El Paraiso Bar and Grill

It’s been so long since I’ve posted. Sorry. We’ve been on a severe budget crunch. Greek austerity like. We paid a steep price moving to Cedar Rapids. It’s going to hurt financially for probably five years, but still, totally worth it.

So a rare dinner out while the kiddo is at gymnastics. Took the opportunity to try a new to us Mexican restaurant, El Paraiso Bar and Grill. And it was on our way to Aldi. When we arrived we were a little confused because even though there were quite a few cars in the parking lot, the neon beer lights were all off and the place looked closed. The big doors in front of us that looked like an entrance from the parking had a big sign that said Employee Entrance. We hesitated but then got off our lazy asses and walked to the side of the building. That’s where the front door was and yes they were open.

First impression was the place was HUGE. Most of the seating is in booths which is no bueno for us.When we asked for a table we were seated on the edge of a back section far away from the rest of the customers. This would prove problematic.

The menu was small but more like what we were used to seeing in Georgia but not like our previous excursions in Cedar Rapids to Los Compadres or Cancun Mexican Grill. There were a few new things to me though.Siete Mares, a seafood soup I have not seen before on a menu. Nor have I seen a ham and cheese quesadilla before, Quesadilla Sincronisadas. And there were no nacho plates listed on the menu which was a bummer for the wife.

The chips and salsa were meh. I would rate the salsa as weak, almost no spice. The wife ordered the Quesadilla El Paraiso which was a large quesadilla filled with chicken and chorizo with a fancy side of sour cream, lettuce and pico de gallo which looked like a mini taco salad. She raved about the quesadilla and was only able to eat half. She was excited about having it for lunch the next day with a side of their refried beans which she said were very good.

I ordered the Burrito Campechano, filled with steak and chorizo, and one beef hard shell taco. I’m still searching for that magical taco like Mi Ranchito had on Westnedge in Kalamazoo. This wasn’t it. The taco also serves as my side since I don’t eat the beans or rice. The burrito was quite salty, not inedible but still heavy. I thought maybe it was the chorizo but the wife didn’t notice it in her quesadilla. Probably just a heavy hand in the kitchen.

Unfortunately service was very inadequate though would not deter me from coming back again. I watched and the main section had at least four servers including ours. I think the problem was a function of being a Sunday, under staffing, and being seated in an out of sight section. It was a shame our server didn’t come to our table more often because I liked her, I mean REALLY liked her.persons-0006


Papa Juan Stefano’s

The Child hates Mexican restaurants. I had high hopes this would fix that problem. Papa Juan Stefano’s serves both Mexican AND Italian! And some American food too.

The inside of Papa Juan Stefano’s looks like any other Mexican restaurant. A large bar was off to the right with some dining. The main dining room was to the left where we were seated at a large string of 4 tops pushed together. There were about six other tables occupied all partaking in alcoholic beverages. A manager informed us that the kitchen was behind and the wait on food was 45-50 minutes. Well that explained the long faces and margaritas. Oh well, as long as there was chips and salsa. I can endure a 45 minute wait for food better than I can a 45 minute wait for a table, especially if I am warned in advance.

Chips and salsa arrived without too much delay. The chips were meh, thick yellow corn chips. A quick blast in the oven to serve them warm would have improved them. The salsa was nice and chunky with a lot of flavor. There was something off putting about it though. Too sweet? Almost as if they added sugar. It didn’t stop me from eating a whole basket of chips though. Our drinks took a little bit longer. Well more than a little bit but I was in a patient state of mind.

While we waited we perused the menu. Lots of interesting stuff worth trying. There was an extensive appetizer selection . The Mexican style potato skins and seafood rangoons looked intriguing. But since we knew there was a long wait for food and had chips and salsa we didn’t order an appetizer. We did order a bowl of white queso with chorizo to go with our chips.

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The Mexican side of the menu was pretty standard, a mix of tortilla wrapped entrées like burritos, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, etc. The Italian side was predictably nearly all pasta dishes. I don’t like pasta. The Chicken Cordon Rouge looked like  an interesting take on the famous Swiss dish. And I was tempted to get the Italian Mac and Cheese with crab and bacon.

