Here we are in Quito, one of the world’s first UNESCO listed sites – a beautiful place filled with architectural beauties, and sadly, one that also has the stigma of crime. Do some light online research on Quito and you soon come across blogs and articles completely bagging the place.
Robberies, kidnappings when using unregistered taxis and petty theft. The stories go on. Crime is an issue in parts of many South American cities, but to be honest, that’s not enough to make us sidestep a place altogether.
I’ve said it before. Be street smart, don’t do stupid things, watch your belongings and just be sensible and aware of the risks.
Now, let’s take a look at the Quito we experienced, crime-free of course, and not get too precious about things.
Jugos a la Compaña – stop in for fab passionfruit or chocolate cake, empanadas, humitas or pasteles.
This is a city built along the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano and bordered by the hills of Panecillo and Ichimbia, and when it comes to the topic of UNESCO, the Old Town is where things are at.
It’s a hotpot of colonial buildings, leafy plazas, stunning churches and Baroque-style architecture almost everywhere you turn. It’s no wonder that UNESCO views it as one of best-preserved historic centres of Spanish America.
Plaza de la Independencia sits in the centre of town, surrounded by palaces and the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral. Taking residence in front of the cathedral, are a few cafes that spill onto the pavement, creating an almost European atmosphere of al fresco tables, umbrellas and people sipping coffee.
Dulcería Colonial has been going at it since 1988, serving up early breakfast, sandwiches, traditional sweets, juices and espresso. They even do Vietnamese coffee and flat whites – all served with a beaming smile. It’s the most perfect spot to people watch and take in the stunning surroundings.
Dulceria Colonial, Plaza Grande, OE4-21 Espejo & Venezuela
For the best coffee in Quito, of everything we tried, head to none other than Galletti Coffee Roasters. This coffee mecca is tucked beneath the grand old Teatro Bolívar and is owned by a New Yorker that’s been a resident for 19 years.
There’s a limited breakfast menu, focaccia sandwiches, quiche, humitas and pastries, plus they sell merchandise like preserves, loose leaf tea, soap, liqueurs and a variety of house-roasted coffee beans. Each bean sold has info on the elevation and location it was grown – just in case you’re a bit OCD about those types of things.
Galletti Coffee Roasters, Avenida Rio Amazonas N37 – 271
Finding breakfast in Quito isn’t the greatest of tasks, especially if local fare is all you’re after. There a many small joints selling some kind of pastele, humita or tortilla to buy or nibble on the go.
If you’re after a cafe with a bit of character, head to Cafeto and sit beneath vaulted ceilings and admire the stunningly manicured courtyard (see last pic) of the adjacent Museo de San Agustín.
Food-wise, tuck into fruit and yoghurt or the Ecuadoriano (5) – fried eggs, humita de sal and fresh orange juice. Or go for tamal de pollo, scrambled eggs or tortillas de maiz. The espresso is decent here, as well.
Cafeto, Chile 930
It isn’t only tempting things like baguettes, dark cacao sourdough or beer bread that gets people in this bakery’s door. Crustum serves craft beer, vino and espresso, and if breakfast is the go, they put on a few options for that.
$5 will get you a spread of scrambled eggs with grilled tomato, house-made bread, fruit and either juice or coffee. The scrambled eggs ended up being the best we’d tried all over South America, something the continent really struggles with. Unless you like your bouncy, overcooked eggs, that is. These were creamy and absolutely divine.
The saddest part? We returned the following day for more of those eggs, but the guy that made them hadn’t turned up for work yet. Unfortunately the lady (owner?) cooked up those ubiquitous, overcooked bouncy eggs you get everywhere.
Crustum, Plaza De San Agustín
Located just metres away from Crustum is San a Gustito, an eatery that also puts on breakfast, but has more of a local flavour about it.
Here you can also tuck into tamales, empanadas, humitas, seco de chivo (goat stew), Peruvian ceviche and churrasco.
I went for the costeño (3.5) – a spread of scrambled eggs, bolón, fruit, juice and coffee. Or you could go for the saludable (3.5) – fruit, yoghurt, granola, juice, coffee and toast.
