Smile Politely

El Paraiso is Latin American food paradise

Opened in March of 2020El Paraiso is located in Urbana’s Broadway Food Hall which hosts several food concepts under one roof. This family-owned business is one of several great vendors at the space in Urbana.  

Hungry for some Latin American cuisine, I visited the restaurant and tried a bunch of dishes.

The entrance to El Paraiso's vendor set up in Broadway Food Hall in Urbana. There are letters spelling out the restaurant's name in light blue on a white wall. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I walked into Broadway Food Hall after parking in the small lot in front and found El Paraiso. When I walked up, I noticed the simple decor and the pretty tiled bar with barstools — which were convenient later when I was waiting for my meal to be made.

The interior of Broadway Food Hall with many tables, empty and distanced, with overhead circle fabric lights and string lights under the black industrial high ceiling. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Right before noon, Broadway Food Hall had lots of indoor seating available, very spaced. I took my food to go, but the high ceilings, distanced tables, string lights, and casual vibe of BFH was pleasing to see.

An overhead image of the author's order. In the top left, there is a slice of white cake beside pupusas, tacos, llapingachos, flautas, arepas, and a dessert enchilada. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I ordered four entrees, a side, and two desserts and took them home to my dining room table.

A side view of three fried flautas on a bed of reddish rice in a divided white styrofoam container with beans, lettuce, and a cup of sour cream. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I love me some flautas, so I had to try El Paraiso’s flautas ($7.50). There were three fried flautas stuffed with chicken and cheese on a bed of rice with a side of beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, and a little cup of sour cream. It was a ton of food for $7.50. The flautas were incredible, probably my favorite thing I ordered. They had layers of crunch and serious salty deliciousness. The chicken and cheese were packed with flavor. The fried tortilla exterior had an almost buttery taste from the frying oil that made them so rich without being greasy. The pinto beans were saucy, and the rice was fantastic.

A close up of llapingachos from El Paraiso shows the orange potato dish with light yellow queso dripping out. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I wanted to pick a side to go with my entrees, and when the cashier explained what llapingachos were, I had to try one. Llapingacho is an Ecuadorean dish made from potatoes stuffed with cheese and then fried on a griddle. El Paraiso’s llapingachos were exquisite. The cheesy potato pancake had a very melty middle with cheesy queso dripping out. It had a soft, smooth mashed potato texture with so many extra flavors. It was served over crisp iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced tomato, and very thinly sliced red onion ribbons — but next time, they can serve it straight into my mouth. This is a must have. 

An overhead photo shows a white plate with two corn tacos, one steak and one chicken, on a black table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Another entree on El Paraiso’s menu is the taco ($2.50 each). I tried the steak and the chicken taco. The chicken taco had chicken, cheese, and lettuce on a corn tortilla. The chicken taco wasn’t spicy, just enjoyably juicy against the yummy maize flavor of the tortilla.

A close up photo of the steak taco from El Paraiso with long, charred strips of steak with lettuce on a doubled corn tortilla. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I also tried the steak taco. The taco came with long strips of steak, lettuce, and cilantro. The steak had a good flavor, and it was a solid portion of meat for a taco.

A pupusas is sliced in half revealing the pork and cheese middle with a small slaw beside it on a white plate on a black table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I also tried the pupusas ($3). Pupusas was a new dish for me, and if you’ve never tried it, El Paraiso’s version is a thick flour patty stuffed with your choice of pork and cheese or beans and cheese, served with a side of cabbage slaw. I chose pork and cheese for my filling.

The patty was lumpy and rustic looking, and it looked like it would fall apart, but it didn’t. It was a tasty, little filled pancake that had a great sausage flavor with a bit of cheese inside. The vinegar slaw was made of cabbage, onion, and carrots, and the slaw had some herby flavors I couldn’t place but definitely liked.

An image of arepas from El Paraiso shows grill marks on the thin bun with a generous portion of a creamy chicken filling with another bun below. The arepas sits on a white plate on a black table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The final entree I tried was the arepas ($5.50). The arepas reminded me of a chicken salad sandwich because of the cold, creamy shredded chicken. Two corn patties held together a huge serving of chicken and avocado filling on top of lettuce. The crisp, thin top and bottom could barely contain the generous chicken middle. The maize “buns” were crispy in some bites and soft like a pita in others. The flavor was mild and well seasoned. The texture contrast between the warm corn cakes and the cold, smooth filling was exceptional. If you like chicken salad sandwiches, you need to try this.

A large slice of tres leches cake sits in a plastic clamshell container with very white frosting and a light yellow cake with dripping leches sauce on the bottom of the container. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I am a sucker for tres leches cake. El Paraiso sells tres leches cake by the slice for $3, and it was a mighty slice indeed. It could easily have been split between three people. The cake was delicious with a soft, soaked crumb and a fluffly, whipped cream frosting. It was nice and sweet, just like I like in a dessert.

A dessert empanada dusted with grains of white sugar sits on a white plate on a black table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Lastly, I ordered the dessert empanadas ($1.75 for one, $5 for three). This was a fried empanada covered in sugar. Did I think the middle might have chocolate? I did think that. And if not chocolate, I thought perhaps fruit. In any case, the filling wasn’t specified, and because I’m not picky, I went for it.

A dessert empanada from El Paraiso is sliced open on a white plate. The interior is airy and has a thin layer of white queso inside. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The inside of the dessert was very airy, and the walls of the interior had a thin layer of queso. This was the first time I had ever had cheese in my dessert. The dessert empanada was perfectly crispy on the outside, and it gave me funnel cake vibes. The fried exterior was savory as was the unexpected white queso, so it actually went pretty well for me — after I got over my assumptions.

It’s not a super sweet dessert; it’s a savory-sweet dessert. So, if you like interesting combinations of food — or you love queso so much that wish you could have queso in your desserts, give the dessert empanadas from El Paraiso a try.

There’s even more on the menu than what I ordered, and each day, there are specials. You can see real time updates from the restaurant by following them on Facebook.

To put your order in, you can call 312-971-7149, order online, or you can order in person at Broadway Food Hall. The El Paraiso staff were friendly and able to answer any questions about the menu, so if you have questions about the menu, they’ll be able to help you.

El Paraiso
401 N Broadway Ave
T-F 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sa+Su 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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