My first apartment when I moved to Cuenca 6 years ago was in El Vergel. We would head over to Santa Anita Park just a few blocks away where a few lonely food joints were set up on the perimeter: A middle eastern restaurant and one that served chicken wings, both of which subsequently disappeared. Over the years we continued to pop over for lunch occasionally because it’s a pleasant little park near where our friend Spencer lives and where my cigar-smoking friends could sit back outside after lunch and indulge their tobacco cravings and watch the kids playing on the jungle gym equipment.
I moved away to another part of town for years and just recently returned to live in El Vergel.
In the interim, we discovered that the entire neighborhood including Santa Anita Park, has transformed into a mecca of many excellent culinary choices. This joyful proliferation of new restaurants and shops has occurred all over Cuenca as the economy recovered from the pandemic. But the explosion of high-quality places around this park is worth digging into the detail.
So, I developed some write-ups for each restaurant and food shop that I think most expats will learn about here for the first time.
Group 1 places all sit around the park itself and appear in alphabetical order and I think I captured all of them. Most of the restaurants offer outside seating and have delightful views of parents and kids playing on the grass or teenagers playing basketball.
Group 2 includes excellent choices just a few blocks away from the park. Group 2 includes some of my favorites but is by no means a comprehensive listing of all the good places to eat in the neighborhood. We’ll include Group 2 in a future article in approx 3 weeks. Stay tuned.
So, let’s stroll over to the park and kick off our tour of gluttony….
Parque Santa Anita
The park is easy to find by turning right off of Av. Paucarbamba at Clinica Paucarbamba on to Rafael Torres Beltran and then continue just a few blocks until you run right into the park on your right-hand side.
Some of the restaurants appear in the map below. For many, I included a link to Google Maps but I don’t provide street because you can find all these places easily by taking a fun, short spin around the park which is fun to do.
Sometimes we head over to the park without having decided on a restaurant and decide where to eat after we get there. Yes, we realize how spoiled that makes us appear.
Group One consists of all the food businesses and restaurants located right on Parque Santa Anita. These are listed below in alphabetical order. Note, if a business didn’t respond to our request for information or we were disappointed with the service provided, we have not included that business in our round-up below.
Asai bar features healthy-sounding and looking dishes. Fruits, nuts, and granola items including Bowls with Asai, Paninis, Coffees, and Teas. “Smoothie Bowls” are a favorite. See the first photo below for the display menu. Very friendly staff including owner Sofia Serano.
Where to find Asai Bar
Déjame que te Cuente Chocolate & Pastry
This shop purveys superbly satisfying chocolate products that also make great gifts. Chocoholics especially should absolutely look at their Instagram page’s enticing videos but don’t do it in public or your vibrating body may cause you and others embarrassment.
Their chocolate candies, bonbons, alfajores, and other indulgences are extremely high quality (and pricey). And I have succumbed to their temptations many times.
Where to find Déjame que te Cuente
dnuezz Boutique de Pasteles
Cakes, cookies, sandwiches, breads, tarts, and pies: a wide variety of carbohydrate quota busters.
Where to find dnuezz
Hamburgo Prime Meats
This company is not a restaurant but sells specialty cuts of meat. It was formed by a group of young entrepreneurs who love good meat. The company is dedicated to the commercialization of premium cuts with quality service. Among their cuts are lomo fino, picaña, entraña, rib eye, steak, colita de cuadril, and specialty hamburgers. They also offer complementary products like wines.
Belén Ruiz, General Commercial Manager indicated that their premium cuts are imported from the USA, Uruguay, Japan, and Australia. In addition, two of the most popular cuts are Prime USA Picaña and Uruguayan/Japanese Ribeye Wagyu
I was pleased with the order I placed with these guys several years ago and it would appear from the photos that their quality has remained consistent or even improved. I have resolved to place an order again soon to test my theory.
Where to find Hamburgo
Helados La Tienda
Helados La Tienda is a small, Cuenca chain that is famous for its dixie cup style ice cream palitos (on a stick). Their location in Parque Santa Anita also serves a selection of sandwiches, bread, cookies, empanadas, coffee, and desserts like chocolate cake, caramel cake, and pecan pie.
Where to find Helados La Tienda
Latida Gastro Bar
Latida Gastro is another of my favorites in the park and for 3 primary reasons: 1. The best hamburger I have eaten in Cuenca 2. A really intriguing fusion menu and 3. A sleek and cool design.
There are lots of other things to recommend it, too. For example, the food is excellent and diners have a choice of outdoor and indoor seating.
According to owner Rafael Berrezueta, some of the most popular dishes include beef Ossobuco cooked for a loooong time and served with a 4 cheese risotto and green leaves. Another is Seared Octopus served with avocado tartar, mango, Lao sauce, Gazpacho, and smoked Paprika Oil. The whole menu is full of creative and delicious new combinations and the kitchen delivers a creative culinary experience.
