I may be mistaken, but Restaurante Hermelinda Comida Guatemalteca may be the Mission’s only full-on Guatemalan restaurant, and welcome to it. Sure, there’s Pollo Campero, the fast-food, fried/broasted chicken chain that had chapínes lining up down the block when it first opened, or places like Poc-Chuc that serve crossover Mayan fare. But as for sit-down, full entrée meals, this is the only place you can get what appears to be authentic Guatemalan food in our neighborhood.
The first thing you notice is that Restaurante Hermelinda is quite large and deep, with minimal décor besides the big-screen TV and a multitude of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Like, a ton of chandeliers, reflecting their light on stark-white walls. It’s very bright in there! There are shining steam tables at the back end, and an open kitchen. You order at the buffet, pay, and the food is brought to you.
I loved how the tables, covered with colorful weave tablecloths topped with glass, were set with instant coffee, ketchup, and a very tangy, not-too-spicy, homemade green hot sauce. This is some down-home, old-school shit, mi gente.
I over-ordered, because I wanted to try a lot. There are several enticing, stew-like dishes of either beef, pork, or chicken, and I shamefacedly don’t know enough about the cuisine to know the differences. The smiling woman behind the counter offered the chicken pepián, which I did remember is a stew made with pumpkin seeds, but I opted for the pork.
Ay, dios mio! Absolutely delicious, stick-to-your-ribs kind of food, yet not at all heavy. The pork was incredibly tender, in a slightly cuminy broth, and the rice was cooked perfectly; distinct, tender grains that tasted as if they’d been simmered in rich chicken stock. This kind of attention to detail gives Restaurante Hermelinda its sense of eating in someone’s (albeit brightly lit) home. The side salad, an unexpected mix of diced radishes and mint, provided a welcome crunch and was a beautifully refreshing note on the plate. I just loved it. The black bean puree was creamy, dense, and flavorful.
I also ordered a doblada (“folded”) to share; a Guatemalan empanada of sorts made with corn flour.
This one came stuffed with mashed potatoes, and was deep fried until golden, with a cabbage relish, tomato salsa, and queso fresco. A nice contrast between the crispy exterior and the fluffy inside of the mashed potato. Probably would have been better straight out of the fryer, but not bad at all.
Still in experimentation mode, I also ordered a single piece of fried chicken, which can be ordered as part of a plate, but I just wanted to see how it compared to the beloved Pollo Campero chicken (which we were not all that impressed with).
The kindly woman behind the counter counseled me to wait until a fresh batch came out of the fryer, so we did. And it looked very promising, but unfortunately, it was rather tough, as if it had been over-fried, both the crust and the flesh inside. It had good flavor, though, and as it cooled it softened a bit. So maybe try letting it sit for a while.
The BF ordered one of the beef stews:
I thought mine was good until I tasted his: Superbly tender short ribs, and his sauce was deeper, richer. He devoured this (much to my chagrin; I only got the one bite!). His also came with potatoes, along with the chicken-y rice and the same other sides. Both meals come with hot, freshly made-to-order (I watched the woman pressing them and turning them on the griddle) corn tortillas, too; a very welcome touch as you’ll want to sop up all the juices.
There were at least four to five other stews to choose from at Restaurante Hermelinda, and I’m game to try them all. I was curious about the envueltas (“wrapped”) — what looked to be egg-battered affairs, much like chile rellenos, I believe, enveloping vegetables and other items I’ll have to investigate further next time. Also, garnachas (tostadas), pollo asado plates, steaming caldos, vegetarian options, and bright and refreshing aguas frescas. I tried the perfumey maracuya, which was freshly squeezed and quite delightful. Restaurante Hermelinda also serves atoles — sweet, warm, masa-based drinks.
As for the service, everyone had a smile on their face and were welcoming and warm. This appears to be a family affair, serving up comforting plates of good home cooking (at incredibly reasonable prices), like your abuelita used to make. So let’s go out and support our new neighbors, and make sure to come on an empty stomach, or bring back-ups, as I always do.
Restaurante Hermelinda Comida Guatemalteca (Cash only) (Yelp)
2279 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110