Food & Drink

Cozy, authentic Ecuadorian restaurant La Toquilla moves into 21 Oak spot in Manchester

La Toquilla, an Ecuadorian eatery that specializes in the foods of the coastal Manabi province, has opened in Manchester in the former location of the plant-based restaurant 21 Oak.

“There is an old saying in Ecuador: Sadness for one person is happiness for another,” said La Toquilla’s chef, Roberta Alarcon.



The pandemic ended the 6-year-run of 21 Oak, which was forced to close in December. But there still was potential and a fully built kitchen in the building. Co-owners Fabricio Macias and Luis Zambrano grabbed it, and three weeks ago they brought Alarcon here from Ecuador to help cook the authentic meals.

“It is hard in Ecuador now. It is expensive to live and people don’t have enough money,” said Alarcon, who speaks English from her years working at popular tourist spots in Quito, the nation’s capital. She studied cuisine in Quito at university, where she met Zambrano, and has 17 years of experience in all levels of the restaurant industry.

Alarcon said when the owners moved to the United States and settled in Hartford, they looked for a nearby restaurant that served the foods they liked when they lived in Portoviejo, the capital of Manabi. They couldn’t find one.

So they opened their own to bring these flavors to the capital area. They named it La Toquilla, after the palm trees trees common on Ecuador’s coast. Zambrano, who has worked at La Piolin Peruvian restaurant in Hartford and Rasham Pakistani restaurant in Windsor, was happy to return to his native cuisine.

“Manabi has the best food in Ecuador,” Alarcon said. “There is a lot of seafood because it is on the beach. Plantains are used in everything. We use peanut, coconut, cheese, rice every day, even at breakfast.”

The cozy restaurant has a mural of a chiva, a colorful double-decker bus common in Ecuador, with people down below and produce and livestock up above.

“You see them everywhere. Now they are used for parties,” Alarcon said. Music by Ecuadorian singers, especially the late superstar Julio Jaramillo, plays on a screen.

The restaurant opens at 10 a.m. seven days a week, so breakfast is first on the menu. Almost all breakfast entrees are made with mashed green plantains, with cheese ($10); pork ($12); cheese and pork ($14); cheese, eggs and beef stew ($16); chicharron, eggs and beef stew ($17); a mix of them all ($18); and the stew alone ($15).


Chuzos ($10) is a showy appetizer: three skewers of beef with bell peppers and topped with little chorizo links cut to resemble crowns. Empanadas are made with cheese ($7) or chicken or beef ($8). Other appetizers include salchipapas ($7) and corviche de pescado ($8), which is a dough made with bananas, spices and peanuts and stuffed with fish.

Thin, crispy plantain chips are served with meals, with a tasty dipping sauce made from mayonnaise, lemon, mustard, relish, onions and cilantro.

Ecuadorian specialties are tuna soup ($18) and beef tripe stew ($18). Chaulafan, a fried rice dish with chicken, beef or a combo, is $17 to $20 and is served with colorful flowers as a garnish.

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Coastal flavors include ceviche with shrimp ($19); fish ($18); shrimp and fish ($23); or fish, shrimp, octopus and crab ($25); seafood rice ($25), fried fish ($25); and fish filet ($18).

Moros — rice with lentils — are served with chicken ($20), pork chop ($18), beef ($22) or pork rib ($22).

On the grill, Macias, Zambrano and Alarcon cook chicken, steak, pork chops, sausage, shrimp, with dishes ranging from $17 to $32 for the multi-meat platter.


Ecuadorian beverages include passionfruit and blackberry juices, as well as Güitig sparkling water from Ecuador. And of course, coffee. Both Arabica and Robusta coffee beans are grown in Ecuador, and the population appreciates its native crop. Alarcon loves coffee so much that in the middle of her forearms are two tats dedicated to coffee.

“Everybody loves coffee in Ecuador. You can’t have a meal without coffee,” she said.

La Toquilla, 21 Oak St., Manchester, is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. and 860-645-0398.

Susan Dunne can be reached at