No one ever accused Cairo of being a great restaurant city. Tourists rarely venture beyond their hotels to dine. Those who do have a choice of about half a dozen restaurants that are listed in the guidebooks.
But tucked away on a side street in Zamalek, an island suburb, is a gem of a restaurant that has become a favorite of Americans and Europeans who live in Cairo. You won't find El Patio in any guidebook. Your cab driver will probably have never heard of it. No one remembers having seen an ad for it.
El Patio was opened a year ago by Argentine-born Federico Grelle and his Swiss wife, Magda. Their bright, airy eatery was once a dingy sandwich shop, but they put in skylights and potted plants; commissioned local artists to make the plates and glasses, and found some old, wrought-iron elevator doors for the entrance.
The charm of El Patio is that it is still very much a family operation. Grelle has contracted with local farmers to provide him with delicacies not available in any other Cairo restaurant--fresh asparagus and mushrooms, sweet corn, endive.