Just back from lunch at the punchy little restaurant called Santa Maria Cafe, on the southwest side of Antigua Guatemala, and Yolkobsens thought you would want to hear about this interpretation of Guatemalan food right away.

It’s an odd, micro place with six tables for two.  When we got there it was going on 1 p.m. and the place was full.  There was the best mix of clientele: half gringo, half Guatemalan.  So the owners must be doing something right.

As per the Santa Maria name, the eatery has a distinctly female tone, both in food treatment, service and decor.  There’s a shrine to St. Mary and child above the door that leads to the kitchen.  Garlanded with dried flowers, the small shrine niche has been worked into the centuries-old brick of what was once a large colonial home.  Murals, depicting Maya women, one carrying a child and tending corn, the other masterfully toting a loaded basket on her handsome head, adorn two restaurant walls.

The only caveat is for you tall, leggy types.  There’s not much leg room under the slightly off-proportion tables.  In fact, the table-chair ratio is probably more suited to the stature of the average North American 10-year-old.  But don’t let this put you off going to the Santa Maria Cafe; it just adds to the quirky charm.

The saintly restaurant specializes in preparing simple fare, serviced fast.  Grilled meat is the a typical platter’s diva player, surrounded by a chorus of vegetables.

On offer that day was a range of menu items, featuring steak, pork, or chicken.  We chose the grilled chicken fillet which came with a serving of gently sauteed vegetables nicely al dente, parboiled and then grilled potatoes, and tortillas.  The food was simply prepared, but quite good.  The service was fast and efficient.  The price, which included one beer and one bottle of water, was more than reasonable, ringing in per person the equivalent cost of two trips on Toronto’s public transit system.

The Santa Maria Cafe is conveniently located, not far from the Parque Central.  It’s about a five minute walk from Antigua Guatemala’s central core.  If you’re in a hurry this is the place to go.

From touch-down on the wooden chairs to “la cuenta por favor,” took all of 20 minutes. You can have your lunch, gather strength and restorative energy, and then quickly be back on the crumbling and uneven sidewalks that make strolling in this grand old town both a challenge and a pleasure.

Santa Maria Cafe is located at 7a Calle Poniente #14 1/2.

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