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El Paraiso disappoints

Ankur Chawla | Monday, August 27, 2012


On Sunday I embarked on what has quickly become a weekly tradition among Notre Dame students: one-dollar tacos at El Paraiso. Hidden on the side of a Hispanic grocery store, El Paraiso has recently become one of South Bend’s worst kept secrets. Despite students’ almost universal love for the promotion and establishment, I must say I was not as impressed as I hoped to be. While one should not have much to complain about one-dollar tacos, the restaurant left much to be desired overall.

First, a long wait at a restaurant (usually this is a sign of high quality and demand), the 40-minute wait was not ideal. It was fairly clear that the restaurant was not meant to feed a crowd the size of the pasta stir-fry line at South Dining Hall. Admittedly the capacity and time issues are not immediately within El Paraiso’s control, and the manager certainly did his best to accommodate everyone and fit as many people as possible at a table (we had seven sitting around a table designed for four). Still, it was not the best frame for which to evaluate the restaurant from. One quirk that they do have control of and that particularly irked me were their massive water glasses paired with tiny straws.

The biggest factor that helps the restaurant’s case was the authenticity of every menu item, starting with the surprisingly good chips and salsa. They both tasted freshly made, were full of flavor, and the salsa had that perfect smooth, light texture that is far too rare. The only downside was that after the free first basket, it was $1.50 more for each subsequent order.

The tacos were made in a similar, traditional fashion, and I opted for the most authentic order by having them topped in “Mexicano” style. This involved the meat being topped with cilantro and onions. While that itself was pretty self explanatory from the menu description, I had no idea about the extent of cilantro and onions would be packed on to my tacos. There was easily over a fistful in each one, and while I am a fan of cilantro that was quite a bit too much for me. 

Meat wise, I ordered two chicken and two pastor (pork) tacos. The chicken was delicious. It was cooked just right and had a mixture of spicy juices dripping from the meat. The pastor, as well as the “barbacoa” (shredded pork), according to the people I went with, tended to be dry and underwhelming. Hungry patrons have the option of corn or flour tortillas, neither of which had any faults, but they were not particularly noteworthy either.

Outside the dollar tacos on Wednesday and Sunday, their menu boasts relatively cheap burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, and everything else one could hope for from a Mexican restaurant, and if you are looking for a meal that is light on your wallet there are far worse options. That being said, personally I do not see myself going back on a packed Wednesday or Sunday for one-dollar tacos while the rest of the week they are $1.50 anyway.

Contact Ankur Chawla at achawla@nd.edu