San a Gustito, Plaza De San Agustín
The city of Quito isn’t short of things to see, and if you’re into your historic landmarks, there are more than enough of those. One we can highly recommend is the imposing Basilica Del Sagrado Voto Nacional, the twin-spired cathedral that overlooks the old town.
This building is magnificent inside and out, and for a small fee you can go behind the scenes and walk across the top of the nave ceiling and across to a ladder that leads to the belfry.
One thing you do notice about the cathedral is that rather than having gargoyles, it has pelicans, iguanas and other local birds. For those that like their heights, take a precarious external ladder up even further on a rear tower. Not for the faint hearted!
Basilica Del Sagrado Voto Nacional, Carchi & Venezuela
Market-goers can get their fill at Mercado Central, the city’s hot-pot of fresh produce, flowers, pharmaceuticals, household goods and more. It isn’t the most amazing market you’ll visit, but there’s enough over its two levels to keep you occupied for a short while.
A couple of things not to be missed are the sheets of swirled chocolate sold upstairs at a few side-by-side vendors selling the same kinds of things.
Here you can also bag up some homemade peanut butter, unsalted and deliciously thick. Perfect for the traveller looking to beef up their morning toast with a thick layer of peanut-ty goodness.
For some of the city’s cheapest traditional food, head either to the downstairs food hall for the likes of locro de papas (potato soup with avocado & cheese) or sopa de pollo (chicken soup; above).
Don’t forget to head upstairs for a big plate of hornados (roast pork). Our pick was Hornados De Elenita, as she seduced us with free samples of succulent roast pork cut straight from the beast. For $3 you get a plate of pork with potatoes, salad and crackling.
I couldn’t resist the morcilla from an adjacent vendor, but rather than the morcilla most of us may be used to, this one’s a gritty affair flecked with sweet fruit. It’s served in a soup with potato, and to be honest, it’s not something I could finish.
The sausage was perfectly fine, but that soup was a real struggle to get down. Intensely flavoured with what could be nothing other than poorly washed intestine. I was defeated.
Mercado Central, Avenida Pichincha
Iglesia de San Francisco
Street food isn’t everywhere in Quito, but you are bound to come across something that may tempt. Grilled plantains and addictive plantain chips, boiled quail eggs with salt, deep-fried pastries, maiz tortillas or chicharron with peanuts.
One thing you can’t miss is the ice cream. First there are the people that sell coconut ice cream straight from a cooler box – nothing too exciting, but if you like it extra sweet, this will do it for you.
Then there are the mora (blackberry) ice cream vendors. Some guys sell it already scooped into a cone that’s resting on a block of dry ice, but if you want the best, head to the top of Avenida Guayaquil.
Here you’ll see workers from nearby ice cream stores standing on the roadside holding cones of mora & vanilla soft serve out to the traffic. Drivers literally stop to buy one and then keep on driving. There is a chocolate version, but it’s the mora that stole our hearts. Magic stuff.
Anyone that’s up for a drink can get swilling at one of a few bars along the cobbled Calle la Ronda. This charming reminder of what the city used to be like is dotted with restaurants and cafes, specialty stores and, of course, places to drink.
Not too far from Calle La Ronda is a bar we spent a little time in each afternoon we were in town. Ok, maybe a bit more than a little.
Moody lighting, rock theme, retro music and vinyl records dangling from the ceiling. The booze is seriously cheap and the happy hour deals are irresistible.
There’s plenty of food to soak up all that booze – salchipapa, pizza, burgers, nachos, pork ribs, hotdogs and parrillada.
Happy Rock Bar, Guayaquil & Morales
Over the road from Happy Rock is what’s effectively a karaoke bar that, thankfully, wasn’t doing karaoke when we dropped by. We had most of the place to ourselves and were served by the friendliest Venezuelan lady.
The beer is nice and cold, and if you’re lucky, you may be given shots of puro, a distilled drink savoured by hardcore local drinkers. Let’s call it firewater, shall we? We tried it straight up and made into canelazo – where it’s steeped and served hot with naranjilla juice, water and cinnamon. Delicious!
