Reading a menu in Quito can be a challenge — regardless of your level of Spanish. If you have never tried Ecuadorian food, it’s impossible to know the difference between llapingachos and encebollados. So to spare you the guesswork, here is a guide of the most common Quiteño dishes. Buen provecho!
Locro de papa
This is a traditional soup made with potato, cheese and milk. The result tastes something like mashed potato. According to locals, the soup has been around since pre-Hispanic days some 2,000 years ago. As far as typical Andean dishes go, it is hard to beat this soup. You will find it on the menus of fancy restaurants like La Choza (US$8.90) as well as small local restaurants on the almuerzo menu (US$3–5).
Best to be reserved for when you’re really hungry, llapingachos is a dish made up of fried patties of mashed potato and cheese, avocado, fried egg and sausage or pork. There are different types of llapingachos and if you are vegetarian you can always ask for the dish without the meat.
Often served before your main meal, chifles are thin deep-fried slices of plantain. They taste a lot like crisps — only you will often find they are served with aji (a type of onion chili sauce).
Empanadas are common throughout Central and South America but every country has a different take on them. In Ecuador, they are served with a mixture of pork and rice. Also they come in three different types of flour: moroche, de viento (light) and verde (banana).
Like empanadas, tamales are found across the Americas. While they are made with the same hominy flour, Ecuador’s tamales differ in that they come in a squarish size and have fillings like chicken in peanut (mani) sauce. Also, unlike tamales elsewhere that are commonly found in the street, in Quito it is more usual to see them on restaurant menus.
Otherwise known as your pet guinea pig. Only fried, baked, roasted or stewed. A typical dish of cuy also comes with potatoes, hominy and salad. There may not be much meat on it but it is covered in spices and has the smoked flavor of a rotisserie.
Seco de Chivo
Another popular starter on almuerzo menus, seco de chivo is a goat stew that typically comes with yellow rice and fried plantains. (If you see seco de pollo, you are right to guess it is chicken stew!)
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Ecuadorian ceviche is that it is served with popcorn. Ask for a plate and you will receive a large soup-ish bowl of raw seafood (or boiled prawns) seasoned with lemon juice, chilli and lots of onion. It’s considered a coastal dish but you can also find it in lots of restaurants in Quito, El Gato Portovejense is a popular local joint.
Coco = coconut. Encocados = covered in coconut. More often than not what you will get are prawns in a sweet coconut batter with a side of rice and salad (yum!). But you can also get fish in the same style.
This is another meal that combines seafood and popcorn — only this time with lots of onion! When you order encebollados you get bowl of seafood in a tomato-flavored soup with yucca, coriander, and of course onion. This is a real local delicacy you’re unlikely to find anywhere outside of Ecuador.