Ecuador Food: Cotacachi Restaurants
When I think of Ecuador food and Cotacachi restaurants, what immediately comes to mind is corn, potatoes, beans, hominy, chicken, potatoes and rice. These are the staples you find on most menus and daily specials served in restaurants all over Cotacachi.
This is also the sort of food that is regularly dished up at any kind of festival, fair, celebration or indigenous party we've attended. There's always so much piled onto my plate that I can never eat it all. Filling and tasty.
A typical restaurant meal will also include a nice big bowl of soup. My favorite is locro de queso, a thick hearty blend of potatoes and herbs topped with slices of avocados and chunks of soft white cheese. I could eat it every day and frequently do.
The best locro de queso in Cotacachi, in my opinion, is served at a restaurant on Calle Bolivar and 9 de Octubre, one block from the big church on the square--Veraneante Restaurant. It's run by younger members of the family who owns Lenador, an excellent restaurant on Sucre.
Other common soups are chicken broth or chicken and vegetable broth. Sometimes the soup will come with big chunks of potatoes, yucca or a half piece of corn on the cob, which then is called a "caldo." I've often had to do some serious navigating with a fork and knife to wrestle these soup ingredients into something small enough to fit into my mouth.
During Easter week or Semana Santa, another very special soup is served in homes and restaurants all over Ecuador. It's called fanesca. This very thick, rich soup, actually more stew than soup, can take days to prepare and I think it includes every soup ingredient possible - all kinds of beans, up to 12 different beans that represent the 12 disciples, plus grain, corn, plantain, vegetables, garlic and spices. It's topped with boiled egg, salt codfish, cheese and nuts.
Even though Cotacachi is chock-full of restaurants, finding a vegetarian meal can be difficult. Meat is the order of the day with beef and pork often predominant. Chicken, fish (tilapia, sea bass, trout), pork skin, chicken feet - surprising things are liable to show up on your plate. Cuy, or guinea pig, is a prized meat and commands a high price, more than a good steak.
With the influx of newcomers from all parts of the world into Cotacachi, expats are opening their own restaurants. Cotacachi restaurants have begun to serve more salads, instead of the usual small servings of iceberg lettuce with a few vegetables. Vegetables have been something of an after-thought - a little pile of cold, cooked, slivered carrots or beets, some broccoli.
I really love the shredded, pickled beets that are sometimes served. Most of the time you'll be served French fries.
Cotacachi Restaurants Owned by Ecuadorians
I'm not much of a meat-eater, but every now and then I get a craving for a mouth-watering chateaubriand that will only set me back about $12 at Lenador, a Cotacachi restaurant on Calle Sucre a block west of the stop light on 10 de Agosto, or fresh fish from the coast that is delivered here every other week. We can get giant langostino, crabs, all kinds of fish, and many varieties of shrimp. Lenador is one of the better restaurants in town, but their recent price increase have kind of priced me out of the market, except for special occasions.
D'Anita's is a nice family-run eatery that is now located on 10 de Agosto. The restaurant that they owned previously on Gonzales Suares is now being operated by Luis, the indigenous tour guide who also owns a small grocery store down by the market.
D'Anita's serves better food than many of the Ecuadorian restaurants, although prices have increased since the move.
Another Ecuadorian restaurant is Colors and Flavors, owned and operated by Susy, a former staffer of La Mirage. The decor reflects the tastes of the owners of La Mirage, with masks on the walls and beautifully appointed tables. The food is a bit pricier than most restaurants, but I love the ambiance and the desserts are yummy. They have a really good personal pizza and the quishe is exceptional.
La Turista is located between leather street and 9 de Octubre. It's really popular with Ecuadorians as the prices are good and the servings large. I like their great big servings of chicken spaghetti. I sometimes order their hamburgesas, which are also quite a lot to eat. The hamburgers are good but a little unusual, with cucumber slices instead of pickles and processed ham slices.
At the high end of the Cotacachi restaurant scale is La Mirage, a 5-star restaurant that presents the ultimate dining experience. Choreographed to perfection, the La Mirage staff begins your meal with the presentation of ornamented wooden music boxes that hold hors d'oeuvres. Each course is dramatically presented in domed serving dishes. The desserts are confectionary wonders - delicately-meringued rose petals, chocolate cake, crepes.
La Mirage serves lunch and dinner, with prices beginning around $35. Reservations are suggested. I love the elaborate dining rooms stuffed with tables of blooming orchids, heavily-carved antique furniture, paintings and ceilings covered with cupids.
An expat recently opened a pizza restaurant, Capitan Ed's just across the street from Land of the Sun Inn. The thin crust is outstanding. Check it out. A very large pizza will run about $12 with a couple of toppings. He also offers spaghetti.
Cotacachi Gringo Restaurants
Industrious expats have opened several restaurants. First was Serendipity on Gonzales Suarez, the inspiration of an artist from Florida. She draped striped fabric on the ceiling, painted the metal door and window deep orange and hung out her colorful sign.
She was immediately inundated with business, especially from single expat men who can't get enough of her home-cooked meatloaf, hamburgers, lasagna and large North American salads. Another expat makes some of her desserts-scrumptious brownies and carrot cake, while Nancy whips up tiramisu that never stays around very long.
Serendipity also sells hard-to-find things like fresh ginger and spirulina. Good art and crafts fill the walls and shelves and there are used books and used movies to exchange.
Serendipity was sold in early 2012 to two male partners, one who is Italian. While the menu remains somewhat the same, new Italian dishes have been added to the menu. The restaurant was also enlarged with lots of new art work added to the decor. For those of us who have lived in Cotacachi for a long time, Serendipity has been a breath of fresh air. I almost died and went to heaven when I ordered my first plate of meat loaf and mashed potatoes.
Next came the Solid Rock on Diez de Agosto, which offers another wide range of international dishes. I'm in heaven because now I can enjoy more-creative feasting than when we first moved to Cotacachi. Gotta watch the waist line more than before. Solid Rock puts out a great breakfast.
Two expats are partnering on a fried chicken restaurant called Klippers. It was in the same compound as Solid Rock, but moved to a location on the main square. This is a KFC style chicken, but for my money is better. They now have three of these restaurants and are looking for more locations.
Little restaurants come and go with amazing frequency. Our favorite dive with $1 roasted chicken dinners has closed, even though the chicken was absolutely delectable and the price unbelievable.
There was a Chinese restaurant for a short time but the Chinese owners are long-gone because the food wasn't very good. Every dish tasted exactly the same.
Another "comedor" restaurant near San Francisco church closed for awhile, but then re-opened just a half block west of 10 de Agosto. They have a great fixed lunch meal for $2.50, along with some menu items. This is very typical Ecuadorian food, really cheap and good.
An American couple bought a little grill called Trebol just a couple of doors west of the stop light on Sucre. It's a tiny hole in the wall but they are reputed to put out the best hamburgers in town, along with buritos and buffalo wings. Great food!
The latest addition to Cotacachi cusine is a Russian restaurant, Kalinka, with an honest to goodness authentic Russian chef. If you are in the market for pirogis, sauerkraut, chicken Kiev, borscht, cabbage rolls, and a wide variety of main dishes and desserts, check this restaurant out. Olga sends out an email to her mailing list every day announcing the every changing menu. If you can't find it, ask someone for directions. If you want to get on her email list, write to email@example.com.
People often ask if it is safe to eat salads in Cotacachi, due to the water. Well, the simple truth is that Cotacachi has some of the best water in Ecuador, and will compare favorably with most U.S. water systems. Nevertheless, I'm not going to tell you that you won't get sick. The problem tends to be food handling.
Frankly, I've occasionally gotten sick after eating in most of the restaurants in Cotacachi, including the best. About the only thing you can do is follow you instincts. If the chicken or fish seems a little off, don't eat it. And watch to see if they take the salsa out of the refrigerator or off of another table. The fact is that most of the kitchen help is not trained to know when food is bad. That's why we say, bring the grapefruit seed extract.
I look forward to an ever-expanding sampling of good food as more and more restaurants make their appearance on the Cotacachi culinary scene.