In Guatemala, there is a common saying, “A falta de pan, tortilla”, which literally translates to “In the absence of bread, tortilla” and means, figuratively, “If you can’t get the best thing , take the next It is a posh and outdated aphorism, referring to a residual hierarchy of carbohydrates, at a time when tortillas were mainly consumed by the indigenous population of the country and associated with poverty. Today, everyone in Guatemala eats tortillas and, whatever the definition of the country’s cuisine, they occupy a very important place, certainly more than bread.

The very tostadas, an aperitif, are finished with red onion, coriander and cotija cheese.

Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker

You’ll find tortillas at Claudia’s in East Williamsburg, which until recently was a more casual cafe called C.Lo; its owners, brothers and sisters Claudia and Mario Lopez, renamed it a full-service Guatemalan restaurant, with an expanded menu and new murals and upholstery inspired by folk art. For a satisfying dish called tortillas montadas, the small, thick, slightly sweet, blistered on a hot hot plate, are coated with crushed avocado, then stacked with a ball of carnitas, a piece of shaggy breast or a spoonful of black beans and a generous segment of sweet plantain.

Chili relleno, stuffed with vegetables and fried in a buttermilk paste, is served with a side of rice and beans.

Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker

You will also find bread at Claudia’s: each of the restaurant’s tamales comes with a sweet Hawaiian-style bun, in addition to the marinated red onion and jalapeño, and, for breakfast or brunch, a fried egg . Both are homemade, but the bun turns pale compared to the excellent tamal, which starts, of course, like a tortilla: with masa, a dough made from nixtamalized ground corn mixed with lard and lard water. For the tamal, the dense and starchy dough is steamed in a banana leaf, with a little carnitas, breast or vegetables, a green olive or two and a few capers – perfect packaging in itself.

Masa also shines at Claudia’s in several other dishes. For the huevos antigua, it is steamed and sliced ​​in thick slices, two per order, each garnished with a fried egg, avocado puree, chicharron pieces, red onions and d ” a touch of spicy chirmol, a traditional salsa made of coarsely chopped charred tomatoes with raw onion and mint. For a savory pastry called doblada, it is formed into a folded half-moon, like an empanada, stuffed with meat or vegetables, and fried until its surface boils.

Montadas tortillas (center), which the menu describes as Guatemalan tacos, are served with avocado puree and a choice of carnitas, breast or sweet plantain and black beans.

Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker

The rest of the menu tends to stand out, with a few exceptions. The chili relleno is fantastic, a poblano pepper beaten with buttermilk with a crunchy exterior, filled with sofrito and vegetables and finished with a concentrated tomato sauce. Pollo Campero, a crispy fried chicken fillet served with a ball of macaroni salad, is a respectable tribute to Pollo Campero, the KFC of Guatemala, and you could do a lot worse than churrasco, or skirt steak, which has a short order for simplicity, especially if you get it with yucca fries.

It is disappointing, especially in winter, that Claudia’s stews, an integral category of Guatemalan cuisine, are unfortunately bland and lean, lacking in heart and flavor. Fortunately, there is another Guatemalan restaurant in Brooklyn that largely fills this gap: Ix, which opened in 2016, at Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

Banana bread pudding is available at brunch and for dessert at dinner.

Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker

You can warm up here without even stepping out the door, ordering a cup of sweet spicy cocoa, or cocoa, from a take-out window that opens onto the street. (Some people believe that Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate.) But real food awaits inside, in steaming bowls born from ancient Mayan recipes. The hilachas made from red tomatoes contain hearty pieces of breast, creamy pieces of carrot and potato, green beans and rice. Green jocón combines the same vegetables with chicken instead of beef and bathes them in a complex, layered, bright broth with tomatillo and coriander. On the side: a wedge of lime, a little chopped raw onion and, above all, fresh tortillas. (Claudia dishes $ 6 – $ 14. Ix dishes $ 7 – $ 13.) ♦