By Maureen & Bruce Stewart & Sylvan Hardy
In business for only four months, Calvo & Co. on Calle Los Alamos, just west of Av. Las Americas, is setting a new standard for sandwiches in Cuenca and more than a few of its newly won fans claim its signature hamburger, made with 100 percent ox tail, is the best they’ve ever eaten.
The quality of Calvo sandwiches, as well its tapas and wraps, is a product of owner José Ibáñez’s Spanish heritage. “The tradition in Valencia, where I come from, is to emphasize the flavors of the meats, the seafood and the vegetables,” he says. “The ingredients are lightly spiced and carefully cooked and we never cover them with sauces.”
In addition to the spices, the one extra ingredient José swears by is Spanish olive oil. “I use it with almost everything because it brings out the taste.”
Calvo & Co. sandwich options — sandwiches are called “bocadillos” in Spain — include a filet of beef, pork, vegetarian, chicken and calamari, all served on specially baked local bread with a variety of seasoned vegetables. Prices range from $5 to $6.50.
In addition to the highly regarded ox tail burger, which comes loaded with mushrooms, sauerkraut, tomato cheddar cheese and bacon ($5.70), there’s a classic hamburger for $5.50.
Calvo’s wraps — shrimp, chicken and vegetarian — come rolled up with with such tasty fillers as guacamole, wasabi, peppers, onions, albahaca, mushrooms and tomato, and are priced from $5.10 to $5.60.
The sandwiches, burgers and wraps come with an order of José’s specially prepared French fries, which also get rave reviews from customers. The potatoes are seasoned for two days before going into the fryer and are served in a metal cone that keeps them warm throughout the meal.
Calvo’s tapas of Galician octopus, eggs with sausage, Bravo’s special potatoes, calamari and the tortilla skewer, are the perfect complement to the sandwiches and wraps, all served in generous portions. Prices range from $4 to $6.
As notable as the food at Calvo’s is the restaurant’s welcoming atmosphere. A culinary whirling dervish, José makes frequent visits to the eight tables in the dining areas, making sure customers are satisfied, eager to explain his food preparation philosophy. “I want Calvo and Company to feel like a neighborhood cafe and I want my guests to feel at home,” he says. “If they are happy, I’m happy.”
José moved to Ecuador six years ago, prompted in part by economic hard times in southern Spain. “There weren’t many good jobs in Valencia then and I was looking for a new adventure and have no regrets about my decision.”
José landed first in Quito, where he worked as a cook and waiter, before discovering Cuenca. “Cuenca reminds me of Valencia in many ways and once I was here I knew I was home,” he says. After working at the Santa Barbara resort in Gualaceo and the Dos Chorreras restaurant next to Cajas National Park, José and his Ecuadorian wife, who he met in Quito, decided to open Calvo. Calvo, by the way, means bold in Spanish and is an apt description for José’s energy and enthusiasm.
Calvo offers a full dessert menu and serves beer and Spanish wine in addition to soft drinks, bottled water and juices.
Calvo & Co. has entrances on both Los Alamos and Av. Las Americas, with off-street parking at the Los Alamos entrance. The restaurant is half a block south of Av. Ordóñez Lasso, just west of the Gran Colombia redondel.
Calvo & Co.: Los Alamos 343 at Arrayan with a second entrance off Av. Las Americas, just south of the Gran Colombia redondel; Phone: 095 879 3723; Hours: 12 noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; Facebook
More recent restaurant reviews: