Mayan Wonder

Tikal hones in on the homey flavors of Guatemala

Mario Granados and Darwin Amador had one goal for the past five years: to open a restaurant dedicated to the cuisine of their native Guatemala.

Now the former teacher and former social worker have launched Tikal, named after Guatemala's largest collection of Mayan ruins. Located east of Downtown in the sleepy neighborhood of El Sereno, Tikal is already inspiring pilgrimages from expats seeking its herb-intensive, peasant-style cooking.

There is pepián ($12), of course, a thick soup of roasted chiles and chayote squash considered the country's national dish. It's served with rice, caramelized plantains and tamalitos, miniature bundles of chipilín-flecked masa steamed in banana leaves.

Enchiladas ($5) might sound familiar, but this isn't the version from Mexico. Instead, a thick, crisp tortilla is layered with sautéed beef, pickled beets, garlicky tomato sauce and sharp queso de capas.

Two-fisted sandwiches ($7), made with either pork adobado or egg-battered peppers stuffed with meat, are intensified when doused with fresh chirmol salsa.

But the crown jewel at Tikal is mollette ($5), a fried round of sweet egg bread filled with rum-infused cream. It's the ideal companion to a bowl of dark Mayan chocolate ($3), spiked with a touch of chile and mint.

Tikal Cocina Maya, 4838 E. Huntington Dr. South, Los Angeles; 323-352-8274 or tikalrestaurant.com