Any time anyone asks why I love Cuenca, why I came here, or why I continue to stay, one point comes up: it’s a city that’s big enough for my needs without being overwhelmingly large. After eight years in Toronto, I had done the big city thing and wanted to scale down. Still, the city girl in me needs enough places to go out, bars to try, patios to frequent, and a good choice of restaurants serving up a variety of cuisine. Food is life and over the past couple of months, I set out to get a little more familiar with one category of cuisine in Cuenca: vegetarian food.
I’m not a vegetarian, although meat doesn’t feature super heavily in my diet. As much as I love my traditional Ecuadorian foods—pollo a la planche and hornado have a special place in my heart—sometimes I just crave a lighter option. I love the almuerzos in Cuenca, of course, but sometimes the dusting of salad doesn’t quite cut it. (I say this with love and endearment.) And sure, I may not have the vegetarian or vegan stamp of approval, but I need a fresh, fibrous, vitamin-rich diet just as much as the next person.
So, if you’re like me and like to keep the lunch and dinner options varied, I’ve put together a quick round-up of some solid, vegetarian options across the city. Note: these restaurant recommendations are some of my personal favorites and while many of them serve up well-rounded vegetarian food, they’re not all exclusively vegetarian restaurants. (In fact, they’re not even all restaurants as I’ve included one delivery caterer.) That means that you can opt for something veggie and in some cases, you’ll be able to bring your meat-eater friend along to dine. That’s good news for your body and your social life—win, win! OK, here are some of the recommendations…
Discover Middle Eastern Flavors
Ok, I love a good falafel. I adore a flavourful, tabouli salad and I need all the hummus, always. Salatim Falafel is therefore a new go-to of mine. It’s healthy, it’s got plenty of solid vegetarian options, and there’s no such thing as a boring salad in this place. (I have no time for a measly iceberg lettuce salad with sparse amounts of tomato and cucumber. No.) Salatim Falafel is a fabulous restaurant in Cuenca in the south a stone’s throw away from Remigio Crespo. It’s got a cute outdoor patio for those who prefer to catch the sun’s rays before an inevitable Cuenca downpour. As for the menu, this one features Middle Eastern foods with a variety of salads and veggie-based sides to choose from. I’m talking beets in tahini, eggplant and olives, flavourful carrot dishes, and yummy cous cous. I recommend the falafel balls for sure. I generally order extra if I know I’m going to the mountain the next day because those are the ultimate mountain fuel, in my opinion.
Where to find Salatim Falafel
Delicious and Filling Vegetarian Fare in a Charming Setting
If I had to choose one place on this list as the first place I’ll return to, I think it would be Govindas. The food is delicious, healthy, and filling. I think to non-vegetarians or vegans, sometimes vegetarian restaurants might get the reputation or give off an impression as being too health-focused and therefore lacking in some way… or not filling enough. That’s not the case at Govinda’s—seriously the food here is quite delicious! I’ve had a nice velvety pumpkin soup, noodles, and salads here and everything has been packed with flavor and completely satisfying. You can tell a lot of love has gone into this restaurant with the recipes and cooking, of course, but also the decor, the patio, and just the friendly vibe you’ll pick up on upon entering this space. I think the owners deserve a lot of credit for the patio. With its little blue-trimmed doors and blooming flowers, Govindas is just really, really pretty. There are plenty of reasons why this place gets packed at lunch so the crowds are all the proof you need that this is an excellent restaurant in Cuenca. I’m aiming to make it a regular almuerzo spot for myself.
Where to find Govinda’s
A Coffee Lover’s Haven with Scrumptious Vegetarian Options
If you’re living in Cuenca, you hopefully know Ñucallacta. There’s so much to like about this place: the coffee (duh), the breakfast (that goes without saying), the outdoor seating in the new Loja location which is spacious and quiet, and the vegetarian menu items. This is a great choice for when I have lunch plans with a vegetarian friend and/or when I’m in the mood for something healthy and substantial. My go-to’s would be the vegetarian burritos (of the burritos I’ve had in Cuenca, these are one of my favorites), pancakes, or the verde waffle. And while I don’t follow a vegan diet, it’s worth noting that this menu does an excellent job of including a variety of vegan options. On a recent day here, I ordered lunch, enjoyed deep belly laughs with a friend, and appreciated the sunshine in the garden, and the adorable kittens who played in the yard. It was so relaxed that I stayed for another juice and a coffee. This place just pulls me in and has me wanting to stay!
Where to find Café Ñucallacta
- El Centro location: Hermano Miguel Exterior:5-62, Cuenca
- Av Loja location: Av. Loja 2320, Cuenca
- WhatsApp: +593986190490
Fina’s Arepas y Empanadas
Indulge in Arepas and Empanadas, Vegetarian Style
I’m including this one because I think Cuenca’s vegetarians deserve to try the city’s best arepas and because this spot located near Remigio Crespo has a lot on its menu that makes this spot worth a visit. This is definitely a place I’d bring a vegetarian friend to because while not a space that specifically serves vegetarian foods only (it’s an arepa place, of course, meat’s on the menu), there are so many meatless options on the menu that are absolutely delicious. If you’re sick of salads or restaurants that serve up lackluster vegetarian options, head to Fina’s Arepas instead. You can’t really go wrong with queso fresco, beans, avocados, and maduro. These arepas and empanadas are definitely an indulgence food that I regularly crave.
Where to find Fina’s Arepas y Empanadas
Exploring Thai-Inspired Vegetarian Delights in Cuenca
This is one of Cuenca’s best-known vegetarian restaurants. Or, at least it came up in almost every conversation I had with friends while researching this piece. Given all the buzz, I popped by for a visit one evening. After cloudy, fall-like Cuenca weather, I welcomed the idea of a Thai green curry with tofu. It came accompanied by a salad in a peanut sauce which was delicious. Given Nandala’s location near Parque de la Madre and the banks of the Tomebamba River, I can see this being the kind of spot I’d return to after something active like a walk along the river or a run in the park. You know, on those days when I want to keep things healthy across the board.
Where to find Nandala Cocina Vegana
Mother And Son Family Kitchen
Convenient and Healthy Vegetarian Catering in Cuenca
I work as a freelancer and truth be told, it’s often chaos. Total chaos. When work piles up and I hit a week of back-to-back deadlines, one of the first things to go is the time I spend shopping for, preparing, and cleaning up after meals. A couple of months ago, I came across Mother and Son Family Kitchen. These Cuenca-based caterers are going to be a lifesaver for me in the future. Think home-cooked and healthy meals delivered to your doorstep. Plus, they have freezer-friendly options for when you need something at the ready. Another thing that I liked about this service is that there’s a wide selection of vegetarian options from pureed vegetable soups like carrot or tomato basil, to vegetarian chili, to veggie lasagnas or cannelloni (which I’d personally recommend). The owners of this spot are also responsive, friendly, organized, and efficient. I’d definitely recommend this food to anyone who has a similar lifestyle to what I’ve described here about mine.
Where to find Mother And Son Family Kitchen
In closing, our journey through Cuenca’s vegetarian delights is just the beginning. To stay updated on more culinary adventures, sign up for our mailing list. We’d love to share tips, recommendations, and exciting discoveries straight to your inbox.
And now, we want to hear from you! Comment below with your favorite vegetarian options in Cuenca. Whether it’s a cozy cafe or a hidden gem, share your top picks, and let’s build a community of food enthusiasts celebrating the best of meatless dining in our charming city of Cuenca.