We didn’t sample either of the two American fast-food operations in Cuenca: Kentucky Fried Chicken and Domino’s. (Nope: no McDonald’s or Burger King, Taco Bell, or even Starbucks.) I’m not prejudiced; I’ll try both when I go back (Lee at Carolina Bookstore claims Domino’s Ecuador is surprisingly different than stateside and decent), but we had neither time nor taste for familiar food.
Instead, we stopped into several local “fast”-food eateries, or as close as it gets in a laid-back culture like Cuenca's. It seemed to me that there’s really no such thing as fast. Far from all packaged up and warming under heat lamps, waiting for someone to pay, our menu selections were cooked-to-order. The food is simpler than in the full-blown restaurants, so it comes a little more quickly. Also, you order at the counter, then a server brings you your meal.
This type of restaurant is easy to pick out from the street: The food is depicted, named, and priced in posters in the doorways, on the walls, and in the menus, all in Spanish. Though the photos are approximate at best, you can pick out the combinations of rice, beans, chicken, fish, pork, burger, fried egg, French fries, avocado, corn, salads, including cole slaw, and Coke. It’s also a graphic language lesson: arroz, menestra, pollo, trucha y corvina, chuleta, hamburguesa, huevo frito, papas fritas, aguacate, maiz, y ensaladas, incluyendo col.
We tried two Las Colonias restaurants, one on Tarqui just north of Calle Larga for dinner, and one right on Calle Larga a half-block east of Mercado Diez de Agosto for lunch. Both have chickens rotisserying in their front windows and una presa (one piece) con papas fritas y cola goes for $1.99; dos presas are $2.99. Una hamburguesa, papas fritas, y cola is also $1.99, as is salchipapa (sausage and fries).
For $2.99, you can get trucha, arroz, papas fritas, y cola, or chuleta (pork chop), papas, y cola. You can also get half-churrascos (a national dish; see my review on Goda for the description) and chaulafan (fried rice); the full versions are $3.99. Un cuarto pollo (a quarter rotisseried chicken) para llevar (to go) is also $3.99, while the medio is $7 and the entero is $12.50.
The cola is eight-ounces in a plastic cup, but both times it was good and cold. Una pequeña cerveza is 85 cents, the grande $1. Jugos (juices) — tomate (a red tree fruit that looks like a tomato, but is sweet), pina (pineapple), naranjilla (citrus), and mora (a purple berry that jam is also made out of) — are 80 cents.
Pio Pio is a similar eatery on Borrero just north of Juan Jaramillo. And Gus is more of a chicken joint on Gran Colombia a block east of Borrero, right next to the El Presidente Hotel. Broster is also a chicken place on Gran Columbia east of the Parque Calderon. And some of the pizza parlors serve all the above and more.
Contact Deke Castleman by submitting a message in the message box at AccessEcuador.com. You can also email him directly at AccessEcuador@hotmail.com
Captions, top: The Chicago Pizza storefront, with a giant menu display; bottom: the menu close-up.