My favorite appetizers are marinated olives (big variety) in honey and spices served with fresh bread made from masa de la madre.
As a bonus for soccer fans, Latida shows the Ecuador national team games on their big screens while offering 2-for-1 drink prices.
Where to find Latida Gastro Bar
Origen Bistro’s menu features various, gourmet burgers, sandwiches, and exquisite snacks. According to management, they use only high-quality ingredients to create dishes that satisfy the most demanding palates.
“From classic burgers to more creative options, our dishes are presented with a touch of elegance. The cocktail menu offers delicious and refreshing drinks that perfectly complement the dining experience. In addition, our cafeteria offers high-quality coffee and delicious desserts for those who wish to finish their meal or enjoy a moment of relaxation.”
It also features musical entertainment and soccer nights.
My own dining experience was quite positive so I suggest you give them a try.
Crowd-pleasing dishes include these bestseller sandwiches:
- Santa: 150gr. of beef, classic or house bread, kale, mozzarella cheese, meat, classic or homemade bread, kale, mozzarella cheese, Spanish sausage, chopped tomato and olive oil.
- Origen: 150gr. of meat, classic or house bread, lettuce, tomato, apple, blue or sheep cheese, crispy bacon, and arugula.
- French Dip: Spanish on house bread, slow-cooked beef, bacon, caramelized onions, blue cheese, lettuce, and tomato. (Note – This is not the “French Dip” sandwich you may remember from the U.S. This sandwich does not compare readily to the thinly sliced, hot beef on an Italian roll)
- Pulled Mushroom: Spanish or house bread, fresh dehydrated mushrooms, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, cheddar cheese, sweet and sour pickles.
Where to find Origen Bistro
Primitivo Artisan Bakery
Owner Fabián Vélez proudly declares that Primitivo Artisan Bakery specializes in producing bakery and pastry products exclusively with cultivated, sourdough using masa del madre dough. The products are free of additives and preservatives and 100% natural.
Shoppers may take advantage of its cafeteria which serves specialty coffee, sandwiches, pizzeria, ice cream, and pastries.
Everything is handmade with only natural and organic ingredients. Primitivo does not use enhancers or food additives of any kind.
This season one of their star products is the Italian Panettone, using the Piedmontese method. A regular favorite is croissants made strictly with the French technique.
The products I have purchased there have been excellent and I recommend this place.
They don’t currently distribute a standard menu so your best bet is to visit. However, the photos below will give you a pretty good idea of what you will find there. They have another location on Primero Del Mayo.
Where to find Primitivo Artisan Bakery
SIVAR Pupusas Salvadoreñas
Orlando Altamirano from the restaurant’s management team says: “We are a restaurant of typical Salvadorian food unique in the city of Cuenca. We are open Tuesday to Thursday from 3 pm to 9 pm and Friday/Saturday from 12 pm to 10 pm. “
“Our most popular dishes are Salvadorian “Pupusas” (corn tortillas filled with beans, cheese, chicharron, mixed, chicken, shrimp, and other delicacies) We also have a vegetarian version: carrots, asparagus, zucchini, etc. All these are accompanied by our natural tomato sauce and coleslaw.”, according to Orlando.
Their most popular snack dish is an Enchilada: A toasted corn tortilla, covered with a layer of refried beans, beef or chicken, avocado, pickle, a slice of hard-boiled egg with coleslaw, and natural tomato sauce.
Where to find SIVAR Pupusas Salvadoreñas
Télicioso Tea Room & Coffee
According to management, “Our menu is varied and we try to make our dishes balanced and tasty. We have some vegetarian, vegan, and wheat flour-free options. We also offer many different teas, local and imported, teas by weight.“
Two of their most popular dishes include:
- Yucca waffle with ice cream and yucca bread served with blackberry Greek yogurt and fresh strawberries.
- A delicious apple pie with cranberries and pecans.
Where to find Télicioso Tea Room & Coffee
I wrote this piece to draw attention to a terrific opportunity to expand your view of available dining options focused in the El Vergel neighborhood. And I hope you enjoyed reading about all the different cuisines and food shops all conveniently concentrated close together in my neighborhood and the easy-to-find Parque Santa Anita.
This article covered all the establishments located at Parque Santa Anita. Be on the lookout for our future piece of “Group 2” where I share some of my favorites that are within easy walking distance.
If you are even a little bit adventurous, I am confident you will find something new and different to wake up your tastebuds and please your palate.
If you have a favorite El Vergel restaurant that wasn’t included, please share it with us in the comments and tell us why you like it.
Buen provecho everybody!