When many travelers think about Ecuador, the things that come to their minds are mainly adventure, volcanoes, Galapagos, Amazon Rainforest and World Heritage Site. However, nowadays its catching the attention of worldwide foodies.
Ecuador gastronomy is so diverse as its ecosystems. Each of the four regions that formed this small country has their cuisine. This reason comes from the access that each region has to specific products. Consequently, the Andes used a lot of potatoes, corn, and grains while the Coastal has a diet based on fish, shellfish, plantains, cassava, among others. Moreover, Ecuadorian cuisine has not stood up within South America, like Peruvian or Argentinian, until now.
In recent years a new generation of chefs and cooks are rescuing, interpreting, and innovating the Ecuadorian gastronomy. Some of these flavor´s alchemists have reinterpreted traditional dishes such as the hornado, the ceviche, or the sandwich with sweet figs and cheese, to mention some.
Many of them have studied in local culinary schools, while others have gained their experience on the stoves. Indeed, some of them had worked in renowned international restaurants which have to broaden their mind. As a result, they are bringing new culinary techniques or point of view that are helping them in the reinterpretation of traditional Ecuadorian dishes.
Nowadays, Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca are opening the path for a new era focused on let locals, and international visitors taste in small bites the local flavors, aromas, and textures that formed this biodiverse country, right in the middle of the world. As a consequence, the level of local restaurants is rising, and is getting more international exposure thanks to the media and also local tour operators that include these restaurants in their tours as a way to offer travelers an unforgettable and closer experience to traditions.
Hence, which are the best restaurants in Ecuador that a foodie should include in their journey throughout the country? Firstly, let´s begin with the second highest capital of the world, Quito; secondly, with the biggest and economic capital of Ecuador, Guayaquil; then, we will move forward to Cuenca, the Ecuadorian Athens.
Quito´s top restaurant selection
Nuema Restaurant – proud of its roots and essence
Nuema is one of the most eclectic and innovative restaurants in Quito. Its executive chef, Alejandro Chamorro, studied art originally in at that time the passion for the culinary woke up. He sees each dish like a piece of art, that different joint types of textures, flavors, and aromas in one piece that at the end will blow commensal´s mind.
Alejandro has worked in some of the most famous restaurants worldwide, like Noma in Denmark and Astrid & Gaston in Lima, where he met his wife and pastry chef on Nuema, Pia Salazar.
Nuema represents a discovery of Ecuadorian origins. As Alejandro states “Due to lack of knowledge, we need to believe in what we have and what we can do with what we do not know we have. That the Macambo of the Ecuadorian Amazon is unique, like Parmesan for Italy.”
At Nuema commensals can feel the culinary heritage of Ecuador through the interpretation of local dishes such as tongue with peanut sauce, milk and sambo seeds (pumpkins seeds). For instance, Nuema base its culinary concept on these three pillars: a mix of three, farm to table, back to the origins or culinary memoir.
A mix of three: using three ingredients that let commensal easily perceive and decode the flavors is the key in Nuema´s dishes. Also, the final equation includes innovation, knowledge, and ancestral flavors.
Farm to table: for Alejandro and Pia work with local producers is the best way to control the quality of their food as well as promoting the sustainability of local farmers and producers. Also, they can found products that are not common and easy to find, but most of the time tight them with the origin of a traditional meal; i.e., Camote, Mashua, Pino, Paico, Macambo, among other
Back to the origins or culinary memoir: chefs at Nuema tries to keep the essence of every dish, even though they innovate in the preparation process; in the end, the aim is keeping the essence of every dish by emulating the memoir that contains every plate. For example, using green plantain in some dishes can wake up the sensorial memory that Alejandro has for his grandmother, and then he can transmit this memory through his interpretation of the traditional dish.
Nuema is located in the picturesque neighborhood of San Marcos at Illa Experience Hotel, and offer breakfasts for guests, Sunday brunch, lunch (under reservations), and tasting menu dinners from 5 to 7 courses, open to the public.
Salnes – three generations of Creole flavor and food passion
Eating at Salnes is feeling the three generations of passion for food. The story began with Mauricio Acuña´s grandmother, who opened a “Picanteria” in Quito´s downtown in 1947. Since then many locals regularly visited Doña Rosa because of her seasoning, especially in her soups and pork dishes. After a while, she moved the restaurant to La Ronda and passed the baton to her son, who continues the tradition. Then, Mauricio´s mother joins the family, and she brought her Cuenca seasoning to the family. After all, Mauricio used to help her mother in her catering company that served up to 1000 people per day; so, he became familiar to the kitchen, the products, and the family season that has been recognized at that time.
