Vegetarian Dining Options in Cuenca

27/Enero/2012 | 14:30

By Deke Castleman

For many years, Cuenca has offered a handful of strictly vegetarian restaurants, but the choices continue to improve as the world, including Cuenca, embraces vegetarian options and lifestyles.

Nector Tea House

Last October the Nectar Tea House opened one block and a half from Calderon Park. They serve not only well-prepared and tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes, including an excellent lunch, but also boasts a cuisine never before seen in Cuenca: raw-food dishes in the gourmet style.

Nectar serves five raw gourmet entrées at local prices: gazpacho (raw soup), zucchini spaghetti, "rice" of cauliflower, raw mango ceviche or raw sprouted-lupine-bean ceviche, and chocolate mousse (all $2), plus guacamole wraps ($1.50) and a variety of fresh-squeezed juices. (It's best to call ahead at 284-4118 for the raw orders, which are labor-intensive.)

The owners - Tania, who is from Ecuador and her husband Yanni, from Greece - both lived in the U.S. and speak fluent English. They say that personally, they are "ninety-nine-percent vegan and try to eat at least fifty-percent raw."

Nectar's menu features international vegetarian cooking, including Andean, Hindu, Mediterranean, and Thai food. Like Tania and Yanni, Nectar is 99% vegan; the only dish with any animal products is the spinach pie, which requires feta cheese. Other Mediterranean dishes include baba ganoush, hummus, and pita-bread pizza. The desserts are reminiscent of health-food restaurants in the U.S.: muffins and breads with flavors that include spicy apple, carrot, mango with fruit, and zucchini. Most of the choices on the menu range from $3-$5.

For those who prefer a less expensive meal, the lunch of the day includes a drink, soup, salad, entrée, and dessert—five items for only $2.50.

Traditional drinks include yahuana, rosero, and chicha; herbal teas include rosemary, lemon verbena, lemongrass, chai, etc. Lattes include chocolate, chai, yerba matte, and ginger. Everything is caffeine-free.

Nectar is located on Benigno Malo 10-42 between Gran Columbia and Mariscal Lamar (on the second floor) and is open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. (They are considering opening on Mondays and for Sunday brunch; call to confirm.)


Another popular vegetarian restaurant in El Centro is Govinda’s, whose menu proclaims, "Alimentos Sin Violencia a los Animales" (Food without violence to animals). With three dining rooms downstairs and one upstairs, Govinda's boasts a large menu with no animal products.

They serve three kinds of breakfasts, $2 for the continental up to $3.50 for scrambled tofu and orange juice from 7 to 11 a.m. They also offer a lunch special with soup, main dish, and juice for $2.50.

Specialties include rice and vegetables, sweet and sour veggies, and curry veggies ($3.50); vegetarian paella ($3); spaghetti in red or pesto sauces ($3), eggplant parmesan ($4), and lasagna ($4.25); cracker-crust pizzas ($2.50-$3.75); plus a variety of salads, veggie burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream.

The food is reliable, the service is excellent, and the vibe is peaceful at Govinda's, located on Juan Jaramillo near Borrero and open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

New Paradise

El Nuevo Paraíso (New Paradise) is a vegetarian restaurant with two main branches that serves what could be the least expensive lunch in Cuenca. For $1.70, you get your choice of a dozen dishes: chaulafán, guatitas, spaghetti and veggies, cazuela, pizza, and the combo (a big plate of salad and a soy burger). The best-tasting menu choice is the ceviche, a cold tomato- and lime-based soup full of onion, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms, and bits of carne de soya.

El Nuevo Paraíso also serves a dozen different kinds of ice-cream splits, sundaes, parfaits, and the like. "Helado con crema" is $1; the banana split is the most expensive at $1.60. They have several different kinds of juice and soy-milk concoctions for less than a dollar.

Paraíso's two restaurants, one on Calle Bolivar at San Blas Plaza and the other on José Peralta near the Stadium, fill up at lunch time, but you've never seen food come out of a kitchen so fast. You place your order and in the time it takes for the waitress to walk to and from the kitchen, she's back with your food. El Nuevo Paraíso serves lunch only, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Good Affinity

Another popular choice for vegetarian cooking is Good Affinity, with a fairly large lunch menu that includes eggs and dairy. The lunch special ($2.50) comes with soup of the day; lemonade, juice, or soy milk; rice; and a choice of four to eight mixed-vegetable dishes. Usually, one is a bean dish and two contain seitan, a protein derived from the gluten of wheat.

Chao mein, teipan mein, and chaulafan combos include soup and juice and cost $3-$3.25; a la carte they are $2.50-$2.75. Soy burgers are $1.35 (with cheese $1.80; add egg for 50 cents). Egg rolls are 70 cents each. Desserts include fruit salad and various cookies, including Oriental. Good Affinity is also one of the only places in town where you can buy tofu to take home (about $1 per poun).

Good Affinity, owned by a Chinese couple, is located on Gran Colombia a block toward El Centro from the round about at Avenida de las Americas; it's open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Flavor of Zen

Finally, a close cousin to Good Affinity is Sabor de Zen (Flavor of Zen). They have a very small menu with four entrée choices that include soup and juice, the menu of the day ($2.50), chao mein and chaulafan ($2.75),and teipan mein ($3.25). Soup by itself is 75 cents. Zen also serves soy milk, tomato juice, lemonade, and yogurt (60 cents). Desserts include carrot-coconut cake (60 cents), fr2uit salad ($2), various cookies (30-50 cents) and five choices of ice cream (50 cents).

Zen is located on Primero de Mayo just west of Tres Puentes near the south end of Avenida Solano and is open 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.