When I first arrived in Cuenca I felt a bit lost. I was trying to escape the USA due to COVID and the political situation at the time. That was quickly remedied as I made new friends and a family amongst Cuenca’s restaurant owners. The first was Xemina, the owner of Sol y Rocio, who provided me not only with sumptuous vegetarian Middle-Eastern fare every Monday and Wednesday during my 6-month stay in Cuenca, but also the personalized care and attention I so desperately needed at the time. I knew I had found the right place when she informed me that my lunch order would take a bit more time because she had to chop the fresh ingredients for the tabouleh salad that I had ordered. Although I couldn’t see her smile because of the mask on her face, I could feel it in her voice every time I visited.
Next were Andres and Omar, the loving owners of La Guarida, who provided some of the most sumptuous meals I’ve ever had in my life, as well all of my entertainment while I was in Cuenca, including movies on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and live Latin entertainment every Thursday. More importantly, they treated me and other patrons like family every time I visited. Omar was quick to greet me at the door and tell me how glad he was to see me and Andres, who is always busy in the kitchen, never failed to say hello and ask me how I was doing. Each would also stop by my table and check on my experience and ensure I was enjoying my meal and the entertainment.
On the way to La Guarida I had discovered Ni Tu Ni Yo and its owners Christiana and Jorge. Serving perhaps the best Italian food in Cuenca, Christiana and Jorge became my surrogate parents. While I’m actually a bit older than the two of them, they never failed to inquire about my well-being when I walked through the door (“Tom, are you alright? You look a bit tired.”), and quickly remedy my state with a conversation about the work I’d been doing and quickly preparing my meal for the evening. Every departure included a ‘You take care now!” Christiana even nursed me back to health with her wonderful vegetable soup with chicken and mint tea when I wasn’t feeling well one day.
Lastly, I found Thai Connection and its owners Ronny and Vera. We quickly hit it off during our first visit, with Ronny, who runs the dining room, quick to engage me in conversation. I soon got to know Vera as well, as I greatly appreciated the attention to detail she put in her cooking, which has consistently earned Thai Connection top honors in the Asian food category of the Gringo Post annual awards. Upon learning I had type 2 diabetes, Vera offered to cook all my meals using a sugar substitute. Thai Connection quickly became my Friday night dinner spot.
Not long after discovering these restaurants and their lovely owners, I began introducing them to one another and finally organized several gatherings that included most of them. Our final gathering was at the home of Jorge and Christiana, where Christiana introduced us to her mother’s meatball recipe and the hospitality that only an Ecuadorian can deliver in their home. It was one of the warmest and most incredible experiences of my life.
Thank you my Cuenca family. You’ve made an immeasurable impact on my heart. I love you so.