Tamarindos (Zona 10, Guatemala City; tel. 502/2360-2815): The chef at this trendy Zona Viva restaurant has been wowing Guatemala City with her eclectic fusion cooking for years. The menu is very long, and touches many bases, with culinary influences from Asia, Italy, and many places in between. Be sure to ask about daily specials, as this is where the chef really shines.
Kacao (Zona 10, Guatemala City; tel. 502/2237-4188 or 2377-4189): This popular restaurant takes Guatemalan cuisine and polishes it up a bit. The cooking is fairly traditional, with signature dishes from around the country, but the service, ambience, and presentation are far more refined than you'll find at almost any other place specializing in Chapin cuisine. Although they do a brisk lunch business, I prefer to come for dinner, when the thatch roof is illuminated by candles and other strategically placed lighting.
Ambia (Zona 14, Guatemala City; tel. 502/2366-6890): It's worth the effort to find this slightly out-of-the-way restaurant. The fusion cuisine is heavily influenced by a range of Asian styles, but you can also get hearty steaks and some delicious lamb. The ambience of the open-air dining is refined and elegant.
Mesón Panza Verde (Antigua; tel. 502/7832-1745; www.panzaverde.com): Don't come to Antigua without having a meal at Mesón Panza Verde. The Swiss chef ventures somewhat from his Continental roots, incorporating local ingredients into many of his dishes. The results are always superb. Tables are spread around various rooms, hallways, and open-air spaces in this elegant boutique hotel, and several nights a week there's live jazz to accompany your meal.
Hector's (Antigua; tel. 502/7832-9867): This intimate new restaurant has taken this tiny town by storm. You'll have to come early to get a seat. The tiny kitchen here turns out some delicious food, and the ambience is cozy and convivial.
Hotel Atitlán (Panajachel; tel. 502/7762-1441): With a burning fireplace, wood furniture, and ornate table settings and decor, this is easily the most elegant and refined restaurant in or around Panajachel. When the weather is nice, you can grab one of the outdoor tables, which have a good view of the lake and volcanoes. Luckily, the cuisine and service here live up to the ambience and surroundings. The Sunday brunch is quite renowned.
Zoola (San Pedro; tel. 502/5847-4857): The service here is famously and, at times, painfully, slow, but it's always worth it. What's more, you can't beat the laid-back ambience and pillows-on-carpet seating that you get to enjoy while waiting.
Restaurante Mediterraneo (Quetzaltenango; tel. 502/5515-6724): Located inside the popular Pasaje Enriquez complex, this new restaurant serves up a tasty mix of tapas. You can either choose a table in the lively front passageway, or in a more secluded spot in one of the various dining rooms spread over several floors here.
La Luna (Flores; tel. 502/7926-3346)
If you find yourself in Flores, be sure to find your way to this restaurant. The eclectic decor varies from room to room, but like the food, it's consistently creative and tasteful.
Casa D'Acuña (Cobán; tel. 502/7951-0482)
The beautiful garden courtyard setting is enough to earn it a place on this list, but the excellent chefs do their part as well. The long menu includes pizzas, pastas, and typical Mexican cuisine. Your best bet is to get a nice steak or fresh grilled fish.
Hacienda San Lucas (south of Copán Ruinas on the road to Los Sapos ruins; tel./fax 504/651-4495)
The house specialty is a fire-roasted chicken smothered in a spicy adobo sauce, which the owners claim is based on ancient Maya recipes. I can't imagine the Maya ate this well, but you certainly should. The open-air setting by lamplight is very romantic.
La Casa Rosada (Livingston; tel. 502/7947-0303)
On any given night, the regularly changing menu at this cozy restaurant might feature a Thai-influenced stir-fry or shrimp gumbo. However, I often end up ordering the local tapado, a seafood stew cooked in coconut milk, which is as good as any in the area.
Taberna El Pelícano (Monterrico; tel. 502/5584-2400)
The fresh grilled fish is always dependable at this beach restaurant, but they also have a large menu with some unexpected twists, including excellent pastas thanks to their Italian chef, and a rich goulash thanks to the European owner.
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