One of the most common questions we get is about food. It is pretty much all good news with lots of locally grown products in the public markets and restaurants with a variety of items. Additionally, if what you are looking for is local, it is also likely to be very inexpensive.
What you can find will, of course, vary from town to town. A town with a Gringo population or more tourist infrastructure is going to have more items that appeal to non-locals. If, however, you are on a budget, consider trying to eat like a local.
Public markets are places where local producers can sell their products. In the larger towns, Panajachel being a good example, there is a lot of permanent infrastructure in the public market. That is, you will see stalls that offer packaged goods, clothing, shoes, hardware and, well, just about anything else. Conceptually it is like a department store except all the vendors are independent.
There will be lots of places to, for example, buy broccoli. Some will be in permanent areas of the market, others will just be people sitting on the ground outside with some broccoli to sell. Prices vary as well as quality. If you continue to shop in the public market you will probably develop a relationship with your favorite vendors. Sometimes because of price, other times because of quality.
This is not to suggest that the public market are your only shopping choices, just generally the best. There are many small tiendas that sell some basic food items, sodas, toilet paper and such plus some places called supermarkets that are like small stores on 50 years ago.
You will also find a lot less sense of competition here — both in the public market and the tiendas. You can feel comfortable asking where you might find something they do not have. If they know, they will happily tell you.
Now, should you haggle in the public market? You can, if it is your style. My daughter seems to really like doing it. For me, whether the potatos are Q3 per pound or Q2.5 really doesn’t matter. Or, actually, I would rather have the person who grew them get another Q.5. It’s up to you.
Note that you will find tortilla vendors in/near the public market but in many other locations as well. My preference is black corn tortillas — very unlikely they are GMO — that some vendors will have. Virtially all the places say “a los tres tiempos” (at the three times) but no one can really explain what times those are. Expect to pay Q1 for four tortillas.
You can find a lot of inexpensive (and good) food available from street vendors. Some have carts with wheels and traverse the main streets, others set up in fixed locations. Still other smaller vendors may just be walking with bags of food to sell. My general test is whether or not they seem to have a lot of local business.
You can find quite an assortment by looking around. Tostadas, chicken and potatoes, other meat dishes, ceviche, tamales and more. I also see people walking down the street with a large cake selling pieces. It all depends on what you are looking for.
Not all street food is a good deal. For example, there are people selling nuts from a cart. If you want a small bag of some kind of nuts, it’s fine but generally you can find a pound of the same nuts in the public market for the price of the small bag.
In non-tourist areas you probably won’t find a lot of variety — much like you would not expect a lot of variety in a local restaurant in a small town in the U.S. That doesn’t mean it is bad, just don’t expect a lot of options. We have added a Restaurant Suggestions page where we talk about where we eat.
In tourist areas you can find just about anything. For example, within walking distance from our Off-Santander Room you will find Italian, Mexican, Japanese, German, Malaysian and more. About the cheapest meal you will find in a restaurant is Q12 for a breakfast which includes eggs, beans, tortillas, maybe fruit or cheese and coffee. The most expensive dinners I have seen here consisting of a soup or salad, a main dish with some sort of meat in an exotic sauce, potatoes or rice, vegetables and wine or desert will cost around Q120.
In the mid-range you can find a complete meal for in th Q30 to Q60 range plus beverage. If that doesn’t fit your budget, you really can eat well for close to nothing by judicious use of the public market.
If you are vegetarian, have no fear. Vegetarian breakfasts are common. For other meals you will find soups, pasta dishes, vegetarian tamales and tostadas, pizza and more. Or, just be creative with public market food. For example, when I was first here my typcal dinner was an avocado (Q2-3) and four tortillas (Q1).
In Panajachel, my favorite vegetarian choices are:
- Miso soup and vegetable tempura or veggie sushi rolls at Hana
- Veggie burrito or bean and cheese enchiladas in the Mexican restaurant
- Pupusas at Chero’s bar (he has quite a few vegetarian choices)
- Veggie tostada street food
There are quite a few vegetarian restaurants in San Pedro. For example, the last time I was there I had felafels in a restaurant where the owner speaks Israeli or English but not Spanish.
There are stores that sell tofu and tempeh here which are locally made. The only disappointing thing is that with the exception of the miso soup at Hana, I don’t know any place that serves these products.
Menu Items below this page