An Insider Tour of Cuenca’s Culinary Delights

I must admit that when my wife Cynthia and I first arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador, over five years ago, the culinary scene left a lot to be desired. But there has been an amazing transformation in Cuenca’s dining options. It’s been driven by the many locals who have returned home from the U.S. and Spain after the 2008 economic tsunami, a rising middle class with disposable income, and (to some degree) the city’s growing expat population.

It is now impossible to keep up with the many exciting new restaurants that seem to open every week.

Dining out is perhaps the favorite activity of gringos. (That’s what expats are called by locals, and it’s not a derogatory term here as it is in other parts of the world.) That goes for Cynthia and me, too. So I’m excited to take you on an all-day culinary tour of Cuenca to highlight some of our favorite places to eat.

Hash Browns, Eggs, and a Great Cup of Joe

First stop, Cafe San Sebas which serves a full menu of tempting breakfast and lunch specialties Wednesday through Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Come hungry and dig into the San Sebas Breakfast—three eggs, potatoes, a huge pancake, plus bacon or ham for $6.50.

There’s nothing like an excellent cup of coffee to start the day, and the best brew in Cuenca is found at Café de Nucallacta. Owner Rumi Duchicela’s experience as a coffee exporter has taken him all over Ecuador to source the country’s finest beans. The food is amazing too, with huevos rancheros and the best hash browns we’ve tasted on the planet topping our list of favorites.

Get in Quick for a Great Sunday Roast

Over the years we’ve learned an insider tip to pass on to you: Look for places filled with professionals. The food will be a cut above average for very little extra money.

Our absolute favorite is Black Coffee, located across the street from Millennium Plaza mall. Open for lunch only, it offers reliably super-fresh ingredients and prompt service as we dine alfresco on the terrace under big umbrellas. Lunch is $2.75, and the portion size just leaves room for us to share a piece of scrumptious homemade pie or cake for an additional $2 (with free coffee to wash it down).

Ecuadorians often have a late afternoon coffee and dessert, as dinner is traditionally eaten much later than in North America. If you feel like “going local,” pop into one of numerous Tutto Freddo locations around town for a decadent extravaganza like our favorite, the Copa Moka—scoops of vanilla and coffee ice cream smothered in coffee liqueur, nuts, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.


Spoiled for Choice at Dinner Time

Come on, you’re not full yet, are you? It’s dinnertime, and we’ve got an outstanding choice lined up for you. For an Ecuadorian “meatfest,” head to La Parrillada, a cavernous restaurant in Cuenca’s suburbs often filled with large, boisterous groups of family and friends chowing down on oversized portions of grilled delicacies.

We often order the Super Lomo Fino, an 800-gram whole filet of beef with special bacon and onion sauce that arrives at the table on its own sizzling charcoal warming tray. Accompanied by roasted potatoes and salad, this dish is a steal at $26.90, considering the amount of leftovers we haul home. Insider tip: The Sunday buffet is a phenomenal bargain. It’s $12 per person for an array of soups, salads, vegetables, and all sorts of grilled meats.

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