Food-wise, there are local dishes and parrilla. We shared the bbq platter (6) – a meaty extravaganza of five different sausages, grilled beef and fries. Loved it.
Ronda Andina, S1-57 Guayaquil
Cerveza aficionados may want to seek out Bandido Brewing, a nifty little craft brewery and gastro pub set up by American expats that missed their IPA.
Bandido can be found in an old church not too far from Mercado Central; an atmospheric bar that has pew, photos and religious artefacts dotted about the few rooms.
Six beers are on tap, but my favourite was the honey ginger saison – a very floral drop. Pizzas, tacos, sandwiches and burgers take care of the food department, plus a “few picking’ plates” like stout or regular chicken wings and crumbed and fried camembert with sweet honey mustard.
Bandido Brewing, Jose Joaquin Olmedo 407
Eating dirt-cheap food in Quito is a definite possibility, but you need to find it. Tucked around the backstreets are small holes-in-the-wall serving up almuerzo for a few dollars, or there’s this joint.
Comidas Rapidas Al Paso is nothing more than two tables in a green-walled passage. The young lady running the show has four dishes on offer, the most expensive is $1.50.
We went for papipollo – a rather generous mound of fries, fried chicken and shredded lettuce. All for $1. Bargain.
Comidas Rapidas Al Paso, Montúfar N2-32
For something a little more refined, but not too swanky, I’d say head over to Cafe Dios No Muere. It’s owned by a Louisiana native that now calls Quito home and it can fill up really fast due to its very compact multi-level space next to a 17th-century monastery.
We enjoyed the Bourbon Street burger (5.5) and Cajun blackened tuna (12) which includes yuca fries and salad. The bread pudding (3.5) dessert is pretty good, but the highlight of the night had to be the beignets (3). They’re actually better than the ones I tried at the famed Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.
I’m deadly serious.
Cafe Dos No Muere, corner Flores & Junin N4-28
We found ourselves on the other side of town in search of a DHL, and in the process ended up having lunch at a local, and very popular Chinese eatery on the traffic and fume-choked Avenida Cristóbal-Colón.
Restaurant Paraíso is your run-of-the-mill chifa with all the usual Cantonese mainstays. The combos seem to be the way to go at lunchtime, judging by how many local workers ordered one – fried rice or stir-fry with a drink priced from $3.80 to $6.80; some even come with a soup.
Not somewhere you’d cab it to from the historic centre, but if you’re in the neighbourhood, definitely one to consider.
Restaurant Paraíso, Avenida Cristobal Colon & 10 de Agosto
One eatery that took us both by surprise was El Maple, in the popular drinking and backpacker ghetto of La Mariscal. It wasn’t until we sat down and looked at the menu that we realised we’d entered a no carne zone. Yep, vegetarian and vegan only.
We loved it.
It’s a lovely space in an old renovated house with slight industrial touches and shelves filled with books. Service is top notch, too.
We sampled the magno maple burger (5.99) – 7-grain patty, some greens, caramelised onion, soy with garlic mayo, cheese and avocado. Very nice.
I was sort of in love with the Philly vegetarian steak (7.25) – strips of veggie meat (TVP?), cheese, caramelised onion, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and vegan cilantro mayo. Incredible. The flavours were bang on.
El Maple, Joaquín Pinto E7-68 & Diego de Almagro
From Ayampe, get the green Manglarato bus on the highway (check map) to Puerto Lopéz not too far up the highway. The bus runs every 15 minutes or so and costs $1 per person.
From Puerto Lopéz get the Carlos A. Aray bus to Quito. Departure times hover around 5.30am, 9.30am or 7pm. We got the 9.10am, cost was $12 per person and took 11 hours.
Alternatively you can get the Reina de Camino bus to Quito at 8pm, departing Puerto Lopéz.
The bus arrives at Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe on the southside of Quito, so you need to get a taxi to the Old Town. Cost will be $10.
Be sure that it’s a registered taxi, not a regular looking car. Robberies are known to happen in unregistered taxis.