Calle Larga has become quite the destination. Not only are there wall-to-wall teenagers and college kids on weekends, but restaurateurs seem to think everyone wants to eat there. Since the opening of Oliveto, two more restaurants have popped up and rumor has it that a Thai restaurant will open there shortly.

I can't say anything about Bananas as I haven't eaten there. I can tell you about Santorino (previously known as La Vinainc) on the corner of Calle Larga and Mariano Cueva. This seems to be one the new popular places in town. I must say that their almuerzo (salad or soup, meat fish or pasta, dessert and juice) for $3.99 + IVA is a steal. There are several choices and it will be interesting to see if they can keep it up at that price. The prices on the menu have already changed, so go now and get the good deal while it lasts!

If you order off the menu the prices are comparable to other restaurants of its type. For example, shrimp ceviche is $4.95, and calamari $4.25. Lomo is $9-$12 and seafood $7-$12.

The old management of Zoe is now at La Riera Calle Larga, a block away from Santorino, same side, just past Vargas Machuca. (The old Zoe, by the way, is still going strong on Borrero at Sucre, and is serving a $2.50 almuerzo). The La Riera chef was trained in Argentina and the menu has some interesting items. They are serving almuerzo for $5 (tax included), which includes soup, fish, chicken or beef and juice. They also offer $3 cocktails at happy hour, which include mojitos, gin and tonic and daiquiris.

If you head down Mariano Cueva, just past Bolivar, you'll find Hotel Coronel and Don Colon’s bar and restaurant in the courtyard. Another new and popular spot with expats, there is no doubt that the Don is trying to give us what we want. There’s  the "All-American Sunday" which offers a filet mignon or fish served with onion soup and caesar salad, and priced at $10, plus IVA and tip. There are also Fish Fridays for $5.99 and I was told that with his first endeavour he served over 120 meals!

Some comments about bills and bread

Perhaps this is the time for a short explanation of IVA and tip. The tax a restaurant owes to the government is called IVA and is the 12% added to every bill. Some restaurants also add a 10% service charge (the tip) which is often not seen by the waitperson, split, instead, between kitchen staff and wait staff and sometimes applied to the owner’s Social Security costs for employees. If both IVA and servicio are included on the tab, it adds up to 22%. Some restaurants print two prices on your menu, the pre-tax price and the price you will actually pay, which includes the IVA and service charge. So don't be surprised when you think you're paying $5 for lunch and your bill comes to $6.10. Of course your local comedor that serves a $2 lunch has no extra charge and I don't know or care how they get away with it.

Some establishments, like Cafe Eucalyptus, charge only the IVA (12%). That way, when you tip, it goes to the waitperson. Good deal!

I'm happy to report there is finally more decent bread available in Cuenca (I told you a couple years ago about the excellent products at Maria’s Alemania on Hermano Miguel at Sucre and you can check that out in the Cuenca High Life archives). One of my new faves is the "Integral" from Coopera. However, for the kind of artisan bread we're used to there are a couple of new options. Susannah makes 8 different varieties from walnut and cinnamon raisin to olive onion and corn and aji for $2.50 a loaf. The pick up options are at Windhorse Cafe on Calle Larga on Tuesday from 10-12 noon. or Carolina Bookstore on Wednesday from 11 onwards. Both Windhorse and San Sebas have Gluten free options for their patrons. Email, phone 0980-363-451.

Branden of Villa San Carlos is doing sourdough at $1.25 a loaf. Order on Monday for Thursday pick-up at Villa San Carlos, Remigio Tamariz at Solano after 12 noon. Email, phone 281-1903.

The good news is that if you live in the west part of town (in the area of Edificios Terrassa, Amazonas, Palermo, etc.) there are pick-up options that don't require going into El Centro. Inquire when you order.

Cutlines: Santorino on the corner of Calle Larga and Mariano Cueva; the steak sanwhich at La Riera; the always-cheerful Don Colón; and Don's All-American filet mignon.