I ate at 15 different Mexican restaurants so you don’t have to. I chewed the beef. I digested the tacos. I sank various Mexican beers. I chowed down on burritos. Through it all, I kept my focus on the primary mission, to find the best Mexican restaurant in Cuenca…
Now, when I say ‘Mexican’, I gave a generously wide berth for what could fall under this umbrella. I included hole-in-the-wall taco shops, sit-down restaurants, street food style eateries, Tex-Mex places, lunch-only diners, and more.
In general, I tried to order a burrito if they offered it, otherwise, I’d get tacos or tortilla soup (called Sopa Azteca here). Trying to measure all of these restaurants by the same stick was difficult because what I might love about a Mexican or Tex-Mex place, you might not. Some people might want to eat a burrito with a knife and fork, others might want to spill taco contents all over their plates (and shirts), and others might want the most bang for their buck. Personally, I prioritised taste.
I did my best to record or remember the prices of these restaurants too, so you can budget a nice meal out.
Map of Mexican Restaurants in Cuenca
Here’s a map to help you find your next Mexican fix in Cuenca. If I’ve made a video on the restaurant, it will show when you click on that restaurant.
Without further delay, here’s a countdown of my top five favourite ‘Mexican’ restaurants in Cuenca.
5. La Taqueria 57 – Soup Champion
This was the 14th restaurant I visited, although it was initially 10th on my to-do list. The issue was, when I went the first time, the restaurant was full to capacity, with a queue down the street! I was so impressed that I swore to come back on a quieter day when I’d have the place to myself and could enjoy the food in peace. I’m so glad I did go back, as the food was very impressive. I asked the waitress to ask the chef to make my shrimp and beef burrito ($12.50) as SPICY as possible! As the beads of sweat ran down my forehead, I gave the all-important thumbs up and passed on my thanks. However, it wasn’t the best burrito of the series (we’ll get to that).
What earned La Taqueria a place in my top five was the Sopa Azteca. This was by far the best (and most expensive) soup I’ve had since moving to Latin America, and at $6.80, it was very much a luxury. The soup was huge and packed full of cheese, crunchy tortilla strips, chicken, and avocado. When it was first set down in front of me, I thought it was strange, as there was no liquid. The waitress then poured the boiling broth over the contents of the bowl, melting the cheese in the process. I enjoyed this very much.
Affordability: A starter, main, and a drink will cost around $20, making this more of a luxury luncheon…
Where to find La Taqueria 57
- Address: Cotopaxi 5-49 y Imbabura, Cuenca
- Phone: +593998918692
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/lataqueriaec/
4. Carnales – Best Budget Burrito
Carnales was a late entrant, being the 13th Mexican restaurant I reviewed. However, it comfortably deserves its place on this list for two reasons – it’s incredibly cheap and it’s very delicious!
There was a solid range of Mexican-style meats, including chicken, beef, and pork, as well as a customisable menu for tacos and a full specials board. Carne guisado, pollo asado, and al pastor can all be found. Whilst there, I bumped into three friends, which hasn’t happened yet on the series and shows that this little joint, which does in-house and takeaway food, is a secret gem in Cuenca.
It’s very much ‘no frills’ and the food speaks for itself. Located near the cemetery to the east of the centre, it’s not such a big journey on foot and is worth the walk.
*P.S I’ve been back twice since making my review and each time the restaurant and the takeout counter have been full of smiling locals chowing down on excellent Mexican food.
Affordability: I went with a friend and we ordered 2 burritos and 4 tacos, as well as two soft drinks. The total bill was $10. Just $10 for all that!
Where to find Carnales Mexican Grill
- Address: Av. González Suárez 8-58, Cuenca
- Phone: +593984348665
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/Carnales-Mexican-Grill-111850476855287
3. Chula Birria – Best Presentation
If any of the 15 restaurants I visited in this series could be described as ‘gourmet’, then it would be Chula Birria. Slow-roasted meats that are prepared the day before. Garnishes and presentations that make the food look beautiful. A host who carefully explains the love and care that goes into the ingredients, preparations, and menu design. This all combines into a great foodie experience.
Located in the south of Cuenca, not far from the Botanical Garden, I feel that location might be their biggest drawback. It’s on the opposite side of the city from Gringolandia and not quite close enough to the centre for most people to walk to. Put this restaurant, its food, and its menu on Calle Larga and they might end up one of the city’s most cherished restaurants. I feel that because of where they are, it will take some time for the word to spread about their quality and for people to make the journey.
Affordability: I think this was the second-most expensive restaurant in the whole series, however, the portion sizes were so generous that it’s the only place where I couldn’t finish my food and ended up taking a doggy bag home with me.
