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DINING WITH DEKEThe endless, and maybe a little compulsive, quest for Cuenca’s perfect slice of pizza

Ah, pizza.

Some aficionados consider it the perfect food. A slice of pizza has only 30 grams of carbohydrate in the crust of a slice of mozzarella, and that tomato sauce is packed with lycopene.

Whether it's perfect or not is arguable, but pizza is loved by just about everyone, young and old, men and women, East and West, and it comfortably crosses almost all national and cultural boundaries. The Japanese, for example, love to top theirs with squid. Russians opt for toppings of sardines, mackerel, and onions. With Brazilians, peas are popular.

In fact, pizza is a convenient no-utensils-necessary sustenance-delivery system for any combination of flavors you can think of. It's appropriate for just about any setting or occasion, from football in front of the tube and lunch at the office to a late-night pig-out or to thank friends for helping on moving day. Best of all, it's supremely suited to cerveza.

Of course, finding the perfect pizza is another matter entirely. In my nearly six months in Cuenca, I’ve sampled pies at a couple dozen different restaurants. I do like the stuff, but this has been more of a quest, for research purposes, than any pizza compulsion. Honest.

Taste in food is highly subjective, so the following findings are necessarily personal, though entirely impartial.

Pizza House

Pizza House is a big restaurant on Paseo de los Cañaris at Cacique Duma. I had this place, which seats around 100, all to myself at 5:30 on a Friday night.

The monolingual menu is typical of pizza restaurants in Ecuador, listing three categories of pizzas. The simple toppings, three or four per pizza, include peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, pepperoni, and sausage and range from $1.98 for the personal pizza to $16.50 for the gigante.

The "tradicionales" offer a few more items per pizza, such as chicken and shrimp.

This is by far the least expensive pizza I’ve tried here. The $2, four-slice, personal pizza filled me right up. Though the crust is thick, it disappears under the wet sauce and oily cheese, necessitating at least a fork, and for me a knife. Still, for $2, I'm not complaining.

La Piatta

La Piatta, which bills itself as "gourmet," is up Paseo de los Cañaris, a few blocks east of Pizza House, at Camilo Egas. Ten different pies here go from $5.99 for a pequeña to $29.99 for the "bonnapiatto," which, with its 32 slices, probably could not fit into the back seat of a taxi; you'd have to put it into the trunk to take it home. The toppings include the usual: ham, salami, bacon, mushrooms, pineapple, olives, peppers, chicken, tomato, and onions.

It took a full ten minutes to cook and serve my pequeña, of which I could finish only half. I don't know what qualifies it as gourmet, but if you like thick soft crust and very cheesy pizza, this is the place for you.

Pizza Hut

I had to try Pizza Hut, if only to see how closely it resembled all the other Pizza Hut pies I’ve ever consumed. With upwards of 34,000 outlets in 100 countries, you might assume they'd all be the same, and you'd be right. I couldn’t discern any difference between the pizza I'd eaten from Fort Lauderdale to Fairbanks and what I had at the Cuenca location, located on Remigio Crespo at Federico Proaño. In addition, the restaurant is roomy, bright, and clean, so the funk factor is low.

Pizzas run $8.99 to $21.99. The bargain play here, though, is the $4.75 personal-pizza-and-soda deal; the six slices and big Pepsi will satisfy two medium-size appetites for less than $3 per person. This is also a good place for salads: taco, mixed, suprema, club, and Mediterranea, ranging from $2.50 for individuals to $4.99 for family-size.

La Viña

La Viña is a fine Italian restaurant on the corner of Luis Cordero and Juan Jaramillo in El Centro, where pizzas are served on a round wooden cutting board. Pequeñas are $4.50 for cheese and $5.50 for anchovies. Grandes are $9-$10. These are highly reasonable prices for good crisp crust, real Italian sauce, expensive cheese, and quality toppings that come piping hot out of ultra-high-temperature ovens.

And its not just my humble opinion, but I've eaten here numerous times with plenty of people and it's always as good for them as it is for me. My only problem at La Viña is trying to decide between the pizza and the eggplant parmigiana.  

Reposted from the Miami Herald International Edition, July 7, 2011. Photo caption: Serving up a hot slice at La Viña on Luis Cordero at Jaramillo; photo credit: Boris Hernan Romolerou