By Wendy Jane Carrel
From Paris to Muscat, and Guadalajara to Zanzibar, I’ve enjoyed finding my first meal of the day. When I visited Cuenca 20 years ago, and then again on my return three years ago, the choice was simple, either my place of lodging or other hotels. No log cabin breakfasts, breakfast in bed, or breakfast at Tiffany’s but certainly satisfying experiences.
Today, options for resident Norte Americanos and international visitors seeking Western-style breakfasts seem to be added each month. No serious effort is required. In El Centro breakfast is served every few blocks. Other choices are in El Vergel and beyond. Those who have a hankering for the comfort food they grew up with will probably find it.
Coffee or herbal tea lovers will probably be content. In fact, how many countries of the world serve organically grown coffee from different regions with distinctly different flavors? In Cuenca you will find coffee from the Amazon, Esmeraldas, the Galapagos, Loja, or Zaruma as well as healthful organic teas – anis (fennel/licorice), manzanilla (chamomille), hierba luisa (mint family), and more.
Fruit lovers will be smiling as they see the array of colorful products found not only in Cuenca but each province. Even though some fruit is imported from neighboring Peru or Chile, the fruit is mainly Ecuadorian, and usually organic, fresh, and delicious.
Eateries sampled to date which offer North American/European breakfasts are listed in alphabetical order. There are many others for you to discover.
A Pedir de Boca is an unpretentious boîte at Benigno Malo 5-54 and Calle Larga serving American, Argentine, and Dutch breakfasts for between $3 and $5 after 8 a.m. Owner Filip, a Spanish teacher, has returned to his hometown after 23 years learning to cook in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. He speaks English, Dutch, Italian, Flemish, and of course Spanish, and delights in showcasing his crème brûlée and pomegranate panna cotta.
Café Austria on the corner of Hermano Miguel and Bolivar in El Centro serves freshly blended juices (including excellent health drinks), eggs, toast, terrific coffee plus the bonus of daily papers or magazines in German and Spanish, 9 am to 3 pm.
Capucchino (Ecuadorian spelling) serves freshly pressed juice (your choice), eggs and bacon (Ecuadorians love mucho salt – you can ask them not to salt your food), toast of your choice, marmalade, butter, and coffee from beans as opposed to Nescafe (Cubanito and Lojano combined), milk and sugar. On the south side of Bolivar at Padre Aguirre in El Centro. Also serving ice cream outside at an open window. To ensure delivery of your tip, as with any place in Ecuador, make sure you offer it directly to the waiter/waitress. Plan on spending $4-$5. Opens at 9:00 a.m.
Don Colon Sucre 9-14 y Benigno Malo tel. (07)282-9397, facing the south side of the Cathedral at Parque Calderon. Ecuadorian Don Colon had a restaurant in Florida. He enjoys welcoming Norte Americanos and speaking English. Gringo hangout, very basic. Prices $3-$4 for light or full breakfasts.
Don Pedro Alfonso Moreno Mora y Solano facing the Ital Deli. Owner Peter, from Washington state, went all the way to Turkey to buy and ship to Cuenca what is considered the best coffee roaster in the world. He opens at 9 a.m. seven days a week and serves different kinds of organic coffee from Loja and the Yunguilla valley. He also serves Ecuadorian humitas, empanadas, cakes, or cookies. He may expand to serve full breakfast at some time in the future.
Dulce y Cremoso is a delightful place with the energy of light, open seven days, offering six breakfast choices below $5. The American breakfast is bountiful and costs $5 including tax – a beautifully presented fruit plate, eggs with or without cheese, bacon or ham, two mini-baguettes, jam and butter, fresh fruit juice of the day, plus tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. Served 8 am to 11 am. Located on Manuel Calle s/n and Cornelio Merchan in the El Vergel neighborhood a block away from the foreign office. Parking in front. The manager and two of the employees are from Manta (where there are three Dulce y Cremosos). They are very welcoming. Popular with local families, especially mid-morning and on weekends.
