In 2016, a year after my wife died, I ended each day with a long sigh — somehow, I’d made it through another day. Thus, the endless hole-in-the-wall tour was born. An old college buddy and fellow teacher retiree agreed to join me. Every month, we go to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, usually family-owned ethnic diners, which luckily are in abundance around here, so for me, holes in the wall have been, in part, my salvation.
One of our favorites is a little Guatemalan cafe in Sylvan Heights West on Sylvania Avenue, Restaurante el Meson Chapin. Like the best of the holes in the wall, it has great food, reasonable prices, and service that comes from the heart.
This last visit, our waitress was friendly but didn’t speak English. No problema. On this tour, you have to be open to adventure. For me, it’s all good. I’m always happy to practice my rusty college Spanish. And I did all right. At least I think I did. I had to ask her to slow only down once, but if you don’t speak Spanish, the owner, a very congenial host, speaks English, and, of course, you can always go back to the old reliable method of pointing at your menu item.
And what a menu, replete with all kinds of Guatemalan delectables, from tamal appetizers and entrees that include plenty of caldos (ingredient-rich soups with huge chunks of meat and vegetables) to breakfast all day and interesting drinks. As my partner in crime remarked as we chowed down on our feast, “This makes going to a regular restaurant kind of silly.” Indeed.
Having gone a few times before, I can vouch for their all-day breakfast. My favorite is the Desayuno Chapin Deluxe (6-ounce grilled steak, eggs, beans, homemade cheese, and tortillas) that is truly sublime in its combination of simplicity and tastiness.
On this day, we started with some appetizers. I enjoyed my chuchito, a Guatemalan tamal with chicken sauce that had just the right amount of spice to make it a beginning of a great meal. My buddy had the tascala, a corn omelet with cheese which was surprisingly sweet, and la crema on the side made it that much better. You can also order tascala with beans, which I’ll try next time.
My entree was the carne adobada de cerdo, which are marinated pork chops or ribs. I chose the former, and it did not disappoint. Tender and tasty, it was accompanied by refried black beans, wonderfully fluffy rice, and a super-interesting Guatemalan-style potato salad. Muy sabroso.
My buddy opted for the pepian, a chicken stew with rice. According to the menu, it’s a meaty concoction made from a blend of tomatoes, green beans, seeds (sesame and pumpkin), and peppers. The broth was rich and aromatic, and the chicken was drop-off-the-bone juicy. Both entrees were served with two homemade Guatemalan flour tortillas, which are smaller but thicker than the Mexican variety.
After we ate, we topped it off with an atol de elote, a traditional Guatemalan sweet corn hot beverage. It was sweet and tasty, with a hint of cinnamon. It put in my mind all the pumpkin spice drinks that pop up every fall, but this comforting drink you can get anytime.
The restaurant is brightly decorated with colorful Guatemalan knick-knacks, while pennants for the coming World Cup in Qatar flutter in the steady air-conditioned breeze. While we ate, a couple of regulars came in greeting the owner and exchanging handshakes. Then I noticed the channel of one TV changed to some futbol game. Yep, this a neighborhood joint that, I imagine, is a home away from home for Guatemalans and other Central Americans, whose cuisines are pretty similar.
Meson Chapin advertises itself as a restaurant and bakery, but it’s more. It’s a neighborhood hangout that sells shirts, cookies, snacks, and just about anything you can think of from “back home.” Even the name, Meson Chapin, roughly translates as “Guatemalan Cafe.” Don’t expect chips and hot sauce when you sit down, and while ordering may be an adventure, don’t let that put you off. You’ll enjoy some tasty food at good prices from people who care about giving you first-rate service.
Restaurante el Meson Chapin, 1560 N Sylvania Av, FW. 682-385-9246. 8:30am-6pm Sun, 8:30am-8pm Mon, 8:30am-8pm Wed-Sat.
Restaurante el Meson Chapin
Carne adobada de cerdo (pork chop) $12.99
Pepian (chicken) $12.99
Atol de elote $3.50
Desayuno Chapin Deluxe $12.99