In our month in Cuenca, Shirlee and I made it a point to visit the four gringo-owned hangouts, along with two locally owned restaurants, one a tradition and the other a hit with gringos.
The first haunt is also the restaurant you should try on your first day in Cuenca. Remember this name: Raymipampa. Raymipampa faces central Parque Calderon from Benigno Malo, so it’s convenient and easy to find. Also, the bi-level restaurant has a huge trilingual menu (Spanish, French, and English), so you get a lesson in Spanish food terms along with some típico food, such as locro de papas (potato soup), llapingachos (potato pancakes), and encebollados (tuna-cassava-tomato soup). This is the locally owned tradition-with-gringos haunt. Practice a little Spanish with the wait staff or even a table of cuencanos, who also frequent Raymipampa.
Not too far from there, located in what used to be a bank on Gran Colombia between Malo and Aguirre, is bi-level Café Eucalyptus, owned by one of the most veteran foreigners in Cuenca. Chris Breen is a Brit who’s been running the Eucalyptus since 2002. Equal parts restaurant and bar, the Eucalyptus serves cutting-edge (for Cuenca) fusion cuisine (European-Indian-Asian) at splurge prices. It also hosts live entertainment on the weekends and gets packed with a crowd of young travelers and students and old folks who don’t mind it LOUD. The joint gets jumpin’ around 10 p.m.; it closes at 2 a.m.
The Inca Lounge and Grill is also gringo-owned: Thirty-something American Mike Sena lived in Costa Rica for six years and has been in Cuenca nearly three; Inca’s been open since fall 2009. It’s located in an old lumber mill on the banks of the Tomebamba that’s a UNESCO site, with the bar, dining area, and lounge upstairs and outside patio seating on the ground level, all overlooking the river. Everyone agrees that the Inca serves not only the best burger in Cuenca, but also the biggest. We’re talking 200 gramos (a half-pounder) for $4 or 300 gramos for $5.25. And they come with signature potatoes, a cross between French fries and potato chips –-excellent. Inca also serves nachos, hot dogs, sandwiches, salads, chicken, and steak.
Tune in next time for the other three on my gringo hit parade: Kookaburra, California Kitchen, and La Vina.
Captions, top: a two-page spread from Raymipampa's 12-page tri-lingual menu; bottom: the Inca Lounge and Bistro, all lit up, as seen from the riverwalk (with apologies to the guy in green at the wall).