Gozo (formerly the Coffee Tree) is always dependable for American breakfasts and fine coffee. Gringo prices. Seating is outside, inside on the ground level, and inside upstairs. Waiter Freddy is adorable. Located on Calle Larga in El Centro, diagonally across from Hotel Victoria.
El Andaluz A favorite of business men in the El Vergel area, ½ block from the Supermaxi, across the street from DHL (which is how I discovered it), and around the block from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office. Fresh, clean, well-managed (owner likes to speak English), $3.50 for full breakfast. Open only on weekdays.
El Espanol at the Mall del Rio. Bountiful breakfasts, variety of choices, tourist prices, expresso machine. Also located at Guayaquil and Quito airports, always reliable.
German Bakery aka Maria’s Alemania opens at 7:30 am at Calle Hermano Miguel 8-13 in El Centro. Owned by Maria a German-Cuencana and Tarsa, her German husband, a certified German baker. Popular with Europeans.
Hotel Crespo dining room – traditional Cuencano hotel (oldest in the city, est. 1942) on Calle Larga in El Centro – quiet, carpeted, overlooking the Tomebamba River and the south part of Cuenca. For all you French toast aficionados, this is the only place I’ve found that serves it other than El Espanol at Mall del Rio, Popacuchu, and San Sebas Cafe; nice service, tranquil environment, no one will find you here. Tryst anyone?
Hotel Victoria – if you are fortunate enough to be staying or living (as some do) at this charming hotel on Calle Larga in Cuenca, look no further, breakfast is a visual treat served on white plates over white linen with an orchid plant to adorn your table – fresh fruit, freshly pressed juice (your choice), eggs, breakfast meats, toasts, butter and marmalade, coffee or tea, served with love and attention by a great staff in a beautiful dining room overlooking the Tomebamba river and up to the hills of Turi. The dining room is open to the public. Tourist prices. Expect to pay $10 or more.
La Caffetera 9-07 Calle Larga at Benigno Malo You might not imagine, with the heavy bus traffic passing by, that inside you will find a clean, tastefully decorated, quiet place serving sweet or savory crepes, waffles, eggs, etc. Extra bonus, fresh flowers on the tables. Owner Mireya and her mother are a delight and their kitchen, which you can get a peak of, is tidy. Opens between 9 and 9:30 a.m. Prices $2.50 to $5.
La Tasca de los Hermanos en Ruta A delightful family-owned Basque restaurant – authentically Spanish, immaculate, welcoming, with breakfast (Lojano coffee, cheese or ham omelettes, toast, butter, marmalade), or you can order a Spanish torta, an egg pie with potatoes, also served from noon when they open, until closing at 10 p.m. Perfect for night owls who sleep in and desire breakfast and coffee from noon on. Great, enthusiastic service. Honorato Vasquez 6-45 and Hermano Miguel in El Centro. Closed on Sundays, Mondays.
Magnolia A quiet environment, inside and outside, at Plaza Otorongo serving local coffee, cappuccinos, omelettes, etc. A combination restaurant, coffee house with options of homemade sweets. Most of the staff speaks English.
Oporto bakery and coffee house owned by the charming Ms. Marta da Silva of Portugal. Have you ever had traditional afternoon toast and tea at Café de Brasiliera in old town Lisbon? If you can eat gluten, look no further, her breads are well… Portuguese. American breakfast, continental breakfast served by a sweet wait staff. A Cuencano favorite for exquisite cakes which you can buy whole or by the slice. Free parking in front. Avenida Jose Peralta at el Estadio around the block from Supermaxi El Vergel.
Oro Verde Hotel dining room, $9 + tax for breakfast buffet…nothing to write home about except for the delightfully pleasant wait staff and the quiet room. Another option is their Gourmet Deli serving Danish pastries, cakes, assorted breads, and coffee; an easy place to sit with your computer or meet up with friends. On Ordonez Lasso across from the Palermo building in Gringolandia.