Where to find Chula Birria
- Address: Avenue Francisco Moscoso, Cuenca
- Phone: +593983760304
- Website: https://chulabirria.negocio.site/
2. El Nopal – Most Authentic
There’s one thing that El Nopal did better than any other Mexican restaurant in my series: ice tea. Now, you might think ‘who cares?’, but the answer would be ‘me’. I care. I care because there are a lot of people who don’t drink alcohol, and who want to find delicious and refreshing soft drinks to accompany their meals. In that department, El Nopal hit it out of the park.
What else do they do well? Fabulously long burritos! I’d love to know where they get their big tortilla wraps because these things are massive. I took my girlfriend to El Nopal and her burrito was bigger than her arm! (see image above). She managed half of it.
The restaurant is run by two Mexican brothers, who have decorated the place very well, giving it a colourful, vibrant theme that is matched by a great soundtrack (I enjoy mariachi at dinner). I’ve been here twice and there have not been many other people in the restaurant, which might be down to its location, a few blocks behind Remigio Crespo. I think if they were in the historical centre, had a couple of friendly waitresses, and created a bit more atmosphere, people would be raving about them!
Affordability: On the expensive side, a starter, drinks, and two mains are likely to be in excess of $30.
Where to find El Nopal
- Address: Gonzalo Cordero Dávila 4-31, Cuenca
- Phone: +593979394438
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/ElNopalrestaurante/
1. Laredo’s – Best in Show
I want to congratulate Laredo’s in Plaza Otorongo for being (by my judgement) the greatest and best Mexican restaurant in Cuenca. Everything here was just perfect for me. The walls are covered in Mexican artwork, the likeable waiters greet you as you come in, there is a cool mezzanine to look over the restaurant, and there is outdoor seating too.
I ordered a special taco that had both a crispy shell and a soft flour shell, creating a great texture combination to complement the fantastic flavours. Whilst eating, they brought my friend David and me some complimentary shots of Tequila, much to my liking. As well as the taco, I ordered a burrito, which was EXACTLY as a burrito should be (in my humble opinion). It was hot, it was handheld and wrapped in foil, it had rice inside, and it was tightly packed (loose burritos can go in the bin). On top of that, David ordered nachos, which were the second-best nachos in the series (after Chula Birria) – totally smothered in cheese.
One thing that totally surprised me is that the chef-come-owner is from Ohio! What is an American doing cooking Mexican food in the Sierra of Ecuador? He’s married to a lovely Cuenca, of course! Thanks to Christian for answering my questions and sharing his story.
Affordability: Starter, drinks, and a meal for two people can be easily done for under $20, a bargain in Cuenca’s Mexican restaurant scene.
Where to find Laredo’s:
- Address: Otorongo Plaza, Cuenca
- Phone: +593939173689
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/Laredos-100702798227996
Verdict: My Journey to Find Cuenca’s Mexican Food King
When I started this series, I wanted to find the definitive best Mexican restaurant for me and for my tastes. I found it at Laredo’s. In fact, this was the best Mexican food I’ve had outside of Mexico. Now, I don’t really need to visit the other 14 places, but there are a few I will, especially El Nopal. El Nopal is close to my home and I really like the food. Shoutout to El Milagrito, which was the best lunch I had, with their tortería menu offering something quite unique here. Chula Birria was also great, but unless an expensive place totally takes my breath away, I likely won’t go back.
At the other end of the scale, some of the restaurants on the list were quite disappointing. In fact, there’s one whose name I have totally omitted as I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night recommending anybody to go there. Cuenca residents might figure out which restaurant that is by the method of deduction.
Cuenca’s Newest Mexican
To wrap up (this juicy burrito of an article), I’d like to extend my thanks to Cuenca’s newest and most interactive Mexican restaurant, which was the subject of the final video in my series. Santa Cruz, located on Remigio Crespo and Esmeralda, hosted me at their launch party and I was the recipient of a delicious FREE menu. Since a man of integrity can never be bought, I couldn’t include them in the rankings, but time will tell if their food lives up to the bill. It’s certainly a place you’ll want to visit, with a live mariachi band playing four times a week, mouth-watering deserts, and the second-best Sopa Azteca I’ve had here.
More Mexican Restaurant Videos
Still wondering about the other Mexican options that didn’t quite make this list? There are some great restaurants here and I encourage you to give them a go.
Whilst I consider visiting 15 Mexican restaurants in Cuenca a very solid effort, I know there are several more that I couldn’t get to. I’d love it if you leave a mini-review of your favorite Mexican restaurant here in Cuenca – especially if it’s one that I haven’t been to, yet…
It would be nice to have a list of the other resturants and a brief review of them as well.
Thanks for the feedback Bill. The other restaurants can be seen in the map (click on each one for a video) & video thumbnails at the bottom. The videos provide an overview of each. When Joseph publishes the final 4 videos, I’ll upload them too. We couldn’t include text reviews of all 15 restaurants because the article is very long as it is.
I am one of those guys that prefers to read than watch videos. A quick paragraph summary is always useful and then I (and others I imagine) can decide to watch a video