There's a common bias that street food, especially if its origins are non-Western, should be cheap. But when you order a doblada ($7) from Claudia’s, paying a few dollars more is no problem (nor should it be). What arrives is a perfectly fried masa empanada enveloping shredded brisket that’s been cooking for 24 hours. It’s topped with an avocado mash and wisps of fermented cabbage, adding a nice zing.
This well-prepared pastry—we dare you to eat just one—is just a single example of how Claudia Lopez and her brother, executive chef Mario Lopez, are showcasing Guatemalan cuisine, a rarity in New York’s dining scene (they're also working with the team behind Williamsburg bar Midnights). While you can also find a decent burger and a commendable fried-chicken sandwich on the menu, we favored the traditional choices. After all, this East Williamsburg restaurant, which started as a daytime-only café called C. Lo’s, draws on family recipes.
To start your meal, be sure to order a tamal ($7). A dish steeped in tradition, it’s comprised of a banana leaf holding a fluffy rectangle of corn flour filled with your choice of pork, beef or vegetables. Another item, perfect for winter: sopa de gallina ($10), a generous portion of chicken soup that’s stuffed with succulent chicken, root vegetables and macaroni noodles that just might cure a cold.
A more complex dish is the pepian de gallina ($14), one of the most popular stews of the Guatemalan kitchen. The poultry is slow-cooked in a sauce of chilies with red and green tomatoes. But our favorite plate was the hilacha ($14), a comforting tomato-sauce–based stew brimming with tender brisket.
There are a few things to keep in mind: We found the soup, stews and small appetizers difficult to share. The à la plancha (“on the grill”) section did not impress us; a dry, lonely slab of chicken breast arrived with a few yucca fries.
But you’ll want to forgive these missteps because Claudia’s fulfills its mission as a neighborhood hangout—complete with a colorful mural of a village—serving diners lesser-known dishes from Latin America in a gentrifying area. We’d come back for another lesson in Guatemalan food any day.