The American third of the menu was primarily all sandwiches, though they did have ribs, chicken tenders, broasted chicken and pizza. I was caught completely off guard but the Pablo Escobar burger. I’m not sure if it is ignorance or what but naming a sandwich after a Columbian cartel drug lord is certainly poor taste.

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The Wife ordered chicken fajitas. Of note, all dinners include two sides. She chose the Asada Potatoes and Vermicelli. Her favorite food, beans, is off limits because she is highly allergic to them. Poor thing, she only discovered this allergy shortly after The Child was born. She’s eaten beans her whole life. When her food finally arrived it was no different than any other Mexican restaurant’s chicken fajitas. She said it was really good. The Wife said, “I hate the potatoes. You can have them if you want.” Wow, that’s a strong statement. She had a bite or two of the vermicelli but said she was too full to eat anymore than that. She did say it was good.

The Child ordered the kid’s spaghetti. It comes with a bread stick, no other sides. The portion size was huge for a kid’s meal. Easily an adult portion at any other restaurant. She could only eat half of it. The Child was THRILLED to be able to get spaghetti at a Mexican restaurant so we may have a big hit on our hands here. Hopefully just more timely service next time.

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I ordered the Green Chili Pork Enchilada. I love tomatillo salsa. especially with pork. I do not like enchiladas preferring burritos because I prefer flour tortillas to corn tortillas. But the menu said flour tortillas right in the description! For sides I asked for the Asada Potatoes and the Mixed Vegetables. I did not care for the potatoes either. I ate most of the potatoes and left the cooked pico de gallo behind. The vegetables were smothered in cheese! Flashback to childhood when my parents would serve broccoli and cauliflower covered in cheese, the only way I would eat it. This was broccoli covered in cheese. Well, nacho cheese sauce. It was mostly good though the cheese had a sweetness to it that I didn’t care for. Good ol’ Cheez Wiz would have been better. The enchilada was good but again too sweet, sweeter than any green salsa I’ve ever had. I had a sweetness issue at this restaurant.

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Even though we were there entirely too long I think we will give Juan Stefano’s another try. It may be the perfect place for when The Wife needs a Mexican fix and The Child is resistant.



Cancun Mexican Grill

While The Child was at practice last night we decided to use the opportunity to have Mexican for dinner because The Child hates Mexican food. Cancun Mexican Grill was our second foray into a Mexican restaurant. Our first was Los Compadres which was an outstanding experience.

Cancun Mexican Grill was busy which was a good sign. The bar was packed and most of the tables were occupied. We were seated in the back next to a large party celebrating grandma’s birthday. The decor was typical of any Mexican restaurant I have been in . Lots of orange and browns. The floor looked pretty worn and wasn’t the cleanest. The tables were pretty worn too.

Most of the tables around us were enjoying margaritas. I was surprised The Wife passed on one. Next time she said.

Looking at the menu the selections were not only different than Los Compadres but also different than what we are used to seeing. I looked for my  go to Chile Relleno and didn’t find it on the menu.

Chips and salsa were served. The chips were better than average. A lighter tortilla lightly salted. More like what Chili’s serves. The salsa was good. Some chunks of onion, not very hot but good flavor. We could have used more before our food came out.

The Wife loves a mess of nachos. What she calls “Slop.” She likes to get half and half beef and chicken, smother it in salsa and sour cream and then toss it like a salad until it’s a sloppy soggy mess. Rather than going with her usual though, The Wife ordered the Cabos Nachos. Not that dissimilar from her standard order but it came with only chicken, no beef, and a mango salsa. The Wife said the chicken was marinated and was by far superior to any chicken she’s had at a Mexican restaurant. She said there was the perfect amount of spiciness and it balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the mango salsa.

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I stumbled in my order. Usually I order a la carte because I’ve eaten so much bad Mexican food over the years. I just get an order of chile rellenos and beef tacos. I’m in long search for a taco like that of Mi Ranchito’s in Kalamazoo which was the absolute best greasy beef taco ever. I’m still searching. Not seeing rellenos on the menu I forgot to even look at the taco options and panicked when the server came to take my order. I said I wanted the Big Burrito, which isn’t on the menu, it’s at Taco Bell, and when the server got confused, I blurted out, “chimichangas, beef.”

