She has a cool-as-shit contraption that looks like a sombrero with hot, flavored oil on one side that she cooks onions and tortillas in, and then a hunk of pork for shredding on the other side. Cheap and delicious.
8. Humo En Tus Ojos
Translated to “Smoke In Your Eyes,” this outdoor grill cooks up some great-looking steaks and vegetables; and yes—with plenty of smoke. We didn’t actually eat here due to stuffing ourselves multiple places, but the small table they had was packed and the smell coming off the place almost made me want to job a few laps up and down Calle Santander to make room for more food. I would definitely consider it if you’re in town.
I’m not sure why people seem to shit on Panajachel so much—when we went on a tour of some of the lake cities, it didn’t seem any better or worse than any of the others (and it DID seem worse than Santiago). The streets were calm and quiet, the temperature was excellent, the lake views were superb, and the food was worth eating. I couldn’t have asked for a better stop, and would surely make that stop again.