Essential T: Chow Mein Tostadas at Guatemalteca Bakery & Restaurant

China meets Guatemala atop this street food favorite

The best Mexican foods start with the letter T—tacos, tortas, tlayudas. Here we showcase the tastiest “T” bites from the streets of L.A.

My life-changing journey to Guatemala began a few weeks back, when I was trying to get a head start on my gastronomic holiday by stopping at Rincon Guatemalteco, the most authentic Guatemalan restaurant in L.A. But to my shock and disappointment, Rincon Guatemalteco had changed hands. The woman who made so many great regional dishes like ka’kik, paches, revolcado, handmade longaniza and pepian was gone, and the menu had been dumbed down to rather unintresting collection of Guatemalan and Mexican fare.

I settled on Guatemalteca Bakery & Restaurant in East Hollywood, a local and well-run fast casual chain catering to the Guatemalan community. Among the many tasty items on display I noticed that surrounded amongst Guatemalan dishes like salpicon, pollo en crema and egg-battered bamboo shoots was a steam tray of chow mein. I didn’t think much of it until I arrived in Guatemala the next day and noticed all the street food stands served chow mein as one of their toppings for the quintessential Guate street food item: tostadas.

Guatemalan-style chow mein, pronounced “cho-mean” is a chapin-ified (chapin is the nickname for Guatemalans) version of lo mein using Guatemalan staples like güisquiles (chayotes), carrots, and fideos—or a simply package of instant chow mein noodles found at a local Latino market. It’s all tossed together in a pan with soy sauce and then piled onto a Guatemalan-style tostada, finished with a sprinkle of dry, salty cheese. This is the first Latin-American cuisine where I’ve seen an Asian-inspired dish enter the popular gastronomy, and although it may seem odd to order chow mein at a Guatemalan restaurant, it might actually be the most Guatemalan experience on the menu. Guatemalteca Bakery & Restaurant, 4770 Santa Monica Bl., East Hollywood, 323-663-8307