Mauricio discovered his passion for the stoves at an early age, and he went to Spain to study gastronomy but never forgot his roots nor the love for food that her grandmother and mother taught him. After working for a while in some of the best restaurants in Spain, he returned to Quito with the aim to make locals rediscover and recognize the Ecuadorian creole cuisine. Hence, he opened Salnes Gastro-Picanteria in 2015.
Salnes is the combination of customs and authentic flavors that make commensals feel at home. Salnes cuisine is far from being fancy, and it doesn´t pretend to be. Salnes goal is to serve people a small bite of Ecuador. Therefore, it should be an obliged stop for those that want to comprehend and live the authentic soul kitchen of the country.
On the contrary to Nuema, another novel culinary concept in Quito that uses modern techniques to enhance local flavors, Salnes prefer to keep it simple, without ornaments and distractions, by having the flavor and essence in great balance. Moreover, for that is recognize it nowadays.
At Salnes, commensals can try, and we recommend it, the “Piqueo de Habitas Tiernas” which represent the local tradition of eating broad beans and pieces of slowly roasted pork seasoned with a salad of onion, tomatoes, lemon, and coriander. Salnes is the best way to have an introduction to Ecuadorian Comfort Food, as Mauricio describes its food.
As Mauricio said, “Salnes is an updated picantería where you will find the happiness that is what this tour has left him.”
Guayaquil´s top restaurant selection
Guayaquil is the biggest and most important city in Ecuador. Its port has been the entrance of many immigrants as well as the wealth due to the international trade. Consider as the most cosmopolitan city of Ecuador, Guayaquil is a must for travelers that want to experience the coastal flavors of the country between shrimps, crabs, plantains, coconut, peanut and other flavors that represent this region. As a result, “La Perla del Pacifico,” as it is known this port city, hosts some of the best restaurants in Ecuador.
La Pizarra – Ecuadorian tapas for filling the soul
It was in travel to Spain that Juan José Morán, owner, and chef, realized that the restaurants had something in common, a blackboard (pizarra) where the seasonal menu was published at the entrance of the restaurant, so commensals will know in advance what the restaurant has to offer.
With that in mind, Juan José decided to bring the tapa concept to Guayaquil but offering small bites of Ecuadorian dishes. According to Juan “the idea is offering a seasonal product, and because it is published on the blackboard, it is easy to write it and erase it easily.” After all, it was a clever way to let people, local and visitors, to try many dishes in one meal.
The concept of La Pizarra is setting a friendly, comfortable atmosphere with a balanced mixture between modernity and tradition. A big blackboard with the dishes painted, lamps made with colored paja toquilla (same material of Panama hats) and banana´s fiber from the tree and leaves, complemented with seats made by pallets, are part of the décor that makes people felt relaxed.
Regarding the menu, La Pizarra changes the options every four to six months depending on the seasonality. Furthermore, it adds two new dishes every week, one salty and one sweet, with this strategy is also looking forward to offering a good variety for commensals as well as avoiding that they get bored.
What type of dishes can people expect from La Pizarra?
Authentic Ecuadorian food enhanced and with touches of modernity, served in small bites enough to allow every commensal to catch the essence, the flavors, the textures, and aromas that have been familiar in local family houses by centuries.
A Shrimp Terrine accompanied with a pure of black and white garlic and a crust of shrimp is just one of the special dishes on summer 2018. Not only this preparation is blowing people´s mind, but there is also an interpretation of San Cristobal Island from Galapagos with a cup of Brujo fish broth, from Galapagos, served with crusty fish cheeks in tempura of a San Cristobal´s artisanal beer called Endemic, accompanied with dried tomatoes and mint.
However, if there is someone that dreams with sweets and desserts, La Pizarra this season don´t miss “Un Café por la Tarde” that is a sponge drunk in San Cristobal´s coffee with a blackberry and lemongrass sorbet, simply indescribable!
Casa Julián – where tradition became trendy
In 2017, Guayaquil welcomes its first luxury boutique hotel, Hotel del Parque. Located at Parque Histórico in front of the Guayas river and surrounded by a forest, it is the newest trendy restaurant in the city.
Casa Julián is more than a restaurant it´s an experience that brings you back in time. The house was originally from the renowned Ecuadorian doctor Julian Coronel in the early 1900´s. After being donated to the Central Bank of Ecuador in 1987, and then relocated inside the park, now it has a new era. Casa Julián is beside the hotel, offering a tranquil location between wider windows, big trees and a lagoon nearby.
Chef Juan Carlos Ordoñez, trained in Buenos Aires, returned to his natal Guayaquil, and after a while, he decided to focus on Ecuadorian food as a way to keep attached to its roots. His culinary path began as a child when he helped her mother to prepare the family meals. Hence, he understood the flavors and had the sense of tradition, but his years of experience broaden his eyes. Also, he said that he´s sensitive to what he sees.
