Just like cafés, Cuenca has many places to eat, some terrible, many average and a few really excellent. There were actually more vegetarian options in many places than we expected, though very few dedicated vegetarian restaurants.
During our three weeks there, we spent a lot of time trying out all the various options in order to bring you the best. Here are six of our favourite places.
This simple eatery, only open for lunch, serves a vegetarian lunch menu for $3, which while not very well advertised includes a soup, main, drink and small dessert.
The vegetarian mains are pretty good, served with a mix of cooked and raw salad, but it was the soups (served with popcorn as is usual in Ecuador) that got me coming back.
- Best for: a quick and filling meal, and tasty soups.
- Details: Foursquare; Juan Jaramillo 8-66 (Benigno Malo); open 9am-3pm.
Run by an expat couple from Miami, Jerky’s serves a Carribean style lunch menu for $3 including soup, main and drink.
The vegetarian mains are generous and invariably involve rice, salad and some kind of meat substitute, smothered with tasty sauces.
- Best for: something a bit different from the typical Ecuadorian almuerzo.
- Details: Foursquare; corner of 12 de Abril and Avenida Loja; open for lunch only.
The only purely vegetarian restaurant we found in Cuenca, Nectar serves simple but tasty vegan lunch menus for $3 with a soup, main, drink and small dessert, using typically Ecuadorian ingredients like mote (peeled corn kernels).
They also have a full menu, and on Sundays have a dedicated brunch menu, with fully vegan options as well as meals involving eggs and/or cheese. I can highly recommend the home made granola with coconut compote as an excellent alternative to yoghurt.
The expat owners are very friendly, helpful and chatty, not minding us staying to work on our laptops while we brunched one Sunday.
- Best for: a purely vegan lunch menu.
- Details: Foursquare; Facebook; Benigno Malo 10-42 (Gran Colombia); open Mon-Fri 12pm-6pm, Sun 10am-4pm.
This laid back Colombian restaurant’s signature dishes are arepas (thick corn tortillas with various toppings) ranging from $2-$3.50 each. While not all vegetarian, about 30% of the arepa toppings on offer are, including things like guacamole, beans and cheese.
From midday they also serve a lunch menu with a vegetarian option for $2.50 including a hearty soup, main and drink.
- Best for: a gluten free meal in an unpretentious setting.
- Details: Foursquare; Facebook; Honorato Vasquez 6-24 (Hermano Miguel); open 9am-9pm
La Tasca de los Hermanos en Ruta
We were thrilled to find a restaurant run by fellow Europeans in a city full of North American expats, and this tapas bar did not disappoint. About 60% of the tapas on the menu are vegetarian, with about 30% being purely vegan. As a bonus, the waiters, Iker and Endika, two brothers from Bilbao via Valencia and Argentina, are really cool and have a fascinating story (look out for an interview with them on the blog soon).
We recommend the patatas bravas (but then I always order these in tapas bars!), the tortilla española (potato omelette), gazpacho (cold vegetable soup: it’s better than it sounds!), croquetas de espinaca (spinach croquettes) and berenjenas al vinagre (aubergine with vinegar, similar to baba ganoush). All tapas are between $1.50 and $4.50 each.
- Best for: Spanish comfort food.
- Details: Foursquare; Facebook; Honorato Vasquez 6-45 (Hermano Miguel); open 12pm-10pm
From the outside, this place looks more like a café and at first we didn’t realise we could eat full meals there. When we did, we wished we’d found out sooner, as the food was gorgeous and more than half of it vegetarian.
While they also serve light snacks and cakes, there is also a small menu of meals, including all day breakfasts and lunches prepared with wonderfully fresh ingredients. We especially liked the lentil and beetroot burger served with a generous salad and a choice of either a fruit cup or home made coleslaw. Meals cost around $4.
- Best for: a healthy, fresh and tasty lunch meal or late breakfast.
- Details: Foursquare; Facebook; Calle Large 6-16 (Hermano Miguel); open 9am-3pm (closed Wednesday)