The chimichangas were the same and different than every other order I’ve ever had. The side of rice and beans was exactly the same as everywhere, The burritos were not wrapped closed so I am confused as to how they deep fried them. Surely they didn’t pan fry them? The tortilla shell was also different. The same crispiness but a much darker color, almost as if whole grain. As usual the two chimichangas were topped with a lettuce salad with tomato, sour cream and guacamole. Everything seemed fresher. For example the lettuce was obviously cut from a head with a knife not bagged salad mix. And the guacamole was better than usual. Overall the chimichangas were excellent. I think the fact that they used beef tips made a huge difference.

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We greatly enjoyed our dinner at Cancun Mexican Grill. It’s good to know that not only do we have two go to restaurants for good food but that both Mexican restaurants, Los Compadres and Cancun have uniquely different menus.

Los Compadres

We haven’t had good Mexican food since we left Michigan. You would think that in Georgia with a high Mexican population you’d be able to find good Mexican food every where. You’d be wrong. Sure, around the Atlanta area there is great Mexican food but not so in North Georgia. Strangely, all of the Mexican restaurants in the area had nearly the same menu.If you ordered by number you could use the same number everywhere you go. Our daughter HATED getting Mexican. She kicks, screams and pouts if we pull into a Mexican restaurant. And even I reached the point where I no longer wanted to eat it. So we were excited about the seemingly uncountable options for Mexican dining in Cedar Rapids.

I told The Child it was time, time to try a new Mexican restaurant. Odds were good we would find something in Cedar Rapids she would like. But we had to start with a first attempt for that to happen.  We went to Los Compadres because it was close by and we had driven by it so many times we knew where it was.

There was a line!!! A half hour wait. Sure it was Friday night but never before, at least not since I lived in Chicago, have I had to wait to be seated at a Mexican restaurant. And the wait wasn’t because this place was a rinky dink little restaurant.

Salsa and chips were quickly delivered. I deemed it good. I prefer chips that have a little salt crust on them. Freshly made even better. These were neither but still good. I liked the salsa. I’ve been tired of eating salsa that didn’t have any more personality than ketchup. And I do mean “eat.” I don’t dip, I scoop. I don’t have to have a chunky salsa but it has to have more body than… again ketchup. This salsa had personality. I like a good amount of heat. This salsa wasn’t hot. I wouldn’t even call it medium, but there was something there. As for the most controversial ingredient, cilantro, this salsa used it well. Though I could have used a little more.

My wife loves guacamole, especially fresh made-at-the-table guacamole. And this place does it! We always had to go to On the Border in Kennesaw to get such a thing. So of course we ordered it. It was quite good. It probably could have used a little more jalapeno. Maybe a little more lime. But it was my wife’s treat not mine. Technically, you’re supposed to eat guacamole fresh at fresh made room temperature. I cut against the grain and prefer my guacamole out of the refrigerator and ice cold.

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Other than a margarita, I don’t remember what The Wife ordered. The Kid Unit ordered… you guessed it chicken tenders and fries. But she LIKED it! That’s a first at a Mexican restaurant. I ordered the El Molcajetaso and my head exploded when it arrived. I have never sen anything like it!  The description was “chunks of pork, steak, chicken, chorizo and nopales, with our special salsa and fresh Mexican cheese. Served with rice and beans.” What came out was not at all what I expected.

El Molcajetaso

Just look at that awesomeness!!! My favorite part was the grilled green onions. They were amazing. I would have liked a little sour cream to go with my rolled tortillas. Next time. I ended up taking half home. My wife and I each got two meals out of this dinner. Another first for us for Mexican dining.

Back to the margarita. I don’t drink them. My wife is a connoisseur. At Los Compadres, servers carry a chilled bottle of white tequila around and top off drinks. Free. And they pour shots. Just tilt your head back and open your mouth. They’ll fill it up. FREE! No wonder this place was so popular and there appeared to be many regulars. Well and the food was outstanding. The service was top notch too. Our waitress, Jennifer, was in tune with Rose so that was a plus. We hit a home run on this outing. Even The Child said she’d go back.