“Hey, where do you want to go eat tonight?” was not a question we asked each other much when we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador six-and-a-half years ago. It wasn’t that we weren’t hungry. You see, while our hometown had other outstanding attributes—great weather, low cost of living, excellent healthcare—interesting dining options were few and far between.
Choices back then swung from formal, stuffy high-end restaurants in the city’s finer hotels to hole-in-the-wall joints serving inexpensive almuerzos (fixed menu lunches). Surprisingly, the whole concept of casual dining had not yet caught on here, and like the U.S. back in the 50s, going “out to eat” was mainly done after church and on special occasions.
We’re happy to report that Cuenca’s restaurant scene is now exploding. New eateries seem to open every week, offering cuisine as varied as American, Chinese, Thai, Italian, French, and Indian.
What happened? Two things. Since the global economic meltdown in 2008 many Cuencanos who were working abroad in the U.S. and Spain have returned home, often bringing with them money, restaurant experience from employment in major cities, and a taste for cuisine beyond Ecuador’s borders, that has all translated into new dining ventures all over town.
Second, Cuenca’s robust economy has generated a growing middle class with disposable income and a desire to spend it. More automobiles, the latest smartphones, and, yes, eating out are visible examples of this trend.
Amid all these choices, which restaurants are our favorites in Cuenca? From high dining to local eateries, here are some of our favorite places to eat:
Because of Cuenca’s low cost of living, the great news is that even the most elevated dining experience won’t cause palpitations when the check arrives. So when only the best will do, dress up and pamper yourself at Casa Alonso in the city’s finest hotel, Mansion Alcazar.
Start with a cocktail in the elegant lobby accompanied by music from the grand piano. Then allow uniformed waiters cater to your every need as you sit before a beautifully set formal table with flowers, crystal, and fine china while viewing lovely manicured gardens just outside. Top notch service, gorgeous surroundings, gourmet international cuisine plus a thoughtful wine list equates to heaven!
A fabulous meal featuring Italian cuisine awaits at Trattoria Novecento in the glamorous enclosed courtyard of Hotel Santa Lucia. As you enter the hotel, begin your evening with a cocktail (two-for-one until 7 p.m.) in Moshi Moshi, Cuenca’s only Asian themed bar. While not as formal (or as pricey) as Casa Alonso, Novecento boasts a wine cellar with 300 varieties and delivers a consistently outstanding dining experience.
It was big news a couple of years ago in culinary circles when Noe, a small chain of excellent sushi restaurants based in Quito, entered the Cuenca market. Their location is a large home just outside of downtown that was completely renovated into the city’s most visually exciting dining space.
Noe’s menu beautifully showcases a myriad of creative and visually artistic presentations, so it’s easy to get carried away and order too much food. We avoid this mistake by choosing our selections from the online menu before arriving, leaving us free to relax and enjoy the evening.
San Sebas Café
For breakfast and lunch it’s hard to beat San Sebas Café. Breakfast selections, served until closing Wednesday through Sunday, run the gamut from a yogurt parfait, to a variety of pancakes and French toast, to a gut-busting (but oh so yummy) platter of three eggs, potatoes, a pancake, plus bacon or sausage.
Our favorite lunch choices are the soup of the day (whatever they offer is delicious) plus a half salad, any of their thick, juicy burgers, and the chicken club wrap. And nothing on the menu is more than $7.
Cuenca’s emerging foodie scene is yet another reason to visit or live here. By the time you arrive even more exciting spots will be waiting to take your order.
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