According to Juan Carlos, Casa Julián´s menu is focused on traditions and innovation. Therefore it does not require a lot of technology, or modernity, or molecular food. Casa Julián is more than a restaurant is a holistic experience that offers a memorable dine to commensals. Traditional flavors, Ecuadorian culture, history, and a high standard of service is the recipe of success of this Ecuadorian restaurant.
At Casa Julián, locals and visitors can experience eating the Ecuadorian version of a tamal made of corn and stuffed with fresh cheese, called Humita but crispy with goat cheese, chorizo, and jelly of chili pepper and tomatoes. This dish is one of the starters of the menu while for the main course a plate of prawns with coconut sauce served with a plantain version of corviche (patty) and sweet and crunchy coconut pieces can be the ideal combination.
Without a doubt, Casa Julián is establishing a reference in the Ecuadorian gastronomy by letting the tradition catching the attention of locals and travelers.
Cuenca´s top restaurants selection
Cuenca, the Athens of Ecuador, as many people called this Andean city, it is one of the most cultural and picturesque sites for visiting. That´s why many expats chose Cuenca as their retirement destination. However, as Quito and Guayaquil, Cuenca is another place for being mesmerized by the local flavors.
Casa Alonso – where luxury and tradition meet
Casa Alonso represents the fusion between Ecuadorian and international cuisine in one place. Located at the renowned Mansion Alcazar hotel, which is part of the luxury collection of Conde Nast Johansens, is one of the top restaurants of Cuenca.
Housing a maximum of 26 commensals, Casa Alonso is complementing the luxury ambiance that Mansion Alcazar offers. Surrounded by the garden of this 19th-century mansion complemented by pewter and artisanal glass plates, silver cutlery, and crystal glasses, guests can feel the remembrance of the golden ages of the early 20th century.
At Casa Alonso, the menu has been crafted to offer the best of the Ecuadorian cuisine among the best dishes that represent the international gastronomy. Try the smoked trout, the shrimp ceviche, or their interpretation of the traditional Mote, a preparation with Andean corn.
Another highlight of Casa Alonso is their selection of teas and infusions served during the afternoon. Between local and imported flavors served among small bites of traditional sweets.
Dos Sucres – the clever interpretation of tradition, cleverness, and trend
Dos Sucres represents the tradition by taking the name of the former currency of Ecuador. Daniel Contreras, owner, and chef of Dos Sucres says that “they are only cooks, they are not saving the world.” Nonetheless, he expects to change the way that people takes the food by eating healthy, without sacrifice flavor and combined with an interpretation of the traditions. As he explains, food trends sometimes become part of the family´s way of life when they decide to incorporate these trends in their day by day.
Dos Sucres is the combination of local flavors, customs and agro-ecology, responsibility, and cook´s interpretation to the roots. Daniel is proposing a sustainable restaurant concept where local farmers are an important piece of the puzzle drawn by him in Cuenca. Dos Sucres not only buy their ingredients directly from the producers but also give them every Tuesday space where locals can go and purchase their products at the restaurant.
Another pillar in Dos Sucres´ structure is the constant research of local dishes, ingredients, traditions, and the way that they can be adapted to the contemporary way of life.
Many people consider Dos Sucres the brother of La Pizarra in Guayaquil and Nuema in Quito even though they are different in their menu. However, all of them represent the evolution of the Ecuadorian cuisine driven by young local chefs that are working toward to enhance and promote the gastronomy of Ecuador with the aim of setting the table for connoisseur foodies that are constantly looking for new gastronomic destinations worldwide.
Don´t miss the opportunity to try Dos Sucres´ interpretation of Encebollado; tuna served with tomato, onion, corn, plantain chips, and crispy corn, simply indescribable. If you want to try something eclectic, the ribs in sous vide with figs vinegar, caramelized nuts, and mote (corn) with avocado sauce. Moreover, for those sugar lovers, the traditional figs with cheese, here at the restaurant are conceived as a fig´s mouse with goat cheese emulsified and an Amaranto caramel leaf.
Beware that at Dos Sucres there are not sweet colas or carbonated drinks, as part of its healthy concept, but you can get a good selection of local juices, cocktails, and local artisan beers instead.
There is still a long journey to become in a gastronomical destination, but it is on the right way to do it. Chefs are setting a new level of the Ecuadorian cuisine as well as on international gastronomy. In the meantime, stews, broth, spices, and local ingredients are becoming one in kitchens pans, and casseroles while exigent palates are pampered and surprised.
Marcel Perkins is CEO at Latin Trails. Latin Trails is an incoming destination management company specialized in bespoke tours, with a focus on offering unique experiences throughout Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru.