The food scene in Quito, Ecuador isn’t as glamorous as Buenos Aires, not as trendy as Bogota, nor as original as Lima. It’s often overlooked by South American foodies, though Quito should be considered among the top food scenes on the continent. There are brilliant chefs here doing interesting things with the diverse little country’s many endemic ingredients (try Red Tuna in any form). Even the chain restaurants, backpacker dives, snack shops, street stalls, and markets are inimitable. Here’s a round up of what the foodie should expect in Quito, Ecuador:
FINE DINING RESTAURANTS
Teatrum Restaurant & Wine Bar (Historic Center): On the second floor of the Teatro Nacional Sucre, Teatrum is the most celebrated restaurant in all of Quito. And it should be. Avant Garde Mediterranean cuisine meshes beautifully with local produce. Peruvian born chef Julio Jose Avendaño Ostolaza offers two 5-course tasting menus at $38 each. *FYI: They offer free transportation to/from your hotel with a lunch or dinner reservation. www.theatrum.com.ec.
Alkimia (La Floresta): While I didn’t have the best meal at Alkimia, I’m pretty sure it was just an off night. The restaurant from the owners of Teatrum has been well received. The atmosphere is certainly beautiful and the gourmet plates show considerable influence from Peru. www.alkimiarestaurante.com. Read our review of Alkimia here.
Zazu (La Floresta): A meal at Zazu might just be the best fine dining experience in Quito. Peruvian chef Alexander Laud is known for using fresh, local ingredients, which results in a sort of Peruvian-Ecuadorian fusion. The wine list is superb. www.zazuquito.com. Read our review of Zazu here.
Astrid y Gaston (La Floresta): One of Peruvian celebrity chef Gaston Acurio’s first offshoots of his famed Lima restaurant was this Quito location. Having undergone a renovation in 2009, the restaurant is back on track serving contemporary Peruvian food. www.astridygaston.com
Mea Culpa (Historic Center): One of the most classic fine dining restaurants in Quito overlooks the Plaza de San Francisco. Very formal and serves classical Mediterranean dishes. www.meaculpa.com.ec
Alma (Bellavista): Set high on the Quito hillside overlooking the city near the Guayasamin museums, Alma opened in 2009 to much fanfare. There are two tasting menus available at the chef’s table (Mesa del Chef): an 8-course slow food menu for $34 and a 6 course vegetarian menu for $28. www.alma.com.ec
Uncle Ho’s (Mariscal): This Southeast Asian restaurant is one of the better options in the Mariscal for a low-budget meal. It almost seems like chain, but ingredients are fresh, the menu is varied (and even includes a few Ecuadorian dishes), its friendly, and its clean. www.unclehos.com.
Dejame Que Te Cuente (Mariscal): Straightforward Peruvian dishes, elegantly served, for extremely reasonable prices. A great restaurant that probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
La Boca del Lobo (Mariscal): The design and décor of this restaurant is the most creative in the city. It’s a strange mix of painted glass, bright colors, a large tree that grows through the roof, and various knickknacks. The food is mostly small plates and they go well with drinks. Cool place to hang out.
Mama Clorinda (Mariscal): The most typical Ecuadorian restaurant in the Mariscal, the two level Mama Clorinda is clean, often crowded, and serves traditional plates from around the country such as llapingachos (potato pancakes), Cuy (guinea pig), Guatita (beef with peanuts and potatos), and Yahuarlocro (cow’s foot soup).
STREETFOOD & SNACKS
Guayapernil (Mariscal) This small shop of the same name sells this Guayaquil style Pork sandwich with purple onion and a side of crispy chicharron, or pork skin.
Schwarma (Mariscal) If you’re on a tight budget in the Mariscal, a $1.50 schwarma sold at dozens of small street side eateries, is your best ticket to a full belly.
Yogurt & Pan de Yuca(All Over Town): Yogurt de las Amazonas, Cassava’s, and Yogurt Persa all sell variations of Pan de Yuca (cassava bread) with yogurt in dozens of flavors ranging from classic to unusual Amazonian fruits.
Queseras de Bolivar (La Floresta): This cheese coop sells a range of Swiss style and Andean cheeses (Camembert, Gruyere, Tilsit, etc), as well as organic vegetables, and chocolate that are produced near Salinas.
Kallari (Mariscal): This indigenous Kiwicha farmer’s coop that completely runs and operates their own single origin artisanal chocolate company has a small shop and lounge at Wilson and Juan Mera in the heart of the Mariscal. You can have a cup of coffee, pick up a few bars of chocolate, or buy gifts direct from the farmers. www.kallari.com.
Gianduja (Near Airport): American chocolatier Jeff Stern’s chocolate factory, where he produces his Aequare Chocolate bars and gourmet truffles using exotic local ingredients, also gives chocolate making lessons that are cheaper and more intimate than anything else you will find in Quito. *Read our interview with Jeff stern here.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.