Panesa on Benigno Malo between Gran Colombia and Bolivar, off Parque Calderon, serves standard fare, is not immaculate, but has sweet girls behind the counter. It’s a favorite of local businessmen and the right price, $3.50 for American breakfast. There’s another Panesa on Gran Colombia going toward Unidad Nacional, not the same, no breakfast served, ditto for the one on Remigo Crespo.
Piero is a tiny, tidy café owned by artist Juan Diego of Loja on Calle Larga between Tomas Ordonez and Manuel Vega serving American or local breakfasts for between $3 and $4. Coffee is from Loja. Piero is around the block from Registro Civil (where you get your cedula) and a sweet spot to sit surrounded by artful wall paintings before your day at the Pumapungo Museum/Banco Central down the street.
Popacuchu Edificio Cuatro Rios, corner of Primero de Mayo and Avenida de las Americas. 7:30 am to 4 pm. Two American pastry chefs, Peter and Michelle, offer super sweet pastries and full American breakfasts for between $5-$6. Good coffee. Thoughtful service. Charming atmosphere. See www.popacuchu.com for full menu.
Punto Avenida de las Americas and Mariscal Lamar on the west side of town, almost across from the west side Supermaxi. A clean, quiet place with flowers on the tables. No WiFi. About $5 with tip for complete American breakfast, choice of juices, and plenty of parking if you drive. Easy place to meet up for coffee and pastries (think white flour, white sugar, old style). Punto is a combination restaurant, bakery, and deli.
Ruta Centenario’s Gorky and Vania (they are Ecuadorian not Russian) have returned to Cuenca after working many years in Quito. Their restaurant is on Benigno Malo 4-96 at Calle Larga (on the descent) and they are proud to serve Americans breakfast with hash browns or pancakes, and lattes. Open at 8 am Monday through Friday.
San Sebas Café Wednesday through Sunday until 3:00 pm at Plaza San Sebastian and Mariscal Sucre in a historic building. American breakfasts and brunches, budget prices and higher prices. Popular for pancakes, especially on Sundays where the wait for your order can be long. Owners are remaining members of the Burton family, dedicated American missionaries. Their sweets display offers some gluten-free options, the menu has both vegetarian and non-vegetarian choices. Popular with Norte Americanos.
Windhorse Café Owned by delightful former Peace Corps volunteers Lucille and Craig. Almost organic everything, some items from their own garden. Yummy hash browns prepared with olive oil and sea salt. Some gluten free pies. WiFi, dependable, inviting, including English-language magazines, a book exchange, and a DVD exchange. Calle Larga in El Centro across from the Escalinatas (the stairs). Open every day but Wednesday and Thursday, 8 am to 3 pm
Yakumama is a hostal and restaurant at Luis Cordero 5-66 in El Centro. Owners are young Swiss brother and sister, Claudio and Isabel. Serving breakfast from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. including rosti!!
Enjoy early morning at your apartment, condo, home, or hotel with choices from the organic market, a local tienda, Coral, the Feria Libre, other public markets, Tienda Nectar, Supermaxi, and bakeries. The ingredients are here for chia seed and yoghurt fruit parfaits, broiled honey and nutmeg grapefruit, banana brûlée quinoa parfait, pumpkin and almond granola, salmon and eggs benedict, coconut mango pancakes, orange ricotta pancakes, strawberry and rhubarb French toast and other morning get up and go temptations.
Note: Hotels and American-run restaurants usually open early for breakfast and serve until 10:00 am, most Ecuadorian places serve breakfast from 9 am to 10 am. Again, ask for eggs and other items without salt unless a major amount of salt is your preference. Best to bring your own sea salt or Himalayan salt.
Wendy Jane Carrel likes to travel the world in search of breakfast, among other pursuits. She has lived or worked in more than 40 countries.