While Loja's specialty dishes have long been talked of fondly, quality sit-down cafes/restaurants seemed light years away until the last decade or so.

A Loja specialty, cuy (guinea pig), is commonly served on Sundays. Other local delights include cecina (salty fried pork served with yuca) and some of the country’s best humitas and tamales.

West of Bolívar, succulent grilled-chicken joints line Alonso de Mercadillo.

Southern Delights

For many Ecuadorians living overseas, nothing beckons them home more than the smell of corn- and plantain-based delicias (delights, or treats). They’re common throughout the highlands, but everyone knows that they’re better the closer you get to Loja. Many people wash them down with coffee or dress them with ají (hot sauce). Here’s a primer:

Humita A corn dumpling steamed in a corn husk. The sal (salty) versions come with cheese; the dulce (sweet) versions are often flavored with anise.

Quimbolito A light, sweet, corn-based cake steamed in achira leaves, usually topped with a raisin.

Tamales de Loja Close to a humita, but usually stuffed with shredded chicken.

Empanada A pocket of dough stuffed with sweet or savory fillings and fried to a golden, light crispiness. The masa (dough) in empanadas de verde is made with young plantain; empanadas de maíz are made of corn.

Tortilla de choclo A grilled pancake made with rough corn flour.

Maduro con queso A grilled, sweet plantain with cheese.

Bolón de verde A molded ball of young mashed plantain, fried with sausage.