In Guatemala City, a Temple to the Tostada

The crudo tostada at Dora La Tostadora in Guatemala City is topped with thin slices of raw fish, cherry tomato confit, avocado, peanut oil, sesame seeds and guaque chile powder.

Written in big white chalk letters on the door of Dora La Tostadora are the words “No hay caviar, pero hay maíz.”There’s not caviar, but there’s corn.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows the place. The restaurant — a few blocks from the heart of Cuatro Grados Norte, or Zona 4, Guatemala City’s bustling cultural and gastronomic hub — specializes in Guatemalan tostadas. It is a showcase for corn and other local ingredients.

Inside the former shoe store are just a few wooden tables and a two-stool counter that’s lined with a dozen or so bottles of different hot sauces. The décor has a haphazard, thrown-together feel: Christmas lights, a poster of the ruins of Tikal on the wall, a cartoon cutout of Dora the Explorer, the tiny restaurant’s namesake.

Even the birth of the restaurant was a little offhand: In the midst of moving the location for Mercado 24, a market-driven restaurant that’s also in Zona 4, there was a lag time of several months and the staff needed to have income. In late 2017 the owners of Mercado 24 tested out Dora La Tostadora as a pop-up and it was a surprise success. Crowds lined up when they opened and most of the food sold out. It still does.

“The tostada is a very traditional snack in Guatemala, but it’s very conservative,” said Pablo Díaz, the chef and owner of Dora La Tostadora, who has worked in top Mexican restaurants like Manzanilla in Ensenada and Noma’s Tulum pop-up. “There hasn’t been any innovation since the tostada de chow mein, like 30 years ago. We use it as a vehicle for serving any flavor we want.”

How to innovate the simple, classic tostada? Toppings. The standard Guatemalan tostada, sold from sidewalk carts and market stalls, caps fried corn tortillas with a selection of just a few key ingredients like tomato sauce, guacamole or puréed black beans, which are sometimes topped with onions, parsley, and queso seco (crumbled fresh cheese). They are cheap and take seconds to prepare.

During a recent visit to Dora La Tostadora, an A-frame sign on the sidewalk listed five toppings, including solomillo, Chinese-Guatemalan pork, beef tongue and oyster mushrooms, and “pulpo que no es pulpo,” a play on the squid that’s sometimes called octopus in local fish markets. (The squid was already crossed out on the sign: sold out.) The only other menu items are a few natural drinks prepared each morning, like hibiscus tea and horchata, as well as a small selection of beer.

The toppings change daily, based on whatever the organic farmers they work with bring them, or that the kitchen finds fresh in the market. Their standby is the crudo, a tostada topped with sashimi-thin slices of raw fish, cherry tomato confit, avocado, peanut oil, sesame seeds and guaque chile powder. By the time I finished it was crossed off the menu, too.

Dora La Tostadora, 9 Avenida 1-63, Edificio 414, Zona 4; 502-3019-5442. An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is 200 quetzales, about $27.

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