I have a love affair with empanadas! Who doesn’t love a bit of fried, flaky pastry filled with savory ingredients like well-seasoned ground beef or creamy, melted white cheese? Empanadas are easy to find in Ecuador but one place, in particular, deserves special mention, the Casa de la Empanada in Nono.
Casa de la Empanada in Nono
The Casa de la Empanada lies on a normally quiet street corner in Nono. Only about 18 kilometers outside of Quito, Nono is nothing like the big city. With hardly a stop sign in town, it is a mere blip on the road that originally connected the capital to the coast. Today, most visitors come for a bike ride in the countryside, to hike to a couple of different waterfalls, or to begin their trip to Tandayapa or Mindo on Ruta del Colibrí.
And some just come to enjoy a good meal. There are several well-known restaurants in town that offer great weekend specials. Arrive mid-week and you might not find any of them open. And that includes the Casa de la Empanada. They are open from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm but only on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays.
While they offer up other dishes depending on the season, people really come for the empanadas. They offer both salado (salty) and dulce (sweet) varieties. The salty versions include beef, chicken, ham and cheese, just cheese, and vegetarian. But be warned, they run out. So if you visit late in the day, you may find only beef or only cheese.
The sweet varieties include some easily recognized fillings, like berries, pineapple, or chocolate. But the Casa de La Empanada are best known for their zambo empanadas. A zambo is a type of squash. It looks like a watermelon in both shape, size, and color. But inside, it has white flesh more reminiscent of a zucchini with large, flat seeds. It is used to make soup and desserts. For these empanadas, the zambo is cooked with brown sugar and spices until it makes a thick jam. Then it is used to fill the empanada dough. A layer of grated white cheese is added before the empanada is sealed and then deep fried. Can I just say, YUM!
Ecuadorian Hot Chocolate
Ecuadorians traditionally drink coffee with their empanadas. Even the salty ones. But not everyone loves coffee so there are some other very traditional drinks on offer. My favorite option is hot chocolate.
Ecuadorians make some of the best hot chocolate in the world. However, before you order a cup, you may want to ask if cheese comes in the hot chocolate. That’s right, many Ecuadorian cafes serve cubes of fresh, salty cheese in their hot chocolate. At Cafe de La Empanada, they serve the cheese on the side so that you can add it if you like or just nibble it while you drink.
But There’s More to Cafe de la Empanada
While great food is enough to recommend a place, in this instance there is something more, the decor. The inside of this cafe is plastered with memorabilia. There are old vacuum tube radios, vinyl record players, and paddles used to play pelota. If you are like me and had never heard of pelota, there are old pictures of the game being played and an excerpt cut out from an old magazine article explaining the game. There are dozens of old photographs showing Quito back in the day.