CORNELIUS – Carmen Cruz came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1984 with her three young daughters. Her husband, Jose Cruz, was already here living in the Maryland/D.C. area.
The family eventually expanded with four more daughters, including twins, and a move to Sanford where they opened a restaurant.
However, when daughter Karen decided to attend UNC Charlotte, Carmen and Jose found they loved the Charlotte area. When they found the small storefront restaurant space in Cornelius, they up and moved, opening El Paradiso in the space in 2004.
Now two of the daughters, Elizabeth and Corina, help to run the restaurant. It served Latin food with El Salvadorian flair.
El Paraiso is a quaint, tidy restaurant.
The light shines through the front windows highlighting the parquet floors, booths on the perimeter and tables in the middle of the space. A large mural of a hillside vista hangs on one wall. A bar curves around the front of the restaurant with high-backed chairs, open wine racks and hanging glasses.
The restaurant has an authentic feel that translates directly to the food.
The menu is full of Hispanic items, such as fajitas, huevos rancheros and tacos.
There are also some El Salvadorian treats such as yucca con chicarron which is boiled or fried yucca with fried cubed pork.
Or Pupusa which is a very typical dish in El Salvador. It is a homemade stuffed tortilla filled with pork and cheese.
This is considered a ‘grab and go’ dish. Customers can hold it in their hands and walk with it.
“The difference between El Salvadorian cuisine and Mexican cuisine for example, is that it is less spicy and not covered with sauces,” Corina Cruz said.
The restaurant also makes fresh, amazing salsa and homemade chips, which are served at the beginning of each meal.
The salsa and chips were so popular that they now are for sale at the front of the restaurant.
They also make all the sauces, guacamole and dishes in-house.
Some dishes to try are chicken tamales, which are wrapped in banana leaves; sea bass with the head still on which is delicately fried; and beef empanadas which are truly sublime.
The restaurant has many regulars.
“We have people who come in two or three times a week,” Cora Cruz said. “Often they don’t even need a menu. They already know exactly what they want.”
Many customers simply walk from the nearby businesses. But they still get new people in every week.
There are lunch specials ranging in price from $3.99 to $5.99, such as one hard-shell taco, one corn enchilada and refried beans or two over-easy eggs topped with spicy homemade ranchero sauce.
And each is served with the homemade chips and salsa. There are also lunch and dinner specials and a children’s menu as well with Latin and American fare.
The restaurant serves beer and wine. They also make sangria which is a big hit with the customers.
They also serve red wine and white wine margaritas. Plus they offer catering for special events with various options.
El Paraiso is the place to try some excellent Central American items. The waitstaff is happy to walk customers through options on the menu.
“My mom still makes so much of the food back there,” Corina Cruz said. “It’s all made from scratch with really good ingredients. People really like the food.”
Want to go? El Paraiso 20700 N. Main St., Cornelius